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Google is set to release a major update to its ranking algorithm.

This is nothing new of course and is even to be expected. Consumers would be reluctant to continue using the search engine if the results were poor or clogged with spam. For this reason the search giant makes hundreds of tweaks to its algorithm every year to better refine the search results.

But a few times a year, Google releases major updates that affect the results in significant ways. Early last year an update was rolled out globally that made mobile-friendliness a ranking signal. This meant that sites not optimized for mobile devices would be penalized for mobile searches.

Now a number of online tools that monitor algorithm changes have recently shown significant spikes in the search results:




So what exactly is going on?

Google has not officially confirmed the update. But the dramatic changes in the search results are an indication that something bigger is coming. Multiple signs are pointing towards another Penguin update.

Penguin Update Overview

Once it became clear that links were a major ranking factor, many webmasters and marketers began building links in large numbers to their pages. The efforts paid off as many saw significant increases in their rankings. But soon lower quality sites were overtaking legitimate sites with established authority.

To combat the increase in spam, Google rolled out a major algorithm update (dubbed Penguin) aimed at reducing rankings for sites engaged in manipulative link building practices. Examples include:

  • Buying or selling links
  • Excessive link exchanges
  • Use of automated programs
  • Keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Irrelevant links from questionable sources

Subsequent Penguin updates have continued to penalize those sites engaged in these practices and on a larger scale to include internal pages, not just home pages. Those affected by the updates were hit with lower rankings. The good news is that recovery from a penalty was possible by cleaning up link profiles and building quality links.

Google is expected to release a new iteration of Penguin soon.

The biggest change is that this version will be real-time. So as Google detects spammy links, rankings will be negatively impacted almost immediately. The reverse is also true as a site can recover from a penalty more quickly if spammy links are removed or disavowed.

The pending update means that regular link auditing is more important than ever. Google has repeatedly shown that it won’t hesitate to penalize sites with questionable link profiles.

Here we look at how to prepare your site for the next Penguin update.

Vary Anchor Text
Anchor text is the clickable text in a link.

A keyword-rich anchor text is a great way to increase the relevance of the page that is being linked to. But links that contain a single keyword phrase (e.g. SEO marketing) without any variation is an indication of spam and could get your site penalized. The answer then is to vary the anchor text of your links. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Naked URLs (e.g. http://yoursite.com/page)
  • Brand names (e.g. Adapting Online)
  • Long tail keywords (e.g. local SEO marketing services)

Ideally you want your link profile to have a healthy mix of all the anchor text described here.

Build Links Slowly
Another indication of spam is a sudden influx of links.

If you see a competitor with over 10,000 links, your first instinct might be to build even more. But suddenly gaining thousands of links to a site new site raises a red flag and is exactly what Google’s algorithms watch out for. This type of behavior is unnatural and likely to get your site penalized.

Slow and steady is a better approach. Then you can gradually ramp up your efforts once your site gains more authority in the search results.

Here are some effective ways to build quality links:

  • Content creation: Quality content in the form of blog posts, infographics, or videos are far more likely to attract links than rehashed content. Creating engaging content is also a great way to increase your reach online.
  • Social media: Facebook is the largest social media network but there are others including Twitter and Google+. Use content that you create and share it to attract followers to your profiles.
  • Location citations: If you have a local business, submit your site to business listings such as Yelp, Foursquare, Superpages, Yellowpages, etc. These types of links are particularly valuable as they improve rankings for geo-targeted searches.

Quality and relevance are absolutely important. A link from an irrelevant or questionable source can actually do more harm than good.

Disavow Low Quality Links
Low quality or spam links can hurt your rankings.

Even if you still retain your rankings after the new Penguin update rolls out, it’s still a good idea to clean up your link profile. Any link auditing tool will be able to provide a list of links to your site. Then it’s a matter of removing those links that violate quality guidelines.

You can have low quality links removed by manually contacting webmasters to have links to your pages taken down. But in cases where this is not possible or the webmaster is non-responsive, you can use Google’s Disavow Tool. Google recommends using this tool if you are unable to remove spammy or low quality links.

Caution needs to be taken here as using the tool incorrectly can actually hurt you. Google displays the following warning on its documentation:

Google Warning

You can download links to your site from your Google Webmaster Tools account. But the data provided will be limited. You will likely want to go with a paid option such as Open Site Explorer and Ahrefs for more comprehensive data.

Google is expected to roll out another Penguin update to its ranking algorithm. The difference between this version and previous iterations is that this one will be real-time. So the impact of any negative links will be felt sooner rather than later.

To prepare your site for the upcoming update, you will need to conduct a link audit. An audit is particularly valuable as it can reveal any harmful links that could be negatively affecting your rankings. Take steps to vary the anchor text while building quality links and removing spam links.

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