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Google’s Penguin 3.0: Taking Aim at Bad Backlinks

Browse through any internet marketing message boards, and the buzz about Penguin; is deafening. When 2.0 launched in October of 2013, Google’s beloved update took aim at spammy practices and black hat backlinks tactics. Updates have continued to be released unexpectedly, but nothing significant enough to warrant a 3.0 label. It’s coming though – we don’t know when, but we know it’s on the way.

Rather than wait until the release hits and becoming reactionary, it’s wise to take stock of your site and SEO practices now to identify areas that require improvement. This article will serve as your handy guide to prepping for an onslaught of penguins. Act now, or prepare to get pummeled.

Penguin’s Poignant Purpose

Google has made one thing clear over the years: they don’t like spammy tricksters who attempt to cheat the system. Why? Because users don’t like the results. If a search for “best shoe site” yields link farms and sites that are simply traffic hogs without any supporting content, users will be disgruntled and go elsewhere. Google is therefore a slave to their searchers.

Penguin, unlike its cousin Panda, aims specifically for backlinks and related SEO practices. If sites are clearly purchasing backlinks or are an aforementioned link farm, their search engine results were likely highly diminished when Penguin first hit the scene.

Some sites aren’t necessarily black and white in their practices, and plenty of small business owners felt the squeeze, but without an understanding of how or why. If you don’t yet know how affected you’ve been by any of the updates, check out this handy free Penguin results tool; it will show you what you need to know.

How to Ensure You’re Not Dinged by Penguin’s Update

Here are some critical tips to follow so you don’t see your SERPs plummet:

  • Be diligent about checking all sites that link back to you. If they are questionable in any way (content, black hat practices, irrelevant to your industry, etc.), not only will the links not help you, they could diminish an otherwise stellar reputation.
  • Use backlink verifiers like IWebTool and OpenSiteExplorer to thoroughly check your links.
  • Be meticulous about the data you see in Google’s Webmaster Tools. Check your site’s stats to ensure you have no offenders. The best way to proceed is to comb through the list of sites who link to you. This is laborious, but worth it; not following up on these links can be hugely detrimental to your marketing efforts.
  • Use sites like RemoveEm, which feature tools that try and predict which links are bad. If you notice a good number of questionable links, consider doing a full-service paid option to enlist professionals in your quest to clean house.

Once you identify all the offenders, it’s a two-step process:

  1. Make sure you are not linking to these sites.
  2. Contact the webmasters of each site and request link removal. In your letter, make it clear you’re a site owner addressing a Google penalty, and be specific about the URLs you want removed. Include the full URL where the link can be found, your link, anchor text, and any other specific and relevant details. Make this as easy on them as possible so you’re more likely to get a positive response.

Some sites have contact information that is difficult to track down. To unearth the info you need, earch for @WEBSITENAME to see if any results yield an address, or, if available, use the website’s Contact form. If you’re still not having any luck, these tools can help:

  • SpyOnWeb: Perfect when you have a single URL to research. SpyOnWeb lets you find all domains associated with a URL. All you need is the website address, IP address, or Google Analytics / Ad Sense code.
  • DomainTools: Lets you do a whois.sc lookup to find the owner of any site you’re listed on. They can’t hide from you forever.
  • Keep excellent records of these bad links, and all attempts at correspondence. If you ever do get dinged by Google, this kind of paper trail shows your due diligence and can help tremendously.
  • Finally, if you feel Penguin erroneously penalized your website, fill out the Penguin complaint form on Google’s site. You’ll need to list the specific search terms you feel you are wrongly penalized for, but it’s worth the effort if you know it’s a mistake.

A word to the wise: backlinks are rarely neutral. They either help your results by giving you credibility and relevant industry support, or they hurt you through black hat practices. Don’t amass links just for the sake of having them; they have to make sense, and your partners must echo the same integrity and commitment to quality. Otherwise, Penguin will strike.

How has your experience with previous Penguin updates been so far? Do you feel it’s helped your overall results, or erroneously penalized you?

About the author

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Tina Courtney

Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile

49 Comments

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  • Hi wanted to ask you about my site shaadisaath . what should i do to get good backlinks or which site are best for me to get backlink. i do basic bookmarking submission, article , blog , blog comment, social site, info-graphic site.

    hey please give me some idea to improve my site.

  • It’s been 3 months my site disappeared from google with primary keyword. But in early August it showed up then gone again in end of August. I have no idea this is about penguin update or just google dance. But with prime keyword all sales are great. Yup, this is a game over the internet world.

  • Why Google has chosen to penalise sites rather than simply ignore the links is beyond me. It means this is an ongoing battle to try and clean up link profiles, get rid of inbound links that you have no control of and pay for constant link clean ups and monitoring ad your competitors spend ad little as 50 dollars spamming your site!
    I have cleaned the link profile of my site (plenty of solid, original, useful content) as much as seems possible but to no avail…
    I am now say waiting for an algorithm update which, when it finally arrived, maybe absolutely no positive effect whatsoever.

  • Some useful tools thank you.

    Getting in touch with websites that link to yours can sometimes be impossible, especially if they are in a different language. In this case Google’s Disavow Tool is the best option if all else fails.

  • Really strange article, suggesting we lie to the people who have been linking to us for years. We’re to contact the “offenders” and lie “we’re addressing a Google penalty” that doesn’t exist? So we can scrape off our link friends. Why doesn’t Google concern itself about all the thousands of bogus statistics sites that hijack our domain in their Url or the sites that pull entire sites into theirs with ads overlaying yours. Just try getting your site removed from one of those. As for third party help getting your back links removed, remember if the request doesn’t come from the domain (email) in question, it is likely negative seo and should be ignored and never replied to.

  • Very good and useful article and I recommend to all owners of business to study it. I employed a company, for site advance in google and didn’t control their work.
    My website was penalized in October, 2013 because it contained a large number of bad links, to my site. Therefore I recommend you carefully watch links and to check them. Thanks. Yours faithfully Igor.Odessa Ukraine.

  • I’d guess that Google will fix for algorithm penguin, now it is proven that a link back would be problematic if created to gain popularity.

  • Google has made one thing clear over the years: they don’t like spammy tricksters who attempt to cheat the system. Why? Because users don’t like the results

    this is GREAT ! :)) Are you kidding? Average Internet user have no idea about SEO and SE Spamm :)Moreover they DO NOT CARE about this at all. They ask question and want answer. As long as each site in SERP answers the question everything is all right. User do not care why this site is numer 1 and the other number 5.
    The only reason Google punish for links is AdWords! If they dropp your site in most cases you have no choice and have to start AdWords campaign to save your traffic, conversions, etc. AdWords is the only one, true answer for all those Penguins, Pandas, etc., etc.
    This is the truth! No matter what you do Google can punish your site anytime just because they are in charge here, this their area and they still want more and more $$$.

  • While the above article makes perfect sense it still does not help the fact that even after penguin there are still spammy sites outranking those with better content.

  • It is hoped that the next Penguin update adjusts to account for backlinks that are beyond the control of site owners (small business or non-commercial websites) who do not have the technical skills or the budget to identify and remove or disavow those inbound links. Danny Sullivan at has discussed at length the drawbacks of Penguin’s penalty based approach, and the need for Google to incorporate another means of establishing trusted domains for Penguin.

  • Why don’t we all just hold hands and drink the Google Kool-Aid?

    Why would you ever worry about what Google considers a “good” link? They can’t even get it right without manual interjection, and that only happens if you are a big brand, or if you make enough noise on one of their forums.

    But, all you lemmings continue to do what your mother tells you to, despite that fact that YOU are the one with a quality product or service to offer, not Google.

  • Why would you bother with anything google does to you – surely you are selling your brand – YOU – and the data that you provide that is of value for your clients – Yes we want to be seen in the search engines – but coin=g this and getting feedback and good comment links along with social – plus google xml and robots.txt would keep even them happy

  • Definitely a conflict of interest for Google to sell Adwords. Makes it advantageous for them when a site does not perform well on its own. I’ve also read where webmasters will denigrate a competing site by giving it bad incoming links. This should not be possible.

  • Let me get this straight. One of your competitors buys many different domain names using a different IP via godaddy.com (I use to setup name servers). They add your link to these poor sites. So your site becomes penalized or banned from google? Is this not a law suit waiting to happen?

  • Now day every one interested in making money. Even the Google is doing same things first show the way how to generate the links towards and than vice verse for example Google authorship, three way link building, paid links and Google more emphasis just do ad words if you want stay top position in Google. Now we make commuinate and avoid Google to crawl our websites..

  • What do you do when you find you are linked to loads of mirror sites which you didn’t ask to be put on in the first place (or at least I don’t think I did), and they say they will charge you $5 or $7 for each link removal?

    • Threaten them with your lawyer. Give them 5 days (or whatever) to remove the links or your lawyer will be in touch with a Cease and Desist order. Threaten to lodge a complaint with their ISP, host and all other appropriate institutions. Tell them to provide proof with your signature that you signed with them. Then tell them to shove their $5-$7 link removal fee.

  • As a small Law firm with the majority of my clients now coming from the web. It is very important that I keep quality back links to insure that my site is not penalized or that I am not doing anything that could be considered unethical. Thank you very much for the information to check these links.

    Nancy

  • Hi Tina – thanks for including our Free Google penalty checker tool in this post. I’ve heard from scores of people that didn’t even know they were impacted by the Penguin (unnatural links) algorithm until they used this tool.

    The key takeaway is that EVERYONE should perform a periodic link audit to protect themselves from the prospect of a negative SEO attack.

    And to address another poster – DO NOT pay for link removal. Just disavow any site that demands ransom and if filing a reconsideration request make a notation of those sites.

  • Gee I must be dumb I just don’t get this. It went way over my head. You buy a directory software you build it up have over two thousand sites on it how do you know it’s showing bad back links. Google says nothing in there web master tool about the site but it’s a no show in Google only by the domain name world-netlink. This info is good but the links tell me nothing. One link showed me a graph starting at zero and jumped way up then dropped to zero 3 times and ending way up. Don’t know why the roller coaster ride. Can someone offer some free help.

  • Why link to other sites that say nothing about your business? Paying for links to other sites is crazy. Build your citations and link them right back to your site and link your site to them in a few places within the content of your pages.

    There’s Google Plus, CitySearch, FB, Twitter – all these different places with customizable pages and info about your business is what a site can safely link to. Build all the different aspects of your company’s brand, products and services through citations and link them to your site.

    Don’t forget internal linking. Make sure you can get to every page of your site from any page of your site.

  • You should always check you site for bad links. There are plenty of tools available to do this. Trying to get them removed is usually the challenge. The Google disavow tool works well but takes a fair bit of time before anything happens.

    cheers

    Gary

  • Hello Tina, as an SEO I am not new to these takedown requests by panicking backlinkers that now rue the day they went overboard with some “ingenious” tactic. However, what I have found is that Google, once it spots a site that seems to have a suspicious backlink profile, lists a lot more than “only” the shady links. It seems to operate by the principle that a perfectly honestly earned link on Site A which is in Penguins “good books” may be a bought link on Site B which has been caught red-handed in other black-hat tactics. Now site-owner B writes to ALL these sites, even those that linked to him because of the content and was never approached for link buying. Let us call this site Site C. Site C has never engaged in selling links and their outlinks are just a consequence of their research into a certain subject where they just happened to find a good linkworthy piece of content on Site B. Deleting that link on Site C though in my opinion now puts Site C, perfectly white-hat up to now, under Penguin’s scrutiny as well, since by deleting the link on request from penalized site B they seem to admit they once put up the link as a (paid) favor, and not for purely organic reasons. Since these requests have grown considerably over the past months on sites I have dealings with and which ALL are completely white hat, I now tell penalized site owners to first reconsider their request and possibly put “our” link into the Penguin complaint form rather than being too quick and seemingly admitting to be in cahoots with their black hat tactics. The problem though is: they will probably use the “disavow” form instead and still hurt us white-hatters just as much by throwing the child out with the bathwater in any case. As always, I have found Google’s algorithms to be have unintended consequences that are even more time-consuming to set right than outright and justified penalties.

  • I replied earlier. That being said, I need to add to this again. I am all for good content and marketing the correct way. However, if poor quality websites are linking to you that is out of your control. What Google should do is just not count bad links toward improving your ranking.

    How many poor sites are pointing to Google+, facebook and twitter. Lets see all those web sites get penalized or banned from Google search. Oh that is right this is America and $$$$ owns this country and people wonder why this country is going to hell- GREED my friends!

  • Tina, good article with a lot of good points shared. Our own site went up in visibility an entire overall 4% which was huge for us. 400 unique visitors on a Saturday after we went up! We focus on content, as content experts. Blogging organically, social media focused on content, guest blogging focused on content…nothing forced, all natural, organic. I disagree with everyone who says “drink Google’s kool aid, Google is all games,” etc. If you do content as naturally as you hold a day-to-day conversation, you’ll succeed. It’s that simple: be natural, be yourself, and have conversations – steady content publishing and creation.

    One resource not to be left out, with the tools you mentioned, is Google’s own penalty recovery help page. I’ve gotten a lot of insight from scouring that page. https://sites.google.com/site/recoverfrompenalty/

  • Interesting article.I try from long time to reach on first page on Google, but still doesn’t show me. I use proper keywords and i created as many good back-links as i can, but i don’t know what is the problem.Please review my website and give me an advice what i need to improve.Thank you.

  • It’s strange how Google is acting. If new websites can’t use back-links and directories then how can they get their websites ranked higher. Nobody can find you on the internet without backlinks and directory submissions. SEO is effective, but takes a lot of time to generate traffic. Thanks for the post – good to keep in mind.

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