The penguins are coming!

If the chatter on the line is anything to go by we are expecting the latest refresh of Google’s Penguin filter any day. For some the update is likely to bring much needed relief and recovery and for others it will mean being thrust into the purgatory of suppressed rankings for months.

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So for those who have been lucky enough not to be bitten by the Penguin so far, what exactly is it?

Penguin is a filter rather than a penalty

Google issues penalties for sites that operate outside its ‘guidelines’, more specifically this generally means they act against people who utilise ‘link schemes’ to abuse their main signal and manipulate PageRank.
Penguin is different because its not a specific flag placed on the domain, instead its a separate filter that they periodically run to detect and dampen down the efforts of specific SEO related activity. The way that it typically manifests itself is action against those sites who have pushed too hard on optimising the anchor text and blatant SEO to improve a sites rankings.

The effect of this is that the site caught up in the filter will find its ability to rank for those terms is significantly reduced and as those terms are almost always the ones that actually matter to the site and its business being caught up in penguin can be a major problem for most sites.

The other thing to note is that the latest update is likely to only be the third time Google have run this filter since they first unleashed it on the world in April 2012. Being stuck in the limbo of waiting for them to refresh the filter is not something any site owner wants.

So what action can you take to help prevent your site from being caught up in the filter refresh when it happens?

First off, sticking your head in the sand is not the answer. Denial that there may be an issue or that the previous filters didn’t get you does not mean that this one won’t. Pragmatism rules here, accept that there could be an issue and do your audit to work out if you are at risk.

Run a complete link audit.

We use LinkRisk in house to do the audits, partially because I founded that business at the point the first Penguin was released as a way to help people through the problem but mainly because its by far the best tool in the world to help you audit your links.

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Auditing links is hard work and requires experience and insight to do correctly, the team here at MarketingSignals has a huge amount of experience in understanding what is good and what is bad and will help you dial in on exactly what the total risk of the profile is and advise on what to do if there is too much risk.

If you’d like to understand what our experience and expertise is in Link audit and profile management, here are some of my speaking appearances on the subject: –

http://www.brightonseo.com/videos-2013/paul-madden/
http://www.slideshare.net/DistilledSEO/paul-maddensearchlove-london-2013
http://white.net/blog/ses-london-day-three/

Some areas to look carefully at if you are conducting your own audit.

Concentrate on the anchor text mix as a indicator of the general risk. By using the anchor text you can normally zoom in on those terms that have been manipulated for SEO reasons and therefore try to find those that may be caught up by Google’s algo and filters.

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Its always our strong recommendation that you try to get links removed rather than just adding them to a disavow and even if you do add them to the disavow I would still do the removals afterwards in urgent cases.
Due to the potential for Google to apply Penguin 3 in days I suggest that now is the time to act and that lodging a disavow file is probably the safest option for anything of concern today and then let the removals and cleanup catch up with that disavow in the coming days.

By using the LinkRisk score you can get to most of what is likely to be bad, leaving you with a limited number of sites that you need to manually view before making a decision. The LinkRisk investigate tool allows us to get through thousands of sites in an hour if we are just doing a quick emergency sweep.

Once you have the disavow file created in LinkRisk – Export it out and get it uploaded to webmaster tools.

At the point its uploaded it should (and there is some debate over the speed of this process) start to negate those domains you’ve included. The theory being that this should help to protect you from the effects of the filter when its run.

Theories aside…. If it was my domain and I discovered that I was at risk of being caught up in the forthcoming Penguin filter I would act now to get the risky links out of the picture. I have seen what the effect is on multiple sites and it is not a situation you want to get into.

If the whole process worries you and you want an expert opinion and emergency action then get in contact today, we are on your side and will do all we can to help.

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