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Liza Perstneva

Google Penguin 4.0: Friend or Foe? #semrushchat

Liza Perstneva
Google Penguin 4.0: Friend or Foe? #semrushchat

The day has come. On September 23, Google announced a major Penguin 4.0 algorithm update. Penguin is now officially part of Google’s core ranking algorithm. What’s more, from now on, it’s real-time –meaning that Penguin data is refreshed in real time, so any changes will be visible shortly after the affected page has been recrawled and reindexed.

Among other important changes, Penguin has become more granular: “[It means that] Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site,” according to Gary Illyes of Google’s Search Ranking Team. Barry Schwartz assumes that this means that Penguin might influence specific pages, sections or wide swaths of a website.

But what does this mean for SEO specialists and website owners? We decided to find out by discussing the topic during our SEMrush Chat. Let’s see what changes our chat participants have already noticed since Google rolled out its Penguin 4.0 algorithm update.

Q1: What other signs besides a significant loss in traffic can indicate that your website has been penalized?

First of all, we wanted to find out what other signs can indicate that your site has been penalized, other than a drop in website traffic. Our chat guests shared their observations.

Marie Haynes suggested looking at keyword rankings, not just traffic drops. This can also indicate a penalty.

Colt Sebastian Taylor believes that a decrease in sales, conversions and click-through rate can also be a hint of a penalty.

Some chat participants recommended checking for warnings in Google Search Console. “[Some other signs that can indicate a penalty are] a warning in Google Search Console, a drop in rankings (hate this one, though), and, obviously, a sudden decrease in conversions,” explained ThinkSEM ‏@ThinkSEM.

At the same time, Arnout Hellemans supposes that Google won’t send you any messages regarding the impact of its algorithm update’s on your site’s performance. However, you can use Google Search Console to get detailed reports about your webpage’s visibility in Google.

If you notice some of your internal pages start to rank higher than the pages that you optimized, it’s also worth checking whether or not your website has been penalized. Why is it bad when the wrong pages rank in search results? Obviously, you want to deliver the best search results possible to your targeted users to convince them to visit your site. But if they end up visiting the wrong page, rather than the one you thoroughly optimized, they will leave it, unsatisfied, as soon as possible.

Finally, if your website doesn’t appear in the first position of the Google SERP for your own brand terms, your site has probably been penalized.

You can check out a few other answers from our chat participants in the following recap.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q1

Has anything from this list happened to your site? If yes, check to see if your domain is under penalty so you can develop a recovery plan.

Q2: How does the new Penguin 4.0 benefit SEOs?

Google algorithm updates are intended to improve its users’ search experience. These updates force SEO specialists and website owners to change the way they work, and eliminate the use of black hat SEO techniques.

Now it’s time to see what benefits the new Penguin 4.0 brings to the world of SEO.

Nate Dame believes that Penguin 4.0 will help SEO specialists restore ranking and traffic issues faster.

Many of our chat participants agree that the new Google algorithm update will enable website owners to fix SEO issues on their sites quickly.

Previously, the list of websites that were affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed. But with the launch of Penguin 4.0, the Penguin data is refreshed in real time. This means that from now on, website owners whose sites have been hit by Penguin will no longer need to wait for the next algorithm refresh to assess their actions, such as such as removing links.

Rachel Howe ‏@R8chel_Marie also pointed out that Penguin 4.0 allows SEO specialists to help their clients clean up their links (if they have any bad ones) without the need to wait for the next update to see the impact of their efforts.

The Perfect Search Media team believes that the Penguin 4.0 update is a win-win game. For SEO specialists and site owners, this major change to Google’s algorithm means that they will be rewarded for their white hat SEO techniques more quickly. For searchers, it will make Google SERPs more useful.

Finally, there will be no more announcements of Penguin updates. According to Google, the team isn’t going to comment on future Penguin refreshes, given its real-time nature. ‏”Can't think of one [benefit] just yet except for the fact that there are no big boom penalties anymore,” tweeted Arnout Hellemans.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q2

As you can see, people find the new Penguin update more fair, because it will reward website owners much faster for the good changes they make to their sites.

Q3: Which recent link-building techniques should SEOs ignore, since they can now harm your website because of Penguin 4.0?

All Google algorithm updates are designed to detect websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using black hat SEO techniques. Google is getting better at catching sites that manipulate their number of links to boost their rankings.

We asked our chat participants to mention link-building techniques that should be abandoned because they can harm your website’s rankings. Here’s what SEO practitioners need to consider.

  • Google has become smarter at detecting paid links

Some of our chat guests believe that Google is getting better at identifying paid links. Marie Haynes assumes that Google is searching for newer, better ways to find links from paid authoritative author mentions. Nevertheless, Arnout Hellemans thinks that this is not Google’s biggest priority.

Building a Private Blog Network is not a white hat SEO technique.

Basically, building a PBN is a black hat technique (sometimes recognized as a gray hat technique) that refers to the use of a number of sites under your control to implement links to your other sites. The sites in this PBN usually don’t have any value. When using a PBN, you run the risk of your sites getting deindexed, and Google might penalize your websites for unnatural inbound links.

  • Penguin 4.0 isn't a big link-building game changer

Perfect Search Media pointed out that the ‏Penguin 4.0 update isn't a link-building game changer. What makes a difference is that now we’ll be able to see the results of our link-building techniques – both good and bad – much faster. Dan Taylor ‏@danny_taywitter suggested that now black hat SEO tactics can harm websites in real time.

  • You should still build links as naturally as possible

One thing that definitely stays the same – you should still build links naturally. ‏”I don’t know about recent techniques, but any unnatural link building should be avoided,” tweeted Rachel Howe.

  • Placing links with no editorial oversight on external sites can be harmful

If you create links that were placed with no editorial oversight or vouched for by a website’s owner on their page, you’re creating unnatural links. We all know that participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Let’s sum up!

SEMrush Chat Recap Q3

In fact, Penguin 4.0 isn't a link-building game changer. Techniques that were harmful before are harmful now as well.

Q4: As Penguin 4.0 becomes more granular, how should SEOs optimize their backlink audit process?

In addition to Penguin’s real-time refreshes, it has also become more granular. Instead of affecting ranking of all of a website’s pages, it devalues spam by adjusting the ranking of individual webpages based on various spam signals.

Since Penguin is now more granular, how should SEO practitioners optimize their backlink audit process? Let’s find out.

  • Build your own backlink audit model

Martijn Scheijbeler recommended creating your own backlink audit process. You can start by getting a complete list of your links, understanding how they perform together before looking into the details, compare your links to your competitors’ and identify your potentially dangerous links. This will help you develop your backlink audit process and decide what actions to take to clean up your link profile.

  • Perform a thorough backlink audit section by section

You need to audit your links section by section from the most important to the least important. Create a solid rink-removal strategy. If you’ve received a manual penalty, you have to remove as many of your unnatural links as possible.

If your website has lost its rankings due to an algorithmic update, it’s worth studying the backlink profiles of other sites in your niche that are still ranking well. After you’ve finished, you need to decide which actions to take to improve your website’s backlink profile.

Netvantage Marketing pointed out that you should check your site’s backlink profile on a regular basis and make sure to perform a backlink audit of important pages.

  • Prioritize your backlinks

You can also prioritize your backlinks by specific criteria, such as page traffic. You need to figure out what metrics show trustworthiness most clearly and then sort your link spreadsheet accordingly.

  • Avoid unnatural links

We’ve already mentioned that building a private blog network is a grey hat technique. Besides PBNs, Dan Taylor recommended avoiding comment links and excessive directory links. Building links in low-quality directories can be considered a link scheme.

As for links from comments, Matt Cutts said that how you represent yourself in a link makes a difference. To avoid any problems, he suggested using your name, rather than your company name or a keyword-rich term (e.g., “cheap tutorials”). He also pointed out that blog comments shouldn’t be the main part of your link-building strategy.

If your primary strategy is to leave comments all over the Web without having real people link to your site, it can raise red flags with Google.

  • Do more thorough research

Since Penguin is now real-time and more granular, it has become even more important to analyze links carefully. Disavow tool allows users to submit a list of potentially harmful URLs pointing to your site to Google. If used correctly, you can actually ask Google to remove these bad links as a ranking factor the next time it indexes your website. But be careful and bear in mind that using the tool incorrectly can hurt your site.  

With the new Google algorithm update, you should to be even more careful and perform backlink audits more frequently. “Check individual folders and pages,” recommended Arnout Hellemans.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q4

If you have any other tips on how to perform backlink audit after the launch of Penguin 4.0, share them in the comments! We would love to hear your thoughts.

Q5: What steps should SEOs take right now to avoid penalization before Google completely updates Penguin?

At the end of our discussion, our chat participants mentioned important steps you can take to avoid penalization before Google completely updates Penguin.

First of all, Andy Drinkwater suggested taking the time to create a safe link-acquisition campaign. It’s time-consuming, but you have to learn how to get the most out of every backlink you earn. To start your campaign, you need to fix all your technical errors, produce valuable content and develop a good site architecture.

A proactive link audit will help you reveal your website’s backlinks that pose some risk to your site’s rankings. By conducting a link audit you can detect low-quality links and links with real value.

In Arnout Hellemans’s opinion, the steps you should take to prevent your site from being penalized by Google will depend on your industry. Nevertheless, Google wants to provide its users with the most relevant results. Therefore, you have to focus on building natural links. And this can be applied to any industry.  

Some of our other chat guests don’t think that a lot has changed since Penguin 4.0. Ryan Jones suggested that you should continue to avoid building links that don’t send genuine clicks to your website.

Gus Pelogia pointed out that there aren’t any last-minute steps to be taken right now. However, you should be able to recover from a penalty more quickly.

It’s time to sum up our answers!

SEMrush Chat Recap Q5

That’s it for today!

Thanks to everyone who was kind enough to answer our questions and share their thoughts on how these new changes will affect the world of SEO.

We would also love to hear your opinion on Google’s new version of Penguin. You can share your thoughts in the comments.

Liza Perstneva is a Social Media Manager at SEMrush and a #SEMrushchat host. Follow Liza on Twitter.

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