1googleThe 4th Penguin update, a code name for a Google algorithm the company internally dubbed "2.0", has been released two weeks ago (May 22, 2012). Penguin 2.0 aims at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using so called black-hat SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes, deliberate creation of duplicate content, and others.

Unlike PageRank, Google makes all Penguin algorithm updates public

Do you know that Google actually changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times every year? Well, most of them are just minor alterations with “major” algorithmic update happening only every few months. Anyway, search marketers should be aware of them as it can explain shifts in rankings and organic website traffic. The latest major update affects, for instance, not only around 2.3% of all English search queries, but non-English queries as well which will impact many more SEOs and webmasters than the first generation version, according to Google's distinguished engineer Matt Cutts.

As usual, the guiding principle for the update has been mainly to penalize websites using manipulative techniques to achieve a higher ranking, such as in the case of Penguin spamdexing, including link bombing.

Before Penguin, Google released a series of algorithm updates called Panda that aimed at down-ranking websites that provided poor user experience with little content, all with the strategic goal to display higher quality websites at the top of search results.

If rankings have recently dropped, integrated SEO, social media and PR agency Punch Communications came up with three work streams they recommend to carry into execution:

  1. Monitor Google Webmaster Tools: Check the site’s Google Webmaster Tools account to see if there are any warning messages from Google regarding low quality links. If a message hasn’t been received, one person should keep a very close eye on that inbox over the next few days to see if potential spam activity is highlighted. If there is a message, then fast action and step two is a must.
  2. Manually Audit Backlink Sources: Download a list of the links that point to the site from Google Webmaster Tools and start reviewing the sources, immediately contacting any poor quality sites on the way to ask them to remove the link or links. Instances of poor quality links could include when they are only visible in the code, from sites that have not been updated in years and those placed in irrelevant context. If repeated attempts to contact the sites fail, consider utilizing Google’s Disavow tool, which will eventually disregard any affects those links are having on the website in question.
  3. Audit Backlink Sources via Link Type: By using a backlink profile checking tool, it is possible to understand if there is a natural breakdown between link types, for example, the numbers pointing from directories, forums and blogs. ‘Trolling’ forums and blogs to comment on topics and posts in order to obtain links back to websites is seen as a spam-based SEO tactic. Also having tens or hundreds of links from online directory sites, the majority of which are not likely to be relevant to the business, is spammy. Such activities could have been undertaken by previous employees and this type of audit can point towards more links that require removal.

Keredy Andrews, account director at Punch Communications, commented: “Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, said this next generation spam-fighting update goes deeper than the original Penguin, meaning many more SEOs and webmasters should act fast. The advice we always give at Punch is to take preventative measures and comply with Google’s guidelines, but any brand that finds its rankings now hit by Google’s algorithm update can take action immediately. These three activities can be started today, meaning the business is one day closer to regaining good visibility for strategic keywords.”

You may want to take a look at the Google Webmaster Help video, where Cutts went into more detail on what Penguin 2.0 would bring, along with what new changes webmasters can expect over the coming months with regards to Google search results.

To no surprise, Twitter is full of people commenting on the new Penguin 2.0 right now, besides Webmasters comparing SERPs that have been affected and discussing what kind of spam specifically got targeted by this new update.

It really seems that SEO isn't just search engine optimization anymore, but as Cutts suggested once, search experience optimization that covers everything on the website either directly or relationally.

Without doubt, Penguin 2.0 will catch some “false positives” by mistake among all the new sites that previously couldn’t be trapped. But the best advice is most probably just to go with the flow and respect the world’s biggest search engine’s webmaster guidelines to make sure that you come out smiling whenever Google updates take place.

By Daniela La Marca