“Matt [Cutts] said that there will be a large Penguin update in 2013 that he thinks will be one of the more talked about Google algorithm updates this year,” were the words Barry Schwartz wrote on SearchEngineLand in March. Since then, there’s been no end to the speculation about that update.
On Monday the 13th, a webmaster video by Cutts said he expected Penguin 2.0 to go a “bit deeper” and be more effective than the first Penguin update. As always, thought, Cutts can’t get into too much detail.
Predictions have come in from experts and non-experts alike, but there are some common themes. Anchor text abuse, link trust, “bad link neighborhoods,” citation links, link trust, social signals and relevancy seem to be the most common themes.
The biggest debate, perhaps, has been on whether webmasters should begin pruning their link portfolios or not.
Portent’s brilliant study ‘A Changing Standard for SEO Spam: Google Penguin, Link Penalties & Declining Leniency’ suggested, “Google is tightening its standard for manipulative linking, putting more companies at risk of being penalized with every Penguin update… In other words, clean up your link profile now — before it’s too late.”
But regardless of the incredible research that went into this study, not everyone agrees.
I thought I’d take a look at what a variety of experts are saying on the subject, simply because no one knows what the future holds.
Jason Brooks – Post Penguin 2.0 Link Building – What Links Will Work? on UK Linkology
“Citations are likely to be officially crowned as the most powerful links on the web when the penguin pecks again (no surprises there then as they probably already are).
Our regular ‘non-citation’ based hyperlinks will continue to pass power but with contextual relevance, authority of site and author and social visibility used as their primary weighting factors.
Links with no authority and no author authority will pass nothing regardless of being relevant or not.
I think the only saviour for small sites with lesser known authors and no authority will be social visibility and engagement metrics but ultimately well engaged sites will build the other metrics anyway.”
Brooks believes that citations and author authority are going to be the type of link for link juice, and that topic has come up a lot. He also counts on relevancy and social signals both via author authority (centered on G+ Authorship) and regular social media marketing. Brooks also sounds the horn of relevancy whenever he can.
Eric Enge – Penguin 2.0 Forewarning: The Google Perspective on Links on SearchEngineWatch
“Would you build the link if Google and Bing did not exist?
If you have 2 minutes with a customer, and the law required that you show a random sampling of your links to customer prospects, would you happily show the link to a target customer? Or would it embarrass you?
Did the person giving you the link intend it as a genuine endorsement?
Do you have to make an argument to justify that it’s a good link?
If you’ve been building links that are exposed by these questions, the best thing you can do is start getting in front of it now. Don’t wait for Penguin 2.0, or the next wave of link message penalties to come out. Start getting your business on a sound long-term footing now.
Start actively building unimpeachable links, and start working on eliminating the bad ones. I am not saying that you need to stand on the rooftops and yell out “hey Google I sinned come punish me”, but you can begin asking sites that are the source of dangerous links to remove them.”
Enge’s piece is brilliant because it asks a series of questions. Ask yourself those questions and think about the answers. This is a natural, holistic approach to Penguin and link building in general. Enge agrees that you should work on removing and disavowing spammy links, and he also agrees that citation links will be important. He also values relevancy and common sense in his Penguin predictions.
Simon Penson – Google Penguin, the Second (Major) Coming: How to Prepare on SearchEngineWatch
“If I was asked what my money was on, I would say we will see a tightening of what is an allowable level of spam still further, some attempt to begin measuring link authority by the neighborhood it comes from and any associated social signals that come with it. The rate at which links are earned too will come under more scrutiny and that means you should think about:
* Understanding your link profile in much great detail. Tools and data from companies such as Majestic, Ahrefs, CognitiveSEO, and others will become more necessary to mitigate risk.
* Where you link comes from not just what level of apparent “quality” it has. Link trust is now a key metric.
* Increasing the use of brand and “white noise” anchor text to remove obvious exact and phrase match anchor text problems.
* Looking for sites that receive a lot of social sharing relative to your niche and build those relationships.
* Running back link checks on the site you get links from to ensure their equity isn’t coming from bad neighborhoods as that could pass to you.”
Penson focuses on bad link neighborhoods and anchor text abuse. He notes that where the link is from is just as important as the type of link, especially where the next Penguin update is concerned. He also preaches the importance of social sharing. He also details what those bad neighborhoods are and how to figure out if your links come from those neighborhoods.
Pratik Dholakiya – The Coming Penguin Update: Should You Reevaluate Your Link Building Strategy? on SearchEngineJournal
“Why do I choose “would I build this link if it was no-follow?” as my primary test? Besides the fact that it fits Google’s Terms of Service perfectly, it is a sound marketing strategy. I believe the focus of SEO should be on growing your online presence even in the absence of search engine benefits… Excessive reliance on Google’s algorithm is unsafe, and sends the wrong message to clients.
The second question to ask is “how easily could a newcomer copy my link building strategy?” Yes, anything can be copied, but how easily, and by who? No content strategy should be easy to copy without at least a year of serious writing experience…
It’s not that “easy” or “simple” are bad. Sometimes it’s important to strip away the complexity and focus on mastering the most effective skills, which are often the basics. No, it’s that “mechanical” and “linear” are bad. They are bad because even somebody who hasn’t learned the basics can handle something that’s mechanical and linear…
To get into some of the specifics, focus on modern anchor text strategies that are concerned just as much with click-through-rate, branding, and conversions as they are with search engines…
Google doesn’t want amateurs at the top of its search results.”
Dholakiya, much like Eric Enge, focuses on a couple of questions. The no-follow question is intriguing, but the it’s the statement about how unsafe relying on Google’s is that really makes that thought come together. He also notes that having an ‘easy to copy’ strategy is a bad thing precisely because good, sustainable strategy comes with deep thought and research. Pay special attention to that last part I put in bold text.
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Pete just pointed out that this article is from last year, but it’s still an exceptionally solid analysis, so we’re going to keep it in the piece. Thanks, Dr. Pete!)
“There’s still a lot of speculation, but likely culprits include:
* Aggressive exact-match anchor text
* Overuse of exact-match domains
* Low-quality article marketing & blog spam
* Keyword stuffing in internal/outbound links
Many people have suggested low-quality link profiles in general, but analysis of Panda has been complicated by Google’s recent attack on link networks, which seems to have been manual and has probably been going on for weeks.
… From a diagnostic standpoint, it definitely helps to know whether you were hit by Penguin or another update, but after that, you have to fix what’s in your power to fix. Don’t spend weeks trying to prove to management that this was all Google’s fault. Isolate the damage, find the problems you can fix, and get to work fixing them.”
Dr. Pete also takes a common sense approach to Penguin. He differs from Portent and several others, though, because he advises that you don’t take a hatchet to your links. He advocates a smart de-optimization strategy, if you need one at all. He also fixates on anchor text abuse, but acknowledges that some gray hat tactics might still work after the new Penguin update (whether he endorses them or not).
I want to throw my two cents into the hat here, as well. I think the biggest thing the next Penguin update will hit is anchor text abuse. It’s the easiest way for Google to find an overactive SEO. You really need to watch your anchor text—whether it’s overusing exact match anchor text, not varying the anchor text you’re using or refusing a branded link—you can’t follow those practices anymore.
Anchor text has to fit the webpage around it. It can’t be awkward, stilted or unnatural. If it’s an organic fit in a blog post or an author bio, that’s good. It has to coexist with citation links and provide value to the reader. Abusive anchor text provides no value to the reader, and it’s also easy for Google to target. It’s robotic and spammy, so it’s an obvious target.
I also think the industry’s a bit too jumpy right now. We’re too focused on ourselves as SEOs, we easily forget that Google’s web spam team is trying to fight spam, not subtle spam but egregious spam, the kind that well-meaning SEOs never engage in. They’re not trying to fight SEOs. They’re busy trying to sort out some crazy stuff and, as long as we act like human beings, they’re not coming after us.
I also doubt that guest posts will fall on the chopping block. There’s been a lot of scrutiny with guest posts, and people are even specifically asking Matt Cutts about it. I don’t think the sky is falling despite all of the noise. When real human thought goes into writing a post and getting a post published, it’s not spam. Guest posts add real value when they’re curated by humans. Those links are earned.
Brooks, Enge, Penson, Dholakiya and Dr. Pete are all search marketing professionals, but none of them agree completely. No one knows exactly what the next Penguin update is going to bring, but there’s one thing all of these Penguin Prophets have in common—they take a calm, common sense approach to the algorithm update. Take a look at your backlink portfolio, read their advice and make your own predictions.