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In late October, Google pushed out its latest algorithm adjustments, giving the Penguin algorithm its first update in over a year. The update follows Google’s incremental changes to its Panda algorithm in late September, which targeted sites housing thin content and aggregator sites.

The update, which will continue to roll out globally over the coming weeks, is expected to affect around 1% of search queries in US English, according to Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, Pierre Far. This is a significant drop from the 3.1 percent of queries initially affected by Penguin when it launched in April 2012. Google has expressed their wish for these changes to be viewed as more of a data refresh, and not a wider rewrite of the algorithm. This is expected to occur at the beginning of next year.

Google’s request has surprised the online community, as the simple denomination of the update and the extended period between releases had raised user’s expectations for a significant update. However, Google has assured users that the Penguin algorithm will now receive regular updates, allowing those that have been hit by the changes to recover quicker.

What is the purpose of Penguin?

The update aims to decrease the rankings and positioning of sites that actively violate Google’s current Webmaster Guidelines and complimentary best practices. The Penguin filter targets sites that use unnatural methods to obtain valuable backlinks, such as low-quality links, paying for backlinks from third-parties, the promotion of mass backlinks across the web and obvious spam behaviour.

Typically, most search results will contain at least one or two sites featured across the first two pages that simply don’t deserve to be there. Penguin should, in effect, knock those sites down the rankings, and because Penguin’s effects still apply to redirects, those sites won’t be able to creep back up under another guise in the future.

The refresh should, in turn, now help sites that have opted to clean up any lingering spam signals discovered in the previous Penguin iteration, and demote sites with newly-discovered spam. However, as this is a rollout that is expected to last multiple weeks, users may not see immediate results and should continue to monitor their site’s analytics very carefully for any sudden changes in organic search rankings throughout the next few weeks.

Sites that actively attempt to keep a clean sheet and stay abreast of the latest SEO techniques more than likely won’t see a significant impact from these changes . If you are regularly publishing high-quality content and resisting the urge to stuff irrelevant keywords into your content for the sake of boosting your rankings, then you should remain safe this time round.

Who has been affected so far?

At time of writing, experts are still combing the over positive and negative results of the deployment. At face value, sites that have practised aggressive SEO techniques previously, sites that received a penalty as a result of Penguin 1.0 or 2.0 and sites that have successfully disavowed links in compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines have received sizeable ranking boosts. However, a small number of sites have seen moderate ranking drops due to operating in highly competitive industries and competitors recovering from previous penalties.

We will begin to obtain a fuller picture in the coming weeks, but immediate evidence suggests that the update has succeeded in penalising offenders from the index. We must remember that if these adjustments are merely a small refresh, when Google does decide to push out a larger update, the results may not be so welcoming.

I think I may have been penalised, what can I do to begin recovery?

If you are the owner of a SMB, keeping up to date with Google’s dynamic algorithms can be an arduous and intimidating task. You will more than likely have enough to deal with online, without  attempting to decipher exactly what each update will mean for your ongoing SEO strategy.

If you are comfortable with the techniques and terminology, and you have already begun to notice significant changes in your data, then you should take immediate measures to identify any questionable third-party sites that could be linking to your content. If contacting the original source of the links doesn’t yield any positive results, site owners can use Google’s Disavow Tool to try and begin the process of disavowing unwanted links from its algorithms.

Perhaps the easiest and most important step to take in ensuring your site isn’t penalised when an update is rolled out, is to ensure that you only chase quality and credible links in the future. Should you acquire any unnatural links in the interim, you will have to wait for the next update until your website can even begin to recover.

So, try to follow these three simple steps in order to ensure you are continually protecting your site from Penguin:

  • You should protect your site by conducting a detailed analysis of your current backlink profile using one of the many tools available online.
  • Begin to filter all external links to your site and determine those that are of a high quality. Remember, not all backlinks will add value to your site. Pay attention to the relevancy of a link, its provenance, their sourced domains and the pages they lead to.
  • Try to build an impenetrable Penguin-proof fortress for the future using some up-to-date link building techniques, such as implied link usage, credible social citations and competitive backlink analysis.

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