Since the turn of the year Google have really been hammering home their quality guidelines in regards to unnatural low-quality links. These kind of links will often have been built in an attempt to help improve organic keyword ranking performance, but these attempts at gaming the system are no longer going unpunished.
Several paid link networks have been taken out and we know this because Matt Cutts, head of the Google Webspam team, has been publically announcing his ‘triumphs’ in the gruelling battle against ‘Black Hat’ link building tactics.
So far in 2014 Matt Cutts and the Webspam team appear to have been focusing on Europe. To date we have seen numerous link networks within France, Germany and Spain being targeted. All signs suggest the crackdown on link spam is in full flow.
A reminder (in Spanish) about unnatural/paid links and that we're willing to take action on them: http://t.co/uTBdJpRNbw— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) March 10, 2014
This week we took action on a German agency's link network/clients. More to come in Germany.— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) February 7, 2014
In addition to this, Matt Cutts released a detailed video on the 3rd of March that discussed the Google webspam team’s criteria for determining whether a link is considered a paid link or not.
What does this mean?
There is a lot of activity at the moment in regards to Googles fight against link spam, so should we be expecting a refreshed Google Penguin algorithm update in the near future?
A glance at the release dates of previous Penguin updates suggest that ‘Penguin 3.0’ could well be on the horizon:
April 2012 – The Penguin algorithm’s initial release, following weeks of speculation regarding an ‘Over-optimization penalty’.
May 2012 – Google rolled out its first targeted update after the release of the Penguin algorithm.
October 2012 – A minor Penguin update was released, impacting on a mere “0.3% of queries”.
May 2013 – Penguin 2.0 arrived after months of expectation. This update targeted webmasters who had been participating in ‘spammy’ link building techniques.
October 2013 – Penguin 2.1, a refresh and not a major change to the Penguin algorithm, landed. The overall impact seemed to be moderate; however numerous webmasters reported being hit hard.
April/May 2014 – Could Penguin 3.0 be around the corner?
If you are interested in the latest on-goings and updates from Google I would strongly recommend heading over to Moz.com to take a look at their comprehensive history of Google Algorithm Changes. Knowing the dates of these changes and updates can help to explain fluctuations in rankings and organic traffic to your website, just check for correlation.
What are the next steps?
If you care about Google’s rankings and their fight against link spam, the priority now should be on ensuring your backlink profile is squeaky clean before the next major Penguin Algorithm update. If you believe your website is being negatively affected by low-quality backlinks then choosing to ignore them isn’t a valid option.
In my opinion, taking a proactive approach and conducting a thorough backlink audit is a better option than waiting to take a reactive approach. If a backlink audit highlights any unnatural or low-quality links then it is often worth removing them and adding them to a disavow file even if you’re unsure as to whether they are harming your sites organic performance or not.
It seems that this opinion was further validated by Matt Cutts himself at the Search Marketing Expo yesterday.
In addition to this, it is equally important to replace those links removed by earning new, high-quality links to your site by creating high-quality content that people want to share, but that’s another subject for another day.
In summary, a full backlink audit should be an essential part of any SEO campaign as the precise identification and removal of potentially harmful links can be the difference between success and failure.