Before the year ends, Google will issue the next Penguin update. Here’s what you need to know to stay ahead of the SEO-busting algorithm.

Google first introduced Penguin back in 2012. Until that point, it was too easy for sites to rig the system and place themselves artificially high within certain search results — the algorithm was created as a response in order to strengthen Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. According to Surya Ram at Conductor, by penalizing errant websites, the search engine powerhouse could wipe out those utilizing “spammy, blackhat techniques” to cheat the system and rise in the ranks.

Unfortunately, some ideas may sound great in theory, but end up getting somewhat distorted when they’re actually put into practice. Penguin ended up inadvertently targeting many guideline-abiding websites, and many innocent businesses collapsed as a result.

How did this happen? After the algorithm was put in place, achieving high rankings became increasingly difficult for smaller sites and companies began to see their rankings drop significantly without really understanding why. An update to the algorithm a month later changed nothing, and many companies are still trying to recover from the SEO losses.

Finally, in October 2013, Google introduced the disavow tool. The addition awarded some power to users by allowing them to “mark the links they didn’t want pointing to their sites” via Google’s Webmaster Tools. That was the last official update (numerous refreshes have only reinstated the same criteria from a previous update by repeating the algorithm).

Warmer Weather?

With the next update, Google will hopefully take mercy on the small businesses suffering under Penguin’s harsh climate — by now, the company must surely know that the algorithm’s rigidity has a significant negative impact on underdog businesses that are clawing for attention. Currently, it has been attempting to rectify the situation by supporting those companies making a concerted effort to comply with Google’s guidelines, but it’s unclear whether small business support is a priority for the algorithm’s developers.

So what does the future hold for Penguin? According to Erin Everhart of Search Engine Land, an update is right around the corner — and Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes recently confirmed the rumors on Twitter. According to Everhart, the new version of Penguin should be more be a bit more forgiving than its previous iterations.

Going forward, Penguin will react to issues in real-time. When Google uncovers a problematic link, a website will immediately suffer the consequences. On the bright side, as soon as the website corrects the faulty link, it will bounce back more quickly. As a result, the recovery time will be much faster for rule followers.

Despite this silver lining, the update will favor some while disadvantaging others. It will be interesting to see the characteristics of those who fare well versus those who fall behind. Will small businesses still bear the brunt of the algorithm?

Weathering the Storm

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that businesses can prepare for the update. Here are a few of Everhart’s tips on how you can stay on Penguin’s good side: be watchful of your link profile, switch up links so they’re not all exact-match anchor text, check out your backlinks and be on the lookout for anything suspicious (like an unintended spike), make good use of the disavow tool, and don’t forget about internal links, since they matter to Google as well.

By following her advice, companies have a better chance of making it through the update unscathed. Until Penguin developers become more responsive to the unduly affected, being a step ahead is your best bet.

Longneck and Thunderfoot offer search engine optimization and analytics services to help businesses transform their websites into visible sources of knowledge online and answer the questions that matter most to your prospects. Learn more about SEO and analytics here.

Author Oliver Cox

Having originally joined the company as a writer in 2013, Oliver currently works as a full-time member of L&T's sales team to prospect, nurture and help close sales leads in the US and UK markets. Oliver is a graduate of the University of Liverpool and is a prolific musician and author.

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