Preparing for Penguin 4.0: A Google Penalty Prevention Protocol

Penguin panic is now pretty widespread across the Web. Almost every SEO enquiry that we receive goes something like this: “I’d love to build links to improve my rankings, but I don’t want to get penalized. What can I do?”

Most people don’t realize the importance of preemptive backlink audits. Once people come to us with a penalty, recovery is tedious, difficult, and can have a massive impact on a company’s bottom line. So why risk it?

In this article we’ll teach you exactly what you can do to audit your backlink profile in order to prevent getting a Penguin 4.0 penalty.

Create a Comprehensive Backlink Report

One of the areas where people often fail when it comes to penalty prevention or recovery is they don’t gather enough backlinks. It’s very important to use as many sources as possible.

For every audit, we use:

We also identify footprints – for example if there’s guest posting, we capture the names of the authors, and you can find target keywords are site URL’s, and run those patterns through something like ScrapeBox to unearth more links.

You’ll want to gather ALL those links and combine them into one file. Excel whizzes may know advanced formulas to remove duplicates. Google Drive has an app that you can use to de-dupe, or you can also try ScrapeBox.

Search for Footprints

How you identify footprints depends on what tools you have at your disposal. You can use filtering and sorting features in Excel/Google Drive, or advanced Excel formulas.

Here are some of the main footprints you want to look for:

  • Anchor Text: Which backlinks have money keywords in anchor text? Which ones have a density of more than 5 percent? Those are ones you’ll want to identify and either nofollow them, change the anchor text, or disavow them.googlepenguin4prevention-1
  • Discovery Date: Google Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs, and other tools will give you the date the links were first discovered. You can look for dates when there was a spike in backlink acquisition. Those generally reveal link buys or manual link-building. In the chart below, you can see a site that obviously went on a link-buying spree from October to December 2014.googlepenguin4prevention-2
  • URLs With Patterns: This reveals patterns where sites use directory, forum, or link patterns. If the word “forum” appears in the URL, you can then group all of those together to see how many there are, are they profile or post pages, and what other footprints emerge. You can also search for links pages or article submission sites.googlepenguin4prevention-3
  • IP Address: Sometimes you can find Private Link Networks by using IP patterns. Group backlinks by IP address and C class to identify potential patterns. This can be a very useful way to identify otherwise undetectable patterns.googlepenguin4prevention-4
  • Email Address Patterns: What about sites where one person/company manage multiple domains, but they are hosted on different C classes? Often times they will use the same email address, which can be detected on various sites/pages. Spider your backlinks and look for common email addresses and make sure you remove, nofollow, or disavow the ones where there’s a common email address.googlepenguin4prevention-5
  • Page Titles: Are there multiple sites that use the same page title? This could be because articles got scraped and added to other sites, creating duplicate content. Keep an eye out for these and if they have no value, you may want to preemptively disavow them.googlepenguin4prevention-6

There are other footprints you can look for, such as registration name, Google Analytics code, Adsense code, top-level domains, and URLs with “comment” in them. But this guide should help you get started.

Remove, Disavow, or Nofollow Toxic Links

Once you are done auditing your link profile and evaluating all of your backlinks, then you are ready to start a link removal/disavow campaign.

Don’t be afraid to send out link removal emails to as many toxic links as possible. It’s better to remove low quality links BEFORE anything happens, instead of trying to remove them AFTER you’re penalized.

Contact site owners by using Whois, contact forms, and sending out emails directly to as many sites as possible. You can give them the option to nofollow or remove your links.

After you finish the contact phase, run a tool like Screaming Frog to see how many of your links were removed. Disavow the rest.

Re-Audit Your Link Profile Monthly

Auditing your link profile once is not enough. At any point, a competitor can launch a negative SEO attack, or your site can get picked up in a Private Network.

You need to check your links monthly to make sure you don’t accidentally get caught by Penguin. Negative SEO is a reality that every webmaster needs to be aware of.

If you follow these steps, you can protect your site and when Penguin 4.0 gets released, you can be certain that yours won’t be one of the sites that gets affected.

Have you found any tricks to help you find footprints in your link profile? Do share in the comments below!

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