How to Escape the Grasps of Penguin and Clean up Your Backlink Profile
With the end of 2015 quickly approaching, Google are running out of time to release the next anticipated version of their Penguin Algorithm. When is this update going to be released? Well, at the moment we don’t know. We do know however that it will be released before the end of 2015.
— Gary Illyes (@methode) October 28, 2015
If you’re not familiar with what the Penguin algorithm is, here is a little summary to explain:
Google launched a new algorithm called Penguin to work alongside their core algorithm in April 2012. This algorithm was created to better detect sites that were deemed to be spamming Google’s search results. It particularly searched for people who were apart of link networks and were buying links in mass quantities to manipulate their organic search rankings.
This Penguin update is anticipated for a few reasons:
- It is also supposedly going to run in “Real-Time” so as Google detects you using spammy link practices, you get penalised. When you clean these links up, you see a more immediate recovery
- Webmasters that have cleaned up their backlink profiles want to see the fruits of their labour and see if they regain the rankings they had lost
- Spam sites are still within the Search Index, so people want to see these removed
So as you can see, this iteration of Penguin is an important one. It is going to vastly change how spam-linking techniques are detected on the web. It is also good news for webmasters because if it is really in “real-time”, recovery should be much faster than previous versions of Penguin.
Now, let’s face it – checking your backlinks isn’t at the top of everyone’s list when you’re running a business, especially if you’re ranking well now and your SEO efforts are generating you good results.
But the fact here is, it doesn’t hurt to check before the Penguin is released once more. So what can you do to ensure that your website and your business is ready for the next iteration of Penguin?
Check Anchor Text Distribution
Anchor texts are a sure fire way of checking if you’re at risk of being affected by Penguin. If you over optimize for one keyword phrase, then you are at potential risk of being penalised.
Let’s take a look at an example of this. Let’s say I want to rank for the term “SEO Derby” and any links I build use that anchor text and that is all they use. I am at sever risk here of over optimizing for that specific keyword. If I go one step further and build hundreds or even thousands of links just using that one anchor text, then I’m going to get hit.
What you should be doing here is diversifying anchor texts. You ideally want to be using branded anchors most of the time, with some anchors for keywords (long tail too) you’re targeting and naked URL’s thrown into the mix for good measure.
At this point, this information should be well known and you should be varying your anchor text to ensure that you’re not over optimizing.
Check Your Backlinks
It is easy to say “make sure you check your backlinks and just get rid of any bad ones!” but if you’ve never really done this before, that sounds pretty daunting.
The first thing is first, you need to compile a list of all of the URLs that are pointing to your website. There are a lot of Link Indexes out there and they all vary in the information that they have. However, the most complete that I have found is Majestic. The fresh and historic index seems to capture most of the links that are pointing to your website. If you couple that with the data that is within your Search Console and remove duplicates you can get good coverage of your link profile.
You need to be on the lookout for a few things that are glaringly obvious.
I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve noticed a few patterns with the types of links that mostly crop up and catch people out.
Let’s go through some of these links that you would probably want to get rid of.
- Article directory links – These types of sites host articles and are generally self-submit. There isn’t a process that checks to see if the content is well written or legitimate in any way. If you find these sites, you’ll probably notice that the article itself makes no sense and you’ll find a link to your site under some exact match anchor text.
- General social bookmarks – There are patterns that these follow, different platforms that are used consistently, so they’re easy to find. Platforms like Pligg, phpLD for example. Another way to see if they’re bad is if they have a fee to remove your website from their index. That is a dead giveaway.
- Weird Wiki’s – Getting a link on a Wiki site is generally a good thing. However if you’ve got links from several hundred wiki links I would check them. You might find that you’ve got articles on there that have nothing to do with your business or website and that your link is just randomly dropped in to place with no context what so ever.
- Forum Profile Links – If you’ve got links from forum profile pages then you may also have a problem. Normally the names of these accounts are randomised letters and numbers and your website is place within the forum profile with, if it can be done, an exact match anchor.
- Site Wide Links – If a website has a link and it is appearing sitewide, I would either get them to remove that link or at least add a No Follow tag to that link. This is seen as a spammy link tactic by Google.
Those are a few of the different types of linking patterns that you need to be aware of. If you have any of those types of links, I would get them cleaned up as soon as you can.
Clean Up and Disavow
This is one of the longest parts of this whole process. It can be painstaking and frustrating – but is worth it if you can succeed in getting links removed. Before we disavow any domains, you have to make sure you’ve made an effort to remove any links that are classed as the offending links.
The reason we have to do that is because Google require you to make an effort to clean up your link profile, as stated on this page:
If you’ve done as much work as you can to remove spammy or low-quality links from the web, and are unable to make further progress on getting the links taken down, you can disavow the remaining links
So this means that you need to get in contact with webmasters and request removal of your links.
The frustrating part of this is not everyone is going to comply. Some people will, and will happily assist you, however there is a minority of webmasters that are going to request monetary payment in return of removing your link. In my time doing this, this has varied from $3 to $400 to remove a link.
Did I pay it? No I didn’t!
I just kept a record, disavowed the domain as a whole and moved on to the next contact.
You can also use a pretty nifty tool to help with the outreach process, especially if you have a lot of webmasters to contact and that tool is called Rmoov. It makes this whole process a lot easier and quicker as it automates the email sending process for you.
Once you have contacted all of the webmasters and made a conscious effort to clean up your backlink profile, the next step is to construct your disavow file and submit it.
You can see an example of how to construct it here:
# example.com removed most links, but missed these http://spam.example.com/stuff/comments.html http://spam.example.com/stuff/paid-links.html # Contacted owner of shadyseo.com on 7/1/2012 to # ask for link removal but got no response domain:shadyseo.com
It needs to be in this format, otherwise it will not be valid and will not be accepted, and then all of your hard work will have gone to waste. Please note, that this is also best done in a text file within Notepad and saved as a .txt file.
When you wish to submit your disavow file, follow these steps:
- Go to the disavow links tool page.
- Select your website.
- Click Disavow links.
- Click Choose file.
Well – once you’ve submitted your disavow file it is a waiting game. Google will crawl this file and take those disavowed domains and links into consideration.
Unfortunately, it its current state, Penguin usually has long time spans in-between releases. This means that some webmasters will have been waiting for months to see how their link removal efforts have performed. Hopefully the newest release of Penguin, when it comes, fixes that issue and runs closer to real time like Google are claiming.