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Penguin 2.0: What Happened, and How to Recover

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If you’ve spent any time recently in the world of SEO, you’ve probably heard about Penguin 2.0 — Google’s search engine algorithm change that was just launched on May 22nd, 2013. By the way that some SEOs were talking, you’d think it was the Zombie Apocalypse. Whatever it is, you can be sure that it will have a dramatic change on the web landscape. Here are five important questions and answers about Penguin 2.0.

What is Penguin 2.0?

To understand the 2.0 of anything, you need to understand the 1.0. The original Penguin is the moniker for Google’s algorithm update of April 24, 2012. When Google tweaked the algorithm in a big way, 3.1% of all English-language queries were affected by the update. Penguin was carefully designed to penalize certain types of webspam. Here are some of the main factors that Penguin targeted:

1.  Lots of exact-match anchor texts (30% or more of a link profile)

2.  Low quality site linkbacks, including directories and blogs

3.  Keyword intensive anchors

The aftershocks of Penguin continued long after April 24. Several mini Penguins were released since then, which is why some SEOs prefer to call the coming change “Penguin 4.” The new Penguin is predicted to do the following:

  • Penalize paid links, especially those without “nofollow”
  • Penalize spamdexing in a more effective way
  • Penalize advertorial spam.
  • Tightening penalties on link spamming/directory listings
  • Removing hacked sites from search engine results
  • Boost ranks for sites that have a proven authority within a niche

How much different is it from Penguin 1.0?

Calling this Penguin 2.0 is slightly misleading. We shouldn’t think of algorithm changes in the same way we think of software updates — better features, faster architecture, whatever. Penguin is not a software update. It’s a change in the way that a search engine delivers results to users.

Here is a brief explanation of search engines, and how they change. Search engines are designed to give people the most accurate, trustworthy, and relevant results for a specific search query. So, if you type in “how to cook lima beans,” the search engine attempts to find the very best site on the Internet to help you cook your lima beans. Obviously, every lima bean recipe site wants to have the top dog spot on the search engine results page (SERP).

Some webmasters will cook up clever tricks to do so. Thus, a site with hordes of banner ads, hordes of affiliate links, and barely a word about cooking lima beans could, with a few black hat techniques, climb in the rankings. The search engine doesn’t want that. They want people to have their lima bean recipe — great content — not just a bunch of ads.

Thus, they change things deep within the algorithm to prevent those unscrupulous tricks from working. But the slithery lima bean site figures out a new way to slip by the algorithm. And the algorithm figures out another way to block them. And so on, and so forth.

As all of this is happening, several key points emerge:

1.  Search engine algorithms become more sophisticated and intelligent.

2.  It becomes less likely for sites to game the system.

At AudienceBloom, we follow white-hat SEO principles. We understand that there are a few tricks that we could use that might bump your site higher in the short term. However, we don’t engage in those practices. We want our clients to be successful for the long haul, which is why we engage in SEO techniques that are truly legitimate.

What’s going to happen? 

Now that Penguin 2.0 is rolling out, one of two things will happen to your site (as Google’s data centers propagate with the algorithm rollout and your rankings are adjusted accordingly):

1. Nothing.

2. Your rankings will drop, organic traffic will tank, and your site will begin to flounder.

If, unfortunately, number 2 strikes, you may not realize it for a few days unless you are a big site with 10k+ visits with 30%+ organic a day.  In order to answer “what’s going to happen” for your site, you need to understand whether or not your site is in violation of any Penguin 2.0 targets. That question is better answered with an entire article of its own, but here are a few warning signs that your site could be targeted by Penguin 2.0.

  • You’ve had unscrupulous link building efforts conducted on your site.
  • You purchased paid links from another site (e.g., advertorials)
  • You rely on spam-like search queries (for example “pay day loans,” “cheap computers,” “free gambling site,” etc.).
  • You have aggressively pursued link networks listings on unreliable directories.

Each of the above four points are common SEO tactics. Some SEOs have become sneakier than the algorithm, which is why Google is making these important changes.

What should I do to prepare or recover?

The most important thing you can do right now is to follow Matt Cutt’s advice in his recent video:

“If you’re doing high quality content whenever you’re doing SEO, this (the Penguin update) should not be a big surprise. You shouldn’t have to worry about a lot of changes. If you have been hanging out in a lot of blackhat forums, trading different types of spamming package tips and that sort of stuff, then this might be a more eventful summer for you.”

Content is the most important thing, of course, but that’s more of a proactive preparation than an actual defense. Is there a way to actually defend yourself from the onslaught of Penguin 2.0? What if you’ve already been affected by it?

One important thing you can do right now is to analyze your site’s link profile to ensure that your site is free of harmful links. Then, you should remove and perform disavow requests on the bad links to keep your site’s inbound link profile clean. This is the equivalent of a major surgery on your site, and it could take a long time to recover. Here’s what Matt Cutts said about it on May 13:

Cutts on Penguin 2.0

Here are the steps you need to take to recover from Penguin 2.0:

Step 1. Identify which inbound links are “unclean” or could be hurting your rankings (ie, causing you to be affected by Penguin 2.0). To do this, you’ll need to perform an inbound link profile audit (or have us do that for you).

Step 2. Perform major surgery on your site’s link profile in order to make it as clean as possible. This includes removing links identified in the link profile audit, and then disavowing them as well.

Step 3. Build new inbound links using white-hat tactics like guest blogging, while abiding by proper anchor text rules with your new inbound links.

Step 4. Establish a content calendar to keep pushing out high-quality content, engage in social media, and avoid spammy techniques of any kind.

If you’re looking for SEO help, AudienceBloom is prepared to help. One of our major efforts in the wake of Penguin 1.0 was helping sites to recover their rankings and clean up from their past. If you’ve been hit by Penguin 2.0, now is the time to take action to recover your rankings and search traffic. Contact us for a complimentary assessment and action plan.

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Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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  • Travin Keith

    A little late to the party, but great article once again Jayson!

    I really like how you included the user’s perspective on here as a lot of what I’ve read online seems to have ignored what search engines are actually for – giving users what they’re looking for!

    I look forward to seeing what Penguin 3.0 brings. (or Penguin 5?)

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