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Penguin 2.0: Should Performance Marketers be Worried?

Penguin 2.0: Should Performance Marketers be Worried?

Matt Cutts has officially announced the imminent arrival of “the next generation of Penguin, internally known as Penguin 2.0″.

A lot of performance marketers felt the effects of Penguin 1.0, which was aimed at penalising sites that used under the table methods of obtaining links. Well, hold on to your seats (or office chairs), because Penguin 2.0 is going to have a greater impact on search results than Penguin 1.0. 

And although Penguin 2.0 will again be aimed at the devaluation of web spam linking techniques, over usage of the same keywords in link anchor text, site-wide links, and link networks, there are other updates that are also going to be rolled-out this summer.

But ultimately, what you really need to be concerned with for Penguin 2.0 will be your backlink profile. If you haven’t yet been hit by Penguin, then you should still analyse your backlink profile to minimise the risk of future hits.

A backlink profile is all of the links pointing to your site. When assessing your likelihood of suffering a hit from Penguin 2.0, you need to look at how natural your overall backlink profile looks.

What is deemed to be a natural/ unnatural looking backlink profile?

The main reasons that a backlink profile will be considered unnatural are:

1. There are thousands of links all coming from one domain

It is not seen as natural for a site to link to you 8,000 times! If, on the other hand you have a handful of links from a variety of domains, then this is seen as natural.

2. A high percentage of links pointing to your site use the same key term and point to your homepage

If 90% of links pointing to your site use the text ‘car comparison’, then this looks suspicious. However, if you have a range of key terms pointing to key term relevant pages, mixed in with a high proportion of branded links, then this is seen as natural.

3. Lots of links from irrelevant sites

If your site is about car insurance, then why have you got a link from a Playstation 3 website?  If you don’t have links from sites dedicated to your site’s topic, then Google deems that your site should not rank for topical terms. Again look at the overall backlink profile. If you have a small percentage of links from unrelated sites, then it is unlikely that you need to worry. But if a large proportion of links come from unrelated sites, then revisions are likely to be needed. 

4). Links from ‘bad neighbourhoods’

I think a large part of Penguin 2.0 will revolve around Google’s expanded data on what it has discovered as ‘bad’ websites. ‘Bad’ websites are sites that were set up for the main purpose of selling links and do not have good user experience or quality content. Google has been busy tracking down these sites, and seems set on coming after them. So, if you have been buying links on sites which aren’t too fussy about who they sell links to, you definitely need to be worried about Penguin updates.

5). Paid links that aren’t disclosed as such

In particular, Google has disclosed that it is going to be devaluing ‘advertorials’ in Penguin 2.0. Matt Cutts from Google, stated that advertorials are only considered ‘bad’ if they are being used for SEO purposes (the passing of Pagerank) and do not fully disclose that they are paid for. In order to cover your back with an advertorial, you need to use ‘rel=nofollow’ in all links. 

6). Lots of links obtained in a short period of time

If you haven’t gained any links for a month, and then suddenly overnight you gain hundreds of them, then Google’s crawlers will flag this as being potentially unnatural. In some cases it could be due to something that has naturally gone viral, a great piece of content; in which case you will not be penalised. Google has become sophisticated enough to distinguish between hype around a piece of content and a bunch of paid links. 

How have I obtained an unnatural backlink profile?

If you have been looking for quick fix ways to get links, and using sites like fiverr.com, and haven’t been affected by Penguin 1.0, then you are at an extremely high risk of being hit by Penguin 2.0.

However, even those of you that consider yourselves squeaky clean with your link building or haven’t actively built any links to your site at all, may still be at risk. Here are some reasons that you might have spammy links pointing to your site:

  1. Hacked sites have had several thousands of links added to them, pointing to unrelated sites. One of these unrelated sites could have been yours. 
  2. SEO agencies in the past have used tried and tested means of gaining rankings. One of these means may have been through purchasing links.
  3. Sometimes sites will add your site to their site-wide sidebar. In your eyes this may be a genuine recommendation of your site under a ‘friends’ or ‘recommendations’ header. However, having a side bar of links, otherwise known as a blogroll, was a technique used by sites selling links, and in some instances can be interpreted as spammy by Google. But, again, make sure you look at the bigger picture. A link from the blogroll of a highly relevant, quality site, within an otherwise very natural looking backlink profile, shouldn’t be something to be overly concerned about.

How do I look at my backlink profile?

If you haven’t signed up your affiliate site with Google Webmaster Tools yet, then I would advise doing so now. Not only does this give you alerts about your site, from Google crawlers, but you will be able to see a sample of your backlink profile here:

These are ordered by the domains which have the most links pointing to your site. So, you can easily see the domains which have hundreds of links pointing to you – the ones to principally be concerned about. 


Remember though that Google Webmaster Tools only gives a sample. So, you should use a tool such as Majestic SEO (free for your own site) to get a full list of all of the sites and links pointing to you.

How do I make my backlink profile look more natural?

Before taking a machete to external links, make sure that a very careful analysis is made. The last thing you want to do is remove links that are actually holding your site up in the rankings. Try to concentrate on links that are unrelated to your site content or that are on sites that have lots of other links to unrelated sites. 
Additionally, in order to protect yourself from future penalties in general, you need to assess whether there is a natural dispersion of links from different sources, or whether they are all of one type – if a site has 90% of its links from blog posts then it looks like a site has been concentrating of guest blog posts, and hasn’t built up many links in a natural way, for example. In this case, you just need to think of other ways of gaining links, and start building on gaining variety.

If having made a careful analysis of links pointing to your site, you discover spam links which you feel need to be removed, then the following steps should be taken:

  1. The first step is to send the website that contains the web spam links pointing to your site an email, politely asking if they can remove them. If you don’t receive a response, then use the contact form on their site. Other more direct methods include searching for the site owners name on http://whois.net/ and then finding them on Linkedin.com. Make sure that any attempts to contact the owner for removal requests is recorded – take screen shots and save messages. This will be important proof of your efforts, for sending to Google if you need to make a reconsideration request.
  2. Use Google’s disavow tool. This has been designed to highlight to Google any links that should not be included in your backlink profile. Although there is skepticism as to how much Google uses this data as a method for reconsideration. Some believe that Google just uses this data to paint a bigger picture on web spam links in general.

Summary

Google Penguin is intended to target ‘black-hat’ under the table linking techniques. Penguin 2.0 will be the incorporation of greater data from Google about the definition of these spam links. For example, the new update will be looking further upstream in linking connections, in order to find paid for link networks.
 
In the past it seems that sites not following obvious bad practices have received collateral damage. Hopefully this update will clean up the web and get rid of the spammers, without causing too much damage to small businesses. In order to ensure that you avoid any potential downfalls you need to be proactive, and gain a full understanding of what your backlink profile looks like, regardless of whether you feel vulnerable or not.

Continue the conversation

Got a question or comment – tweet Sylvia @acquiretraffic or comment on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

Sylvia Nankivell

Sylvia Nankivell

As Affiliate Window’s Traffic Acquisition Manager, Sylvia is responsible for hand picking publisher sites with the highest potential and providing hands-on support for traffic acquisition (SEO, PPC, social media and conversions).

Prior to this role, she worked as an SEO specialist on large-scale B2B websites such as www.icis.com, www.bankersaccuity.com and www.xperthr.co.uk, which gave her a solid foundation in both the softer and more technical SEO skills.

Read more from Sylvia

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