Who doesn’t love penguins? They’re adorable, sharply dressed, and have the cutest gait as they toddle across the ice. Of course in the world of Search Engine Optimization, the word penguin doesn’t immediately bring to mind a seemingly innocent animal. Since Google launched their site-swiping algorithm Penguin last year, SEOs have been anxiously analyzing its effects. Now, Penguin 2.0, a newly revamped algorithm, has gone live and this swash-buckling penguin’s casualties are once again being examined by SEOs.
Penguin–strange name for a web algorithm, you might say (too sweet!), but perhaps that’s Google’s game. Toddle in, sweet and simple, and then let the bloodbath begin! Well, maybe . . .
Releasing the Penguin
SEOs didn’t quite know what to expect from the newly revamped algorithm when Matt Cutts (the head of Google’s spam team) announced the upcoming arrival of Penguin 2.0 a few weeks ago.
The first edition of Penguin (released in April 2012) impacted about 3.1% of queries made on Google, but the two following updates (May 2012 and October 2012) both impacted less than 0.5% of queries. But neither of those updates really changed the original algorithm, unlike this most recent update, which introduces big changes that go deeper than Penguin 1.0, cracking down on those websites wearing black hats. That’s why, though it’s technically the fourth update to Penguin, this version is being referred to as Penguin 2.0.
Casualties of Penguin 2.0
So what have the casualties been for Penguin 2.0? About 2.3% of queries were affected, according to Cutts. That number refers specifically to English-US queries, as Penguin’s scope varies by language.
And who are the wounded?
According to SearchMetrics, the websites whose visibility on Google has been dramatically reduced include a large number of porn and game sites as well as bigger brands like DISH, the Salvation Army, CheapOair, Educational Testing Service, and REEDS Jewelers. On the list of twenty-four “losers,” there are eight porn sites and four games sites.
Marcus Tober, founder of SearchMetrics, was unimpressed with the scope of Penguin 2.0, but suggested that maybe this is simply the “calm before the storm,” and another, more destructive update will come in its wake. Only time will tell. For now, let’s look at those sites most affected by Penguin 2.0 and what they did wrong.
Penguin 2.0’s Targets
The biggest factors: spam (obviously) and links. More specifically, shoddy links that point to your website.
If most of the links pointing to your website are untrustworthy, disreputable, or of low quality, your site’s visibility and traffic could drop. Google views links as votes (by another website, for your website), but not all voters are considered equal. When the penguin analyzes your website, he will review not only how many websites have links pointing back to yours, but the quality of those websites, their relevance, the anchor text, and how quickly you acquired the links. If your total number of links escalates quickly or there’s an imbalance in the anchor texts of the links, Google suspects something fishy is going on (and remember—penguins eat fish).
Your links should be natural. What constitutes natural link building? Many would say, blog it and they will come. In other words, just produce quality content. While it’s true that quality content begets quality links, that’s an oversimplification and. It’s important to actively build links – not just sit around and wait for them to come to you. So how can you aggressively pursue linking relationships while maintaining that a natural link profile? By building your links at a slow and steady pace and greatly varying your anchor text.
What makes a link unnatural? Whatever Google decides unnatural is (unnatural being generally defined as whatever inhibits their ability to sell ads via Google AdWords). No seriously, just avoid blatantly buying/selling links, using the same anchor text over and over again, blog comment spam, PR 0 (or negative PR) article marketing sites, and obvious blog networks. Do that, build your links slowly, and focus on QUALITY links (not quantity) and you should be fine. DO NOT buy into the supposed “white-hat” baloney that if you just blog you will be fine. While the people giving this advice will be fine (they don’t have a stake in your business and they get to act like their gaseous emissions don’t stink), you won’t be fine if you want to out-rank your competitors, and that kind of advice is generally given by people that do not know what they are talking about.
Of all these link issues, the most important to watch out for is lots of links with the exact same anchor text over and over, which was a significant issue for all major websites affected by Penguin 2.0. When most of the links pointing to your website are a money keyword (CheapOair’s links, for example, were 66% money keywords), you know you’ve got a problem. Especially when they outweigh your brand links (CheapOair’s links were 21% brand). That’s fishy behavior.
So what were the effects of Penguin 2.0? It succeeded in wiping out more of the spam cluttering search results (as expected), and is cracking down on those fishy websites in new, but subtle ways.
Not quite the cute, cuddly creature you were picturing – but not a game-changer either. Keep calm and link away. Just be smart about it!