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Link-Pocolypse 2016 (aka Penguin 4.0)

November 15, 2016
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Google rolled out Penguin 4.0 in late September, marking the beginning of real time link analysis. In April of 2012, The Penguin algorithm was rolled out to determine the quality of links a domain has pointing to them, and reward/punish traffic based upon those links. Penguin 4.0 has brought a new level of analysis, with the algorithm – placing value on or de-valuing links with every crawl it performs.

Long gone are the days of waiting to find out if you are being relieved of a penalty, as Google has hit the fast forward button. On the flip side of that reward, comes the punishment. Penguin vows to be more granular, sniffing out link schemes at the deepest level and throttling back traffic for domains that partake in this – all in real time.

By now this might be making you wonder about your own traffic, as you may have experienced a substantial traffic drop in October, or maybe a substantial traffic gain.

We want to shed light on the truth behind this update, and what you can do to make sure you stay on safe side as this algorithm hunts for manipulation and lack of value.

What Is Penguin 4.0?

Our understanding at this point is that Google is labeling links in a website’s backlink profile and awarding/devaluing based on the quality of the linking outlet. When a link detox is conducted and the links are removed – that label is lifted – and a penalty can be lifted, now in real time!

The algorithm update makes Penguin react more quickly – by both doling out penalties and by removing them. The idea stays the same – you want to appease the algorithm with healthy links.

Related: Digital Recharge – Google’s 4.0 Algorithm Update [VIDEO]

So what’s the best way to get off Penguin’s bad side? Well, remove the bad links of course! Let’s take a look at some domains who have done a stand-up job to remove their bad links and see how their organic traffic was affected by this update.

The Good

One of our clients has enjoyed lift off with the algorithm update. This is a unique occurrence because they were presumably in a penalty, a backlink detox was performed, quality links were vetted and earned over a short period of time, and the algorithm reacted accordingly.

Long-term value of a clean back link profile is exemplified in this very situation. This analysis and detox was performed in May of 2016, and we had to hold our breath until September when this domain was rewarded.

Related: Content, SEO, & PR – Three Peas in a Pod

Looking back at the historical ranking and organic traffic levels for the client, we determined that this domain was in an algorithmic penalty as we began our engagement with each other. Unbeknownst to us, Penguin 4.0 was right around the corner, so when the algorithm updated, this domain was released from the penalty and traffic skyrocketed.

In some cases, penalties used to take years to get out of, but now with Penguin 4.0, penalties can be removed and applied in real-time in order to reward domains who have done the work to clean up their backlink profile and earn quality backlinks to their site.

Above is a snapshot of the Organic Traffic levels from one of our clients who received a link detox in Q4 of 2015 as well as in Q3 of 2016. They were not in an algorithmic penalty, but were rewarded all the same for their healthy back link profile. This is proof of the fact that proactivity trumps being reactive in today’s digital world!

Related: Technical SEO – Web Crawl & Errors Guide

With the Penguin 4.0 update, disavowed links were honored in real-time, quality links have replaced the empty spaces provided by the link detox, and we have been able to leverage the quality of these links to achieve significant traffic gains.

Purging toxic links is a must if you want to get your website’s traffic to flourish, and having a healthy backlink profile is a key component of the strong base needed to build a successful digital marketing campaign.

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The Bad

Algorithm updates focused on quality, along with the recent Penguin link update have provided a “double whammy” issue for a domain such as this one. They need to remove the backlinks from all offending domains to stop the bleeding of the most recent update, and revisit their SEO strategy to create quality content on-site.

The Ugly

Another company suffered from a manual link penalty dating back to May of this year. While we were working to remove all offending links from the back link profile, Penguin 4.0 rolled out and hit this domain while it was down. A pure lack of valuable links has left this domain weak while the cleanup has been occurring, and the full wrath of Penguin 4.0 has been felt.

Cleaning Up Your Backlinks

The main purpose of this audit is to target the links that Google is devaluing, and give them the boot. We want to strip those links from being associated with your domain, leaving room for positive, valuable links. There are many ways to evaluate and pinpoint toxic backlinks to your site. We have found the best success when a human-approach is prioritized and each offending backlink is visited and flagged by hand.

Related: How to Assess Your Current SEO Strategy

Although this does take a significant amount of time, it is the most effective means of understanding your backlink profile and digging out of a manual link penalty. Many times, the reconsideration may take a few attempts, depending on how bad the backlink profile is to begin with. By taking this hands-on approach, a true understanding of the good, the bad, and the ugly is gained!

What a link detox does for your site:

When the garbage is finally taken out, you can see what the house looks like, and what the house needs to make it beautiful (that’s a metaphor).

This means that getting rid of those poopy links will stop your site from being devalued – but not necessarily lead to increased traffic. (You’ll need a good digital marketing strategy for that). If you have been consistently building out a great SEO strategy, this detox could clear the path to traffic gains. If you’ve done little or poor work, this detox will give you a level playing field to start building that strategy and seeing long-term results.

Related: Hybrid Outreach – Blending the Best of Traditional PR & SEO Outreach

The name of the game here is to find the bad ones, leave the good ones, and see how your traffic reacts. If you see traffic return, then woohoo, your previous efforts have been beneficial and this was the opportunity you needed to reap the benefits. If your traffic stays flat, that means you now know you need to work on other areas of your SEO strategy to make that traffic soar. If your traffic continues to decline, this means spammy links were one part of the problem, but Google is finding other issues with your site and you need to revisit just what that is.

My Process

I put my eyes on every domain that currently links to you.

Key indications of a toxic link:

  • Spam (ads, content, links)
  • Poor site structure
  • Link networks
  • Irrelevance
  • Suspiciously exact anchor text
  • Lack of content
  • Low Domain Authority (DA)
  • Product reviews that aren’t no-follow links
  • Sketchy Russian sites
  • Scraped content sites
  • And some other stuff I can’t give away 😉

Pro Tips

  • Directories are OK as long as they are relevant, low spam, and have a strong domain authority.
  • When I am on the fence I pop domains in to SEM Rush and look for traffic dips pertaining to the algorithm updates.
  • I don’t keep individual links, if I find 1 bad link from a domain, that whole domain needs to be disavowed/ removed.
  • Once I have gathered my list of bad links I will send them to the client for review. I like to do this just to make sure you are aware of what I think needs to go and/or allow you to let me know if any links are affiliates of theirs.
  • Once we are clear what needs to go, I’ll reach out to the webmasters and ask them to take the links down. Whoever doesn’t will be thrown in the disavow file and then uploaded to search console/webmaster tools.
  • While we are doing this, I would suggest attempting to gain valuable links to replace the garbage links. My philosophy on link acquisition is quality not quantity, so look for strong clean domains with good content (the Moz Bar can shed light on clean domains).

All this information is here to provide you with the ammo you need to determine if you need to clean up your backlink profile. Google is constantly looking to improve its search results, which means you should constantly be looking to improve your website.

Related: To Build Links or Not to Build Links?

Some may say that the gains post-Penguin 4.0 may be due to luck. I say, keep in mind what luck really is… “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Remain vigilant, remain prepared and the opportunities will seem to fall from the sky for you! How are you preparing for the next opportunity Google throws at the search marketing industry?

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