Google Penguin on the rampage again…

When was the last time you checked your search positions? If it’s been a while, have a look now and use the results as a benchmark.

How come? Because Google’s Matt Cutts has announced the next phase of their notorious Penguin update, set to affect 0.3% of  English language search queries.

What’s is Google Penguin all about?

Google wants online marketers to win backlinks to their sites naturally, through merit. But until the Penguin algorithm update, they couldn’t always tell which links were natural and which were created by overtly playing the system.

The first Penguin wave hit in April this year. It devalued millions of links and destroyed offending websites’ search positions. A second wave was released in May 2012 and this one, released 5th October, is the third.

How will you know you’ve been Penguined? 

Your website’s search positions might just drop with no explanation. Or you might get a message from Google telling you they don’t like the cut of your jib.

On the positive side…

Thinking positive, if you’ve been sailing close to the wind with too much overt paid or automated link building, you’ll probably find out for sure whether you’ve gone too far. It’s better to know than remain ignorant, and being Penguined is the perfect excuse for a serious site-wide makeover.

There’s another positive side – if your competitors have been over zealous in their link building efforts, you might find your search positions actually improve.

What can you do to get your site visible again?

Plenty of SEO agencies are offering backlink clean-up services to cope with the fallout from Penguin. But if you run a small business you can probably tackle it yourself. Just carry out a backlink analysis and do your best to knock out the worst offenders. Here’s a link to an article covering the top 5 tools for backlink analysis.

It isn’t easy to kill links. It takes time because you have to ask individual site owners to find and break them. Some of them won’t bother. You might get most of them taken down, but not all. Worse still, can you be 100% sure which links have fallen foul of Google’s guidelines? You might end up throwing the baby out with the bath water, losing valuable link equity by mistake. The only way is to check them one by one, keeping those relevant to your customers, industry or sector and asking webmasters to remove the rest.

Re-submitting your site to Google

Once you’ve done your best to clean up any dodgy-looking backlinks, you can re-submit your site to Google for reconsideration. Sometimes you get a reply, sometimes you don’t. Either way you’ll know if you’ve done a good enough job because your search positions should improve.

Remember you might not end up exactly where you were because your site doesn’t operate in a vacuum – the entire playing field will have changed.

Is there an alternative to killing ‘un-natural’ backlinks?

Some people feel it makes more sense to invest your time improving on-site SEO, creating loads of quality content and generating fresh links than knocking yourself out trying to destroy your backlink profile. Others feel a combination is best:

  • try to knock out the worst-offending links, those that are irrelevant or low quality or otherwise potentially damaging (porn sites and so on)
  • make sure your on-site SEO basics are covered – stuff like a simple, flat site structure, surfacing the most relevant information first, easy navigation, fast load, decent meta data and sensible page naming protocols
  • build lots of top quality content to improve your site’s relevance and appeal