The Google algorithm changes regularly, possibly daily and in most cases the changes are very small.  Every now and then a larger and more significant change is made by Google in it’s ongoing pursuit of promoting relevant content in an ever growing space.

If you rely on traffic to your website to run your business then no doubt you have heard the news regarding the confirmed Penguin 3.0 Google search algorithm update.  For some online businesses this update is going to be devastating, yet others might not even notice!

What is Penguin 3.0?

The reasoning behind Penguin 3.0 is a bit long-winded, but basically a few years ago Google used the number and relevance of inbound links (links from another website to your website) as a measurement of authority.  Lots of lovely links to your website could have a significant and positive impact on where your website ranked.  SEO companies started to exploit this by selling links.  Lots of businesses signed up to SEO contracts where the SEO company was literally creating 100’s of low quality links all over the web, they would post on forums, create web pages with links, spam blogs etc – all using your keywords and website URL attached.  This became a problem as Google will not have it’s reputation skewed by such obvious attempts of obstruction. Even authentic approaches to creating inbound links like creating guest posts have been hit in recent updates.

If your website has ever been involved in a link building campaign you might receive a Google penalty.

It is harsh but at the end of the day Google is a massive organisation with huge powers employing top boffins from across the globe.  Google is not in the business of giving you free traffic. If you want traffic you must understand and comply with the Google guidelines.  This most recent of several Penguin updates and it has come as no surprise at all to those in the SEO industry and any company with an SEO worth their weight would have been prepared.

How can I tell if my website is affected by Penguin 3.0?

The first rule is to make sure that you are tracking your target keywords.  I like to use positionly.com or take a look at majestic.com (never rely on just manually doing a search to see where you rank as your preferences, history, location etc will all have an effect on the position displayed – the pro tools take an average).  Load up your tracking software and have a look to see if your positions have actually changed since the most recent update.  I would say it would be a good idea to check daily for a week or so to see where you settle.

If your positions have not changed then chances are you are OK.  But read on there are some other important measures for you to action.

The second rule of SEO is to keep records of all changes made to the website.  If your positions are now lower than they were we need to see what else has changed.  Look through the changes that you have made recently and see if any of these are likely to have had impact on the website rankings.

  1. Have you deleted a previously popular page?
  2. Have you re-written lots of content, in particular content related to your previously high ranking keywords?
  3. Have you added or removed a new section?
  4. Have you redesigned the website or rebuilt it on a new platform?

Next look at changes that are outside of your control.

  1. If you have slipped down just a few places take a look to see what websites have replaced you – have your competitors made any significant changes to their website?  (You are checking your competitors websites regularly and noting their changes aren’t you??)
  2. How reliable has your hosting been recently? Have there been any outages that might have affected a recent Google crawl?
  3. Are there generally any seasonal changes that can affect traffic?

Now log into Google Webmaster as there are a few important clues and messages that we can look at here.

  1. Click on the “Site Messages” tab.  Google is very helpful and if there are any issues detected with your website, for example you have broken a guideline or there is an issue with the sever, you will usually see a message here.  You might see a message like “Links to your site violate Google’s quality guidelines” this message would usually be as a direct result of an update to the algorithm like Penguin 3.0.
  2. The second place to check is under the “search traffic” tab and then look at the “manual actions” section.  If you have been hit by a manual penalty it is possible that your entire website can disappear from Google listings.  The message will usually provide details of what actions you need to take and how to remedy the situation and you will be required  submit a reconsideration request to Google outlining the steps you have taken to rectify the issue.
  3. If you don’t see any warning messages and still believe that you have been hit by a penalty then it’s worth looking through the other tabs in Google Webmaster to check that your website is being indexed correctly and that there are no errors in the coding (HTML) or metadata.  Sometimes the website is accidentally set to ask Google to ignore it’s content by a robot.txt file which is a simple fix.

What do I need to do about a Penguin 3.0 penalty?

If your website is hit by a Penguin 3.0 penalty it will be because of a large volume of low quality (spammy) inbound links. It is urgent that you remedy the situation! You need to understand the nature of the links to your website (use your tracking software!).  You must then clean up any content that you do have control over and then you can ask Google to ignore them.  You can do this by requesting the links to be disavowed 

Summary

I think really for any business that completely and utterly relies on Google for traffic and sales it’s important to have some resource allocated to keeping up to date  with SEO news and looking after your website.  Ignoring the power of Google can really be a false economy.