On September 23, Google confirmed in an update that Penguin 4.0 was added to its search engine’s core algorithm. The official announcement highlighted two main changes: first, that Penguin now refreshes in real time; and second, that Penguin is now more granular, making adjustments to pages based on spam signals, rather than affecting an entire site’s ranking.
Considering the core algorithm was changed, the update could possibly affect a large portion of websites indexed on Google. Given that it targets sites based on “black hat techniques,” or link spamming, the segment is, in actuality, limited in foreseeable ways. Sites that don’t engage in black hat techniques shouldn’t be affected.
If, however, there’s been a conspicuous drop in some of your web pages’ organic traffic and keyword rankings, it’s probable that those pages fell within the scope of the update—but that’s no cause for alarm. The spam filtering was only one aspect of the update, after all; the other one, which makes the search update in real time, means that after remedying any affected pages, your rankings and traffic will be able recover much faster than they would have in the past.
So if you suspect some of your pages have taken a hit from the update, the following steps can help you get it back on track:
First, create and analyse a comprehensive profile of each page’s backlinks, which are the links from other websites that direct users to that page. There are a number of tools and services that can help you accomplish this, such as those offered by Majestic, which is our preferred tool at StraightArrow.
The backlink profile will give you an idea of the quality of those links. If the links are good, then you can keep them; any changes in traffic to those pages isn’t likely due to the update. If the links are poor, however, you should manually remove them or use a disavow link tool. Manually removing them requires access to the account controlling those links. Without that access, you’d need to contact the webmaster and ask them to delete the links for you.
Ultimately, you should focus on building up relevant content and high quality backlinks. The two are intrinsically connected: the best way to influence relevant, high-ranking sites to feature your content in their links is by making sure your content is excellent. Material aligned to specific target audiences and organised with legitimate keywords and SEO practices will be more likely to merit backlinks and achieve the traffic and rankings you target.
Depending on how badly your pages were penalized by the Penguin update, you might end up choosing to redesign pages extensively or remove ones unnecessary to your content strategy. If so, be sure to set up 301 redirects first. Without the redirect, users who try to visit those pages will get an error message—in other words, nothing, really. These non-pages can also be picked up by Google and indexed as such. Neglecting to set up a 301 redirect, in other words, is bad for your search performance as well as your users’ experiences.
A final word in parting: while the Penguin update means Google now refreshes in real time, severe penalties based on underhanded linking practices can still take some time to undo. The worst cases could take half a year; most changes, however, can be remedied in a matter of weeks.