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Lessons in SEO: Survive the Google Penguin Update with Higher Domain Authority

Google has been taunting webmasters for months with a new Penguin 4 algorithm update for 2016, but they have been coy about when it would be released, only saying it would march out in Q1. Well played, Google, well played.

This article discusses what Penguin is, how it might affect websites, and what you can do to make sure your sites are Penguin-proof by increasing Domain Authority (DA).

What is Penguin?

The Google Penguin algorithm, designed to penalize websites that use link spam to try to increase their Google rankings, first came out in April 2012.

Many site owners dubbed it the ‘Titanic update,’ calling it a ‘bloodbath’ and a ‘massacre,’ lamenting how their rankings had completely sunk in Google.


The intention of Google’s algorithms have always been to make an optimal experience for the user. That is, when a user performs a search, only high-quality, relevant pages would be displayed in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). With Penguin, websites that use hundreds of backlinks from low-quality, fake, or spam websites in order to increase their Google PageRank were demoted or completely wiped out in search results. Ouch.

Penguin also penalized sites for having the same exact anchor text for hundreds of backlinks, which is a red flag to Google. After all, if links are going up organically, they would not all have the same link text. Bogus SEO companies – is that redundant? – would charge clients for posting hundreds of backlinks to phony or low-quality sites where the anchor text would not be varied or make sense.

Unfortunately, some websites were victims of spam sites linking back to them without their consent or knowledge. If you are in this predicament, you can use Google’s disavow links tool. For more specific information on how and when to disavow links, see one of my previous articles.

Preparing for the Penguin 4 Update

Building Natural Backlinks

The key here is getting authentic, high-quality websites to link back to specific inner pages of your site using appropriate link text. For example, if a well-respected, established website like linked back to our SharePoint class page using the anchor text “SharePoint Training,” well, that would be amazing.

We would not want the website for a roofing company to link back to our SharePoint page with the text ‘free ice cream’ or ‘click here.’ You get the point. The backlinks must make sense in terms of where they come from and what the anchor text says.

Not all backlinks are created equal. Having a lot of backlinks from irrelevant websites with low PageRank is at the very least worth nothing, and will probably hurt you. However, one backlink from the right website can send you soaring.

Building Domain Authority

Domain Authority (DA) is a 0-100 score from Moz, which predicts how well a site will do in search. It is based on many factors including MozRank, MozTrust, social media presence, user experience, site loading time, and traffic.

  • MozRank is mostly concerned with the value of your backlinks, and a few links coming from pages with a high PR is considered better than a large number of backlinks from a page with low PR.
  • MozTrust is like MozRank, but it looks at how your website is connected with trusted websites. Your rank goes up if your website is referenced in a respected journal, or in a trusted educational website (.edu) or a government site (.gov).

You can download the MozBar for your browser to show Domain Authority (DA), Page Authority (PA), and Spam Score for backlinks (1-17, 1 being the lowest, so the best).

moz toolbar

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Domain authority is not the same as page authority, although they are both ranked from 0-100.Domain authority gives you the ranking of the site as a whole, whereas page authority is the score of a specific single page.Domain authority is constant across the whole site, but page authority can change from page to page within a domain.


Optimizing Pages for Keyword Phrases in Increase Page Authority

Adding new, useful content to your website will also help increase overall DA, as well as PA for that specific web page. When adding content, be sure that the web page is optimized for every keyword phrase that you wish to rank.

For example, I would want Accelebrate’s Python splash page to score well for the keywords “Python Training,” and I would want some of my backlink text to also be “Python Training” or something similar. If the anchor text in backlinks mirrors the keywords in that page, Google will trust that backlink more than if the anchor text did not happen to go with the optimized text.

Moz Analytics has a handy tool to determine if any given page has been optimized for your key words, the Moz On-Page Grader. This tool analyzes how well-represented your target key word phrase is on a page, and assigns a grade, A-F. Just enter the URL of the page you would like to test, type in the keywords, and get your grade with an explanation of the criteria that went into giving that grade. It also gives advice on how you can get an A grade.

For example, when I first started working on our Python splash page we had a B because the keyword phrase “Python Training” did not appear in the META Description or in the text. After I applied the recommendations, we scored an A.

on-page optimization

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Social Media

Having a social media presence will also help your website’s Domain Authority. I am not advocating posting your work-out details or your latte pictures, but if you have great content on your site, put it out there. The more likes and shares your articles get, the more the search engines know your site is being talked about. If your content is good (well-written, helpful), people will share it, and perhaps link to it.

Checking Internal Links

SiteAnalyzer is another tool for overall page analysis with explanations and advice on how to fix any issues on a page, from SEO to Accessibility. It also does some in-page link analysis. Penguin is mostly concerned with your backlinks, but it may also look at your internal links on each page.

SiteAnalyzere scores

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SiteAnalyzer rank

[click for larger image] The Site Analyzer tool gives each page an overall score and then breaks it down into categories from SEO to Accessibility. You can then drill down in each one for more information.


Under ‘SEO’, the user can see how internal links fare in a web page. A green check mark means that all is well. You can click on each for more information.

[click for larger image] Under ‘SEO’, the user can see how internal links fare in a web page. A green check mark means that all is well. You can click on each for more information.

Link Juice – This is the link juice that you are giving out, and it is related to the ratio between internal links and external links on your page. It is used to detect if the site is a gateway aiming at redirecting the user towards another website. This ratio should be lower than 50% (you want to have more internal links on a page than external).

Links without underscores – For internal links, the use of underscores “_” in a link is not recommended. They are not recognized by search engines as keyword separators. In order to structure your URL, you should replace them by hyphens “-“. Because of the hyphen, search engines will be able to distinguish each keyword, which is why we have structured our links accordingly (

Follow links – Links with the rel=“nofollow” attribute are not tracked by search engines. In other words, the search engine will not visit the page targeted by this link.

Reliable links – A valid link is a link that can be properly read by a search engine. JavaScript links are not valid. A valid link is a link with a href attribute pointing towards a page, a URL or an anchor.

Et Tu Penguin?

Domain Authority seems to be the greatest factor for determining your search engine rankings, and it doesn’t depend on getting generic backlinks.

Here are the top 5 things you can do to increase your site’s DA:

  1. Get backlinks with anchor text that mirror the key words or phrases on the page.
  1. The backlinks should be from high-quality, relevant sites that point to specific pages deep into your site.
  2. Diversify your backlinks, meaning the links should come from different sites and sources. If all of your links are coming from the same site, Google won’t give them as much value.
  1. Add new, useful, well-written content often and tout it on social media.
  2. Check your internal links to make sure they are functioning and well-formed, and confirm that you don’t have an abundance of external links.

If your site’s DA is above 35, then it is considered to show some authority in search engines.

The good news is that if you have not participated in any black hat SEO practices, such as paying for backlinks via a link farm, you will probably not see dramatic change from the Penguin. However, earning high-quality backlinks and doing periodic testing on keywords, internal links, content, etc., will serve to boost your site’s trust, which will naturally increase your rankings in all of the search engines

Author: Anne Fernandez, one of Accelebrate’s SEO team members

Categories: SEO Articles
Tags: , , , , ,

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