Penguin, back and on good form
If you didn’t already know, Google announced it was rolling out its latest incarnation of the Penguin algorithm on the 23rd September. It’s always interesting to hear the predictions of various industry voices, as to how brilliant or catastrophic the next update will be, so we decided it was time to take stock, add our voice and explain how this version has impacted some of our clients.
But wait, what is Penguin?
The Penguin update was launched by Google way back in April 2012 – almost a generation ago in search marketing terms – with the aim of penalising sites that were considered to be in breach of their guidelines. Its core focus is to analyse the link profile of websites indexed in Google and ascertain whether they are natural, relevant and ultimately whether linking is being used in a way that makes Google a valuable and user friendly source of information. Any site that was deemed to be engaging in manipulative link building techniques to achieve rankings and grow traffic, be that via directories, paid links etc, fell on the wrong side of Google and thus received a penalty.
Marketing professionals and SEO experts had to work hard to remove these penalties; it meant analysing a client’s link profile on a microscopic level to determine whether it fitted with Google’s guidelines, before then taking the appropriate action to disavow or remove the ‘bad’ links. But even after all of that work, there were some cases where there wasn’t an immediate impact on visibility. Agencies and clients had to wait for the next update to be released, which in this case took just shy of two years!
This time it’s different though. Penguin is now real time, meaning that each time Google spiders ‘crawl’ a site, Google will review the link profile. If the profile is deemed negative, sites will be penalised, but when you remove the poor quality links you should see the harmful impact removed. This has been great news for a number of businesses who have fallen under historic algorithmic penalties; now any hard work put into cleaning up your link profile should be noticed quickly and you should see positive improvements because of it.
So how did it affect our clients?
Well, in short the answer is positively.
Here at Click Consult we monitor our client’s performance every day, week, month, quarter, year; we just love data that much.
We’ve seen improvements throughout some of those checks, but in the last week we have been putting together client’s monthly performance reports for October, the first full month after the update was rolled out.
When an algorithm update drops you always expect to see some kind of shift in performance, but nobody, no matter how much of an expert they profess to be, can say for certain how significant that is going to be, how positive it could be or how negative it could be. As soon as Google post their update there is no shortage of digital gurus and search marketing ninjas throwing out hyperbole, but ultimately, you never know what is going to happen.
In reality though, a number of our clients have seen a strong and positive uplift in performance as outlined in the graphs below.
Client Example 1
This client operates in the hugely competitive automotive sector, and they have spent more or less all of the last four years with low traffic and poor keyword rankings on pages in the SERPs that nobody even realise exist. Via a complete link audit, clean up and a link acquisition campaign this client was in a great position to take advantage of Penguin, and it happened at a great time for them.
Not only did their search visibility almost triple, they saw a fantastic improvement on some of their most valuable keywords, traffic and sessions were up over 30% month on month and 54% year on year.
Client Example 2
The second client sits in the ultra-competitive fashion market. Considering their position within that marketplace their performance has been relatively good over the last year; however some historic link issues have held it back. With the update of Penguin they also saw a strong increase in organic visibility as well as month on month traffic growth in excess of 25%.
Client Example 3
The third example above shows the improvements in search visibility that a client in another highly competitive vertical has seen since the release of Penguin 4.0. This client had attempted to clean up their link profile numerous times over the last two years to no avail; when we came on board, we found further links that needed to be removed. We began this strategy straight away and had some great results. Almost immediately after the release of Penguin all their key metrics started to improve, rankings, sessions and leads were all at a much higher level.
So many clients have seen improvements in their visibility scores over the last month which is testament to the painstaking and detailed work that has gone into link audits and removal projects over the last two years. We are seeing some real performance enhancements as a result of this work.
Performance improvements have also been seen outside of our client portfolio and throughout the web, across multiple industries.
Icelolly, who were massively impacted by penguin 2.0 back in June 2013, have started to see some real improvements on the back of the work they have done.
And large scale retailers like Ryman have seen improvements in their visibility too.
The release of Penguin has been positive for so many businesses and even if it hasn’t, its real time nature leaves businesses with an opportunity to put things right.
Obviously it remains to be seen as to how long these improvements continue for and if Google truly forgives sites for their past indiscretions and allows them to revert to their pre-penguin positions, but as things stand right now everything is moving positively.
For the purposes of the piece we want to explore Client Example 1 in more depth to highlight how and why they saw increase in visibility. This client engaged with us in April 2016 after working with a string of agencies to no avail; they understood that their site had been impacted by an earlier variant of Penguin, but nothing had been done to try and put the situation right. At this point in time their Searchmetrics visibility chart was as below, understandably they were not very happy and performance was non-existent.
As part of our organic search strategy we decided that we would carry out a full technical audit of their website and began the project by focusing on their backlink profile. We firstly sought to classify their link profile into the following four areas.
We then proceeded to manually audit each individual link to ascertain whether it added value, was relevant, and was considered to be in line with Google’s guidelines. The results of this audit highlighted in excess of 800 links that we deemed to be causing the site to fall under a Penguin based penalty and we therefore progressed to remove the offending links. This was carried out in late April 2016, and the corresponding Searchmetrics graph shows the visibility begin to improve at this stage.
Unfortunately the removal of so many links left the sites link profile highly depleted; we sought to rectify this by implementing a highly targeted and relevant link acquisition campaign. This was initiated by reaching out to industry related bloggers and influencers to identify what kind of content they would be interested in sharing across their channels. We collated this information and our in-house design and campaigns teams collaborated to create an infographic using comments directly from the bloggers which was then shared out across their blogs and social media channels.
The results of this campaign were overwhelming; in one quarter we naturally acquired in excess of 30 links that brought authority into the client’s site from relevant and authoritative blogs. We also saw an incredibly positive social campaign which further amplified the fantastic content that had been produced. In the months following the completion of this campaign we saw the clients rankings for some of their most valuable keywords rise from the relative abyss of page 5 up to positions 2,4,5 and 6 and they have seen significant month on month and year on year organic traffic increases of over 30% and 50% respectively.
Timed almost perfectly with the release of Penguin 4.0 this link removal and link acquisition campaign resulted in an array of excellent results for the client.
Talk around this update of Penguin has arguably been a little more muted when compared to previous updates, mainly because there has been a lot less negative impact caused when compared to its predecessors. It has been great for a number of businesses, providing they have been paying attention to Google and doing the right thing over the last few years. If you haven’t, it is also not the end of the world. Penguin being real time means that if you put a robust link removal and acquisition strategy in place you can improve your visibility.
So what are you waiting for? You should be taking action now to rectify any issues around your historic link profile and if you aren’t in a bad position make sure you have a strong, yet natural link acquisition strategy in place.
Click Consult is proud of its strategic approach to search and believes that pushing the boundaries of best practice forward is an important part of what makes it an award winning search marketing agency. To find out what Click Consult can do for your brand, contact us today; or for actionable industry insights, check our blog or resource pages.