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How To Prep For The Pending Penguin Update & Ensure You’re Penalty Free In 2016

How To Prep For The Pending Penguin Update & Ensure You’re Penalty Free In 2016

Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, confirmed on Twitter that we’ll be graced with the next Penguin update before the end of 2015.

This means that all of those webmasters who were hit by the last Penguin update (in December 2014, mind you) now have the chance of recovery, since historically, this update hasn’t been refreshed automatically.

This next Penguin update should also be a real-time version, so as Google detects spammy links, sites may be impacted immediately — and when spammy links are removed, those sites may see a more immediate recovery.

While I want to believe in my heart of hearts that spammy links aren’t an issue anymore, and the whole industry has adopted above-the-board, clean linking strategies, I know that’s not the case. With every algorithm update comes a host of winners and losers, and I’m sure this next Penguin release will be no different.

I know auditing your link profile isn’t always top-of-mind, especially if things are running smoothly, but now’s a great time to do any last-minute checks to make sure you’re prepared for Penguin.

Even if there wasn’t an impending algorithm update, it’s never a bad thing to keep a sharp eye on your link profile. Spam could be happening, even if you’re not directly intending it to, and “I didn’t know” isn’t good enough to get you out of  the penalty box.

Anchor Text Distribution

I’m sure I’m beating a dead horse with this one, but you should know by now that all of your links shouldn’t include exact-match anchor text. Vary your external links by brand, URL, long-tail keywords and non-descriptive keywords.

There’s no exact percentage distribution that you should live by with this one, but in general, you should have the most branded anchor text, since that’s likely how most people would like to find you.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

Sudden Spikes & Too Many Referring Pages

When you’re analyzing your backlinks at the highest level, you want to look for anything out of the ordinary, and that will usually show itself as sudden spikes in your line graphs.

Take a look at these backlink profiles for two different websites. (Names undisclosed for privacy reasons, but I assure you they are real domains.)


Site B has steadily been increasing their Total Referring Domains for the past 12 months. They’ve also appeared to be cleaning up some of their backlinks, as their Total Referring Pages started decreasing, meaning that they probably had a couple of websites link to them from every single page of their domain (a red flag for spammy practices, in Google’s eyes).

Site A has also been steadily increasing their Total Referring Domains, but that sudden spike of Total Referring Pages between June and July gives me pause. Anything that could bring that sharp an increase over that short a period of time will likely catch Google’s attention (for the worse), since it’s unlikely that happened naturally.

It’s hard for me to say what’s really going on just by looking at the graph, since that doesn’t tell the whole story. But it looks like they started getting site-wide links on a few of their referring domains, which again is a clear signal for spammy practices.

Disavowing Links

When it comes to disavowing your links, you’ll probably find conflicting information on whether or not you should go down this route.

On the one hand, it makes sense to clearly tell Google that you had nothing to do with these spammy links pointing to your site. That said, disavowing is not a substitute for manually getting the links removed, so there’s some question if it’s worth going to the trouble just to bring something to attention that may not even be on Google’s radar yet.

If you do decide to disavow your links, John Lincoln has a great write-up of how to do this. While he focused specifically on a manual penalty and not an algorithm update, there’s a lot of overlap in the process itself.

Note: Since Penguin is an algorithm update and not a manual penalty, you don’t need to worry about submitting a reconsideration request in order to see any benefits when the next Penguin rolls out.

Optimize Your Internal Links

External links rightfully get the most attention with anything Penguin-related, but you shouldn’t ignore the signals you’re giving Google with your internal links. These might not have a big impact on your rankings, but they do heavily influence how search engines crawl your site.

These are links that you have control over; you can help dictate to search engines which pages have higher importance and which pages are thematically related to one another. Your internal links can also be subject to over-optimization, just like your external links.

Keep these things in mind to keep a clean internal link profile:

  • Vary your anchor text with non-descriptive text, not just exact-match keywords.
  • Link related pages together. Ask, “Would someone looking at Page A also be interested in Page B?”
  • Try to maintain as much of a hierarchy as possible.
  • Match your consumer-facing links to your canonicals and what’s in your XML sitemap.


You could feasibly do all of this manually, but why on earth would you, when we’re lucky to work in an industry with oodles of tools available that make our jobs so much easier?

In no particular order (and this is by no means an exhaustive list of everything out there), these are some of my favorites to use:

  • Link Research Tools. I’ll admit I’m still navigating the full potential of this tool, but I’m already blown away. It includes link monitoring so you see spikes in backlinks, competitor research, link review to find spammy links and so much more. Word of wisdom: This runs pretty pricey, so probably best for agency or enterprise level.
  • Ahrefs. For a quick look at trended backlinks, you can use Ahrefs. It allows you to test your URLs a few times, and it comes with a 14-day free trial before moving into the paid model. It’s a fast way to see if there’s been a quick spike in your backlinks profile.
  • Check My Links. This is a Chrome extension that scans your pages for any broken links.
  • Deep Crawl or Screaming Frog. You need a good crawler to get the most accurate raw data from your site. Depending on the size of your site, either of these is a fantastic option.
  • SERPs Volatility. I love this because it shows high/low days of ranking changes, so you can easily spot if something is happening industry-wide. Similarly, Moz keeps an updated list of recent algorithm updates that’s good to keep handy when you’re relating traffic changes back to algorithm updates.