Nearly a year ago, in April of 2012, Google rolled out its Penguin update. Like all of Google’s search engine algorithms, Penguin was designed to improve search results for online browsers. Penguin’s main targets were sites that had been over optimized with a disproportionate amount of spammy or manipulative links. The roll out hit some websites harder than others, and many webmasters and SEOs spent the next few weeks cleaning up their sites and rebuilding their online profiles. Since its introduction, Google’s Penguin has been quietly working behind the scenes, assessing websites and identifying those with an overabundance of manipulative links. Now, one year later, it looks like the Penguin is beginning to stretch its wings and flex its algorithmic muscles.
Spam Links – Who’s Getting Penalized?
When Google’s Penguin was first introduced it focused on sites with the largest percentage of manipulative or spammy links. Sites with link profiles relying on a greater percentage of manipulative links, 80% or more, were hit hardest, and many websites saw their page rankings slip drastically as a result. Still, 80% is a major use of manipulative linking strategies, and most sites were still well under the Penguin’s radar. But as the year progressed, the target percentages began to be lowered. Within a few months Penguin’s target percentage was 65%. By the end of the year, it had dropped to 50%. More and more sites were falling foul of the Penguin algorithm.
The trend here is easy to spot, and Google’s next Penguin update is likely to lower the bar even further. At this year’s SXSW, Matt Cutts intimated that the next Penguin release would have the SEO community buzzing. Whether or not he was specifically referring to targeting manipulative links more aggressively, it’s clear that the next Penguin update is going to have an impact. Spamming the system is going to get even more difficult.
What Does This Mean for SEOs and Webmasters?
Clearly, the Penguin updates are going to make it more difficult to get away with manipulative link strategies. Webmasters and SEOs need to start looking at their sites, and cleaning them up before the next iteration of Penguin goes into effect. It’s much better to be in front of the Penguin than behind it, and eliminating spammy or manipulative links from your sites now will limit the possible damage done to your page rankings when the next update gets rolled out. The time to clean up your inbound link profile is now.
Removing Manipulative Links
Removing spammy or manipulative backlinks can be time consuming, but the necessity far outweighs the work involved. Besides, you can either do it before the Penguin update goes into effect, or after it’s rolled out. If your site is heavy with spammy inbound links, there’s not going to be much choice in the matter. The following basic steps will help you weed out any unwanted backlinks to your site.
- Build a backlink profile for your website. There are many tools you can use, including Webmaster Tools and OSE.
- Go through the list you have generated to identify any unwanted or spammy backlinks. This will be time consuming, and you will have to follow each link to assess its quality, and to decide if it stays or if it goes.
- Once you have identified the backlinks you want to remove, send a request to the webmasters in charge asking them to remove the link. Be polite, and explain that you are trying to avoid any penalties that may come from the next Penguin update. Include any URL information the webmaster will need to easily find the link and remove it.
- After you have sent out your link removal request you will need to wait for a response from the webmasters you’ve contacted. They may remove the link and notify you, in which case your mission will be accomplished. They may remove the link without contacting you, so it is necessary to monitor the backlinks on your list to be sure they have been removed. In some cases the webmaster may ignore your request, in which case you will have to disavow the link. If the webmaster contacts you expecting a fee for the removal, contact Google as they’ve overstepped their bounds.
- Finally, you may have to repeat the process until you have successfully removed all of the offending backlinks.
For more detailed information, take a look at: Removing Bad Links in the Wake of Penguin
SEOs and webmasters should not look at the Penguin updates as a penalty. Google is trying to push webmasters into providing valuable content for their online users. While the process may at times be frustrating, ultimately it will lead to a better online experience of everyone, webmasters and laymen alike.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!