Google Penguin 3.0 – What does it mean for SMEs?

Penguin 3: What you need to know

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Oh Google how you tease us so. So often your meddling is a mystery, with digital marketers and small businesses picking up speculative crumbs that there ‘might’ have been an update.

But this time it’s true, Penguin 3.0 started rolling out on Friday 17th October, leaving many a business owner wondering what they were going to come in and find on Monday morning.

We’ve noticed that the information published so far has centred on the big brands, or similarly, has been offered by experts managing the online activities of these mega-brands. While the scare mongering is universal, monitoring the effects of Penguin (and any necessary clean-ups) can be much more daunting for smaller businesses who don’t benefit from a trembling in house team.

So what’s this all about then?

Penguin is an algorithm which is designed to penalise sites which Google deem as spammy.

The original Penguin came out in April 2012 and was followed by Penguin 2.0 in May 2013. During this time there have also been a series of baby penguins sent to tweak the algorithm.

Penguin penalisation is all about external links. If your backlinks appear natural and come from reputable sites then technically you should be unscathed.

Penguin 3 is the most sophisticated update yet. It is still designed to penalise unnatural (or down-right dodgy) links like its predecessors. We can only assume it’s just got more bloodhound like.

Google is naturally protective about what goes on in the Google Plex so no one will be able to definitively say how Penguin 3 will affect rankings. Jason DeMers, an uber online marketer, has suggested that Penguin 3 may have similar affects as Penguin 2, which affected around 2.3% of search queries.

So I should check my backlinks?

The type of links which Google Penguin views as poor quality are essentially links which just don’t make sense.

While an insightful post on tending fuchsias with a link to your gardening business for Gardening Weekly will obviously be valuable, dozens of links in obscure article directories can clearly be construed as an attempt to manipulate the rankings.

The type of links which Penguin will view as spammy are likely to come from the following sources:

  • Links on irrelevant websites, forums or directories. You want to be where your customers are. Make your links work for your business and your clientele, not just Google.
  • Links on article directories. If your link profile isn’t somewhere you frequently visit, look out for multiple links from the same source. These links could have been built a few years ago.
  • Paid links built in volume. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was solid, Google friendly link building.
  • Exact match anchor text. To give an example, dozens of instances of ‘cheap laptops’ pointing to an electrical site’s home page could be construed as manipulating rankings.

You can check your backlinks using various tools (mentioned below). If you’ve noticed no change in levels of traffic or your rankings over the weekend (or perhaps a boost where competitors may have been dropped) then your site is highly likely to be Penguin friendly. If your link profile was iffy then you should have already been slayed. Relax and head to our ‘Penguin 3: post apocalypse’ guide at the bottom of the page.

If you’ve noticed a significant drop, then a clean-up is necessary for crawling back up the rankings. Bouncing back won’t be a quick process, but you can attempt to find the offending links and tackle them yourself.

You’ll need:

  • Patience
  • Ahrefs
  • MajesticSEO
  • Open Site Explorer
  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • A tenacious desire to email dodgy sites/directories
  • Google’s Disavow Tool

Using the identifiers mentioned above, source any links which could be causing you problems. These should be clear, but if not call in a digital marketing specialist to sift the good from the bad.

Once you’ve got a blacklist spreadsheet, the most efficient way to try to get rid of these links is to directly contact the site’s owner(s). Use a domain WHOIS tool to dig out contact details, but it’s worth keeping in mind that some sites will charge you for removals. If they do our advice is not to pay but to disavow them.

When removing the links isn’t an option then you can opt to disavow them in Webmaster Tools. If you’d like a guide on disavowing, just let us know in the comments and we’ll provide a step-by-step post.

If you’ve found yourself with a manual penalty, remove or disavow as many links as you possibly can before resubmitting your site for consideration.
If all of the above seems like another language, then call someone who knows what they’re doing. They won’t be able to get results overnight, but they can devise and implement an action plan.

Keeping it clean: Penguin 3 – Post apocalypse

From unscathed to hammered, keep it clean moving forward with efforts which benefit brand awareness, cement you as an expert and keep you abiding by Google’s best practice guidelines.

  • Avoid thin onsite content. Lengthy blogs aren’t always needed, but invest in making sure your posts are offering valuable, detailed information to your readers.
  • Don’t keyword stuff. Think of helping the reader first and foremost and keep in natural. A keyword in the URL, titles, alt tags and no more than a few in the content (where it appears natural) is a good guide. Never force.
  • Get mobile friendly. Ensure your site is responsive and your content is optimised for mobile (i.e. short and easily scanned on a small screen).
  • Guest blogging. This isn’t the spammy, low quality tactic that Matt Cutts got worked up over, this is offering valuable content (articles, blog posts, news items, expert opinion, videos, podcasts and graphics) to relevant industry sites. Think quality over quantity, securing quality opportunities takes time. Quality sites are often clear (good, relevant content) however you can use the Moz plug in to get a site’s domain authority – over 50 is the aim, higher if your industry has wide coverage.
  • Read the definitive guide to SEO in 2014

If you’d like any more information about anything we’ve mentioned let us know on Twitter or drop us a line in the comments. As we’ve mentioned, sites going against the mighty G will most likely have felt the pinch of Penguin long before now, but if you’ve been affected (yay, nay or just plummeted into obscurity) let us know about your ‘update experience’.

Victoria Browne
  • Written by on 22nd October 2014 at 10:50
  • “Victoria Browne is a copywriter & social campaigns manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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