• Nov 30, 16
  • Ruby Bartolomei

Google, along with all other search engines, are always looking for ways to improve their user experience and return the most relevant results. When Google makes changes to their algorithm periodically, it’s common to see drastic changes in results and rankings on SERPs.  Throughout Google’s constant updates, SEOs and search marketers have had to adapt and improve their methods on website optimizations in order to compete to rank well. 

The Penguin update was first introduced around 4 years ago in April 2012. However, the most recent update, Penguin 4.0, is huge news to SEOs and webmasters everywhere because it is the final Penguin update! The Penguin update was initially created to better weed out sites that looked spammy and target sites that engaged in techniques going against Google’s guidelines to purposely rank better. In other words, Penguin is Google’s front man in the fight against web spam. 

What is web spam?
In short, web spam refers to those pages that deliberately use techniques that are considered ‘black hat tactics’ to Google and other search engines. These techniques’ primary goals are to improve search ranking without any regard to the user experience or the value of the page. The list below are some of the web spam techniques that are discouraged by the Google algorithm as a whole. 
1.    Keyword Stuffing  – It’s important to place your keywords within the body of your text repeatedly to ensure your page ranks well for that particular word. But, this does not mean to place the same word repeatedly and consecutively, one after the other throughout the page where it doesn’t make sense. This technique makes your content difficult to read and lowers the user experience, which is why it is discouraged by Google’s algorithm. You want to make your content sound as humanly as possible, and not like a computer generated the content.

2.    Cloaking  – Google absolutely hates cloaking and deems it one of the worst things you could do. This is because you can’t ‘accidently’ cloak your page. Cloaking is a deliberate attempt to manipulate search results by showing a completely different version of the site to users than to GoogleBots.  
Keyword stuffing and cloaking are parts of the web spam that Panda, another one of Google’s updates, attacks. Panda is more focused on the onsite spam that developers may enact. Coinciding with Panda is the penguin update. The penguin update attacks more of the offsite spam that would be directing towards a site. 
3.    Paid Links – Backlinks are known to be a great way to show Google the relevancy of your page. But, receiving these links naturally is completely different than paying a site to link back to your site. Google’s rule states, buying or selling links in a way to pass along ranking credit is not acceptable.
4.    Link Spamming – This black hat SEO technique tries to exploit the weaknesses in the link-based credit given by Google’s algorithm. Google is better prepared now, more than ever, to find and penalize sites with ‘artificial’ or ‘unnatural’ links.   Some examples of link spamming include, but aren’t limited to: press release syndication, forum and comment spamming, and link farms.

  • Low quality press release syndication – Press releases are meant to inform the public and media about a big event or change within a business. Low quality press releases refer to companies that put out press releases about every minor event for the primary reason gaining PageRank. Google has announced that if a company is relying on multiple sites republishing their releases to boost their rank and link building, the strategy is discouraged, dead and just doesn’t work 
  • Forum and Comment Spamming – Although it’s hard to explain the precise definition of comment spam, you will easily spot it when you see it. Forum or blog spamming is adding a post or comment that ultimately adds no relevant value or question to the article. Simply, comment spam exists for the sole purpose of the link back to the promoted site. Because these comments don’t add anything to the user experience, it is discouraged by the penguin update.
  • Link Farms – There are multiple types of link farms, but ultimately, all link farms are a group of interconnected pages used to increase the PageRank of the participating pages. This technique aims to increase the link popularity of all the links that are connected with each other. 

The Penguin update specifically targets unnatural linking patterns and web spam. Google demotes websites with numerous artificial or deceptive backlinks. Many sites get hit when they have a high number of backlinks that have the same or similar anchor texts with the optimized keywords. Other red flags to Google includes a sudden spike in links from low-quality sites  or a low ratio between linking domains vs the total links. For example, if a site has over 10,000 links but there are only 9 unique domains, Google will demean these links as spam. 

Penguin 4.0

The newest update to Google’s algorithm, Penguin 4.0, was released on September 23, 2016. After a long period of testing, the update has officially rolled out in all languages according to Gary Illyes, Google’s Webmaster Trend Analyst. There are a few key changes to the update that is worth noting. 
1)    Penguin has rolled out in all languages. 
Along with being a part of the core algorithm, Google has announced that this update will be rolling out in all languages and countries. Searchers all around the world are seeing the changes to their search engine results currently.  
2)    Real – Time Update
SEOs and Webmasters everywhere are rejoicing about Penguin refreshing in real-time! Prior to this update, if you rid your site of any spammy material or make credible changes, you wouldn’t reap the benefits until after Penguin had refreshed. This wouldn’t be a problem except that nobody knows when it’s going to refresh, so it could go for months without refreshing. Now that the data is refreshed in real time, the changes you make to your site will be visible and reflect back to your rankings almost immediately. It’s also because of this change that Google would not give a specific number of the percentage of queries that are impacted by Penguin 4.0. This update is constantly happening and affecting rankings. 
3)    More granular as opposed to site-wide
Penalties prior to this update would reflect back on the whole website domain. Now, Penguin 4.0 might be able to impact specific pages on the site while other pages will remain untouched. According to Google
“Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.”

How to Recover from the Penguin Update
Penguin 4.0 is now a part of the real-time algorithm and has successfully rolled out to all Google data centers. Since its new update, Google has lifted any demotions that websites may have received from the past versions of Penguin. This means if you made effort to clean up your ‘spammy’ links, check your analytics  to see the impact it had on your ratings! 
But, if you haven’t seen any improvement in your ranking since this update, you need to do some cleaning! As stated earlier, the Penguin Update is dedicated to target spam, so the best way to prevent being targeted is to only implement ‘white hat’ SEO techniques along with monitoring who is linking to your site. Google has stated that Penguin is focusing on the source site and not on the target site. If you were hurt by this update, it is imperative to remove any spam that your site might have and clean up the links that are directing towards your business. Contact hello@directagents.com to take your SEO to the next level.

Ruby Bartolomei
Digital Analysis & Strategy