Google Penguin: Thoughts from SEO Specialist Aimee Beck Gary Parkinson December 7th, 2015 If you work in the online marketing industry you’ve likely heard about Google Updates. You’ve also likely (and correctly) assumed that these updates are intertwined with the world’s largest search engine.Google makes ongoing adjustments to its ranking algorithms and these changes impact the content featured on search engine result pages (SERPs). Google names many of these updates after animals such as the Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, and Hummingbird.Search engine optimization (SEO) specialists are currently awaiting the pending Penguin 4.0 update and calculating how the new algorithm will impact their websites. The update was expected to launch before the end of 2015 but Google confirmed that Penguin will be pushed back into 2016. This means you have more time to prepare for the update before it’s officially rolled out.To help you develop a better understanding of Penguin we spoke with digital marketing, web copywriting, and SEO specialist Aimee Beck, who gave us insight into what to expect when the algorithm is finally released.Penguins Have Been Absent For 14 MonthsThe last Google Penguin update occurred 14 months ago. Can you talk about Penguin and what impact the algorithm has on search engine rankings for those who are less familiar with these updates and their significance? Sure. Penguin is a Google algorithm update designed to penalize sites that are engaging in black-hat link-building tactics. Links have always been a major algorithmic ranking factor – that was no secret. For many years website owners bought useless, irrelevant backlinks in order to manipulate search results. This tactic worked for a time until Google released the first Penguin algorithm update in 2012.Today, Penguin reviews all links that point to your website and identifies spammy links. When there are too many low quality links, Penguin penalizes the site by removing your URLs from SERPs. However, it is possible to recover from a Penguin penalty by removing or redirecting the spam in favour of higher quality sites.Penguin 4.0 Will Be Unlike Any Previous IncarnationsGoogle Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes has suggested that Penguin 4.0 will be different from previous Penguin announcements. How should marketers adjust their content and link building strategies if, as Illyes suggests, Penguin becomes a real-time algorithm update?The exact timing of the Penguin update is irrelevant in my opinion. The most important piece of advice I can provide marketers is that chasing any algorithm will eventually lead to trouble. Focus your efforts on creating quality content that users will find helpful and informative. If a piece of content is interesting, it will be shared and generate natural, organic backlinks. You should always focus on providing content that engages with your audience rather than solely strategizing around how to appease Google.To Link Or Not To Link...Link building is a divisive tactic in the SEO community. Some influencers believe acquiring new links is no longer worth the effort, while others argue that quality links still increase domain authority. How important is link building to your strategy?Personally, I’ve never participated in link building of any kind. I’ve been an SEO Copywriter for the better part of 15 years, and I was trained by the best of the best. The one thing I’ve always practiced and preached is that no good can come from link building strategies. Many people have argued with me on that point over the years by countering that backlinks are an important algorithmic ranking signal. However, I stuck to my belief that link building leads to trouble and Penguin justified my position by penalizing sites that engaged in unethical link-building strategies. I agree that links are important for SEO but links are only one small piece of the bigger puzzle to increase domain authority. When you create quality content that engages with audiences and increases shares, the links will come naturally.Recovering From Penguin PenaltiesWhat tips can you offer to marketers and web managers trying to recover from a Penguin penalty?If you don’t have time to clean up your low-quality incoming links before Penguin 4.0 rolls out (and time is of the essence), there’s a chance you’ll get slapped. Fortunately, Penguin is not a permanent penalty. You can begin to manually clean up some of those troubling links immediately after the update is released. Step one is to perform a comprehensive link audit. Identify sites that are irrelevant to your site, full of disruptive ads, and contain low-quality content (or no content). Search for the point of contact at those sites and request via email or phone that the link be removed. These requests often go without response so follow up with a second request within the next few days. Once you have two attempts under your belt - in writing for documentation - then you can alert Google by using the Disavow tool. Disavowing links basically means you’re informing Google, “I’m doing my best to follow best practices, and I know this is a low-quality link. Here is proof that I’ve tried to remove it, but to no avail.” Then you can submit a reconsideration request to Google.The 2nd thing you can do is try to generate quality links. Because Penguin looks at the percentage of good links vs bad ones, you can tip the scales in your favour to help recover from a penalty. Take your time and determine the quality of these new domains before negotiating new links. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently build new links that could trigger another penalty.Differentiate Between The UpdatesPenguin is one of the nicknames used to describe Google’s various updates along with Panda, Pigeon, Hummingbird, Pirate, Phantom, RankBrain, Payday Loan, and Mobilegeddon. How does one differentiate from these various adjustments to ranking signals?First, Hummingbird is the actual engine itself. Panda, Mobilegeddon and Pigeon are all specific updates to the engine’s algorithm but each update focuses on a particular part of SEO. Mobilegeddon, for example, is specifically designed to improve mobile search results. Panda analyzes the quality of website content; Pigeon validates the relevance of content for local searches, and so on. Each update has its own specific way of cleaning up search engine results.It can be tricky to keep up with all the algorithmic changes and code names – even for us SEOs. Our job is to stay on top of all the moving parts at all times. Part of the value that an SEO provides clients is the knowledge and understanding of how these ever-evolving algorithms positively or negatively impact search results. Combined with a deep understanding of user behaviour, a skilled SEO specialist can execute a strategy that drives real results.What Lies AheadLastly, are you aware of any pending Google updates following Penguin?Any predicted update is purely speculative unless Google provides a heads-up in advance. We typically notice fluctuations in rankings, traffic, or analytics and begin beating down Google’s door for an explanation. For example, there’s been some talk in the search community about a possible update that happened November 19 – possibly a Phantom 3 or Quality Update. However, Google has refused to confirm or deny our suspicions. The responses have been very generic replies in the nature of “we’re always making small changes – hundreds every year.” Only updates that Google deems worthy of an official announcement - or a fancy code name - are publicly confirmed.I can’t speak to any pending updates expected in 2016 but I suspect we’ll continue to see progress on quality content (Panda), mobile-friendliness (Mobilegeddon), and user behaviour. I’m also very interested to see how RankBrain unfolds over the next year.