If you hadn’t heard Google had updated it’s ‘penguin’ link based element of the algorithm on the 23rd September 2016.
Businesses that were trying to recover their rankings had to wait almost two years for this long-awaited update, therefore many people were very relieved to hear it had finally come, but not many could have predicted the number of things that have changed since then. So let’s look at the biggest points you should know.
The reason Google reps kept stating the Penguin update was being delayed was because they were having some minor issues with making the algorithm in real-time. What this basically means is that if you get hit by a penalty, once you have cleaned up the site, you just need to wait for Google to crawl the site to notice the differences and you will be in your deserved position.
This is a huge relief to many, knowing that there will be no more two year pauses. Entire businesses, even industries, went under as Google algorithm’s updated and penalties were handed out, while businesses would have to wait years for the algorithm to update and for them to see their clean-up process rewarded. This is a good sign for everyone, so a big thumbs up from us.
As Penguin’s data will now be refreshed in real-time, it means there will be no more announcements of related updates. It seems like a weird end of an era, yet I’m sure the Google employee’s will be relieved, as it seems like John Mueller and Gary Illyes were being asked questions about the next update in every single hangout and conference.
One of the biggest announcements by Google was that this update means it will be much more granular. This is an obvious step forward, as pages will now be rewarded or punished on a page-by-page basis, rather than looking at the overall domain (unless you’re facing a manual penalty of course).
In the past, if you had a toxic link, this could negatively affect where you ranked on Google. I felt the single greatest thing about this update was that they have changed the algorithm so if a shady link is present, Google will merely devalue rather than demote.
What does this mean? Demote means you will appear lower in rankings, while devalue simply means it won’t pass on any link juice. You are therefore not being punished for having those shady links, almost annihilating the term ‘toxic links’. This leads on to my next point below.
While I achieved huge results in fixing sites by utilising the disavow tool to repair damaged domains, I was also surprised by how gung-ho some people were with the tool. Domains that had done nothing wrong and had built some hugely powerful links were heavily disavowing their domains to ‘future-proof’ their site. In actuality, they were removing a large number of powerful links which were passing on link juice.
At the same time, sites that were punished were having to disavow almost anything that could potentially be perceived as a ‘shady link’, often wiping out around 80% of the referring domains. This meant that some good links were inevitably going to get caught up in the net, however as links are no longer demoted, many SEO’s and webmasters are discussing whether it is worth removing their disavow file.
One of the most disgusting tactics adopted in our industry is negative SEO. This is where someone will build very low-quality links towards a competitor, so that their rankings can be lowered, as Google will perceive it as the brand purposely building links to manipulate their rankings. As link are no longer demoted, it wouldn’t have any effect to build shady links to a competitor.
I can’t say I personally know anyone that actually got involved in negative SEO, but it would be foolish to say it didn’t exist.
A common theory was that once you were hit by a link based penalty, it would take you a considerable time to recover, as you will be in a theoretical sandbox, while your domain isn’t trusted. Gary Illyes said on a recent podcast that as we are now real time, you will recover as soon as your site has been fully crawled and indexed.