Google’s Penguin 2.0 is Coming. Are You Ready?

Penguin 2.0 penguin breathing fire

Speculation over the last several weeks has skyrocketed regarding Google and the impending update that has yet to grace the online world. Webmasters across the globe are sitting at the edge of their seats waiting for the next generation of Penguin, or what Google is internally referring to as “Penguin 2.0”. So, what can we expect from Google’s imminent update that Matt Cutts suggests will hit over the next couple of weeks? Let’s take a look at where Penguin was, how the SERPs have transformed, and what is to be expected in Google’s newest refresh.

The SEO industry is anticipating Google’s latest update to be big, but if the rumors are true, webmasters must be prepared for a major revision to the original Penguin update. SEO professionals will recall that April 24, 2012 changed the search world significantly. Research suggests that upwards of 65 percent of SEOs were affected by the massive update, taking many months to recover, if at all. Since then, Google has released minor updates on May 24, 2012 and October 5, 2012.

First and foremost, let’s discuss the label that we’re giving this update. Anyone privy to Twitter and the SEO space may have noticed a Tweet exchange on May 10th between Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. Sullivan indicated to Cutts that he and the folks at Search Engine Land were planning on calling this “Penguin 4”. Recalling the previous updates, Sullivan feels that his labeling makes the most sense in light of the minor changes that have taken place over the last year or so. Nevertheless, Cutts sticks to his guns as he informs Sullivan via Twitter that he and Google will continue to refer to the update as “Penguin 2.0”.

Moving through the historic timeline of Google updates, nomenclature seems to be a hot topic of confusion and disagreement. For the sake of this post, however, we will be using “Penguin 2.0” in reference to the looming update. Time to dissect…

Panda & Penguin History and the Mini Updates Along the Way

With all of the Pandas and Penguins running around, recalling Google’s update timeline is rather bewildering. As opposed to getting stuck in the labels of updates, let’s focus on what actually came from them. The slight updates released in May and October of 2012 in conjunction with the original Penguin update truly hit businesses hard. In fact, almost 94 percent of those who were impacted by the update state that they have yet to fully recover. Clearly, when Google releases a major update, they mean business. Those who neglect to take these refreshes seriously will have much trouble finding themselves on any SERPs.

When the Panda update first hit back in February of 2011, websites with poor quality content took a serious blow. All of a sudden, content became “king” and “content marketing” became the buzz words to end all buzz words. Duplicate content and low-quality content were targeted hard as Google began to punish those sites who modeled content farms. All in all, Google was able to alter the algorithm to reflect the issue of high ranking sites with poor quality content.

Moving forward, with the Chrome extension and the block link option, Google began to use data regarding which sites searchers were blocking. This helped to indicate whether the algorithm was working properly or not, as they were able to validate that the update was on target. Since that update, there were several minor refreshes that were unidentifiable to most. Panda [insert number here] continued through today, in fact, some rumors indicate that a Panda update went into effect as recently as this past March.

From a Penguin perspective, Google decided to target webspam. The first Penguin update came on April 24, 2012 and made a significant online impact. Those webmasters who were using link schemes, keyword stuffing, duplicate content, cloaking, and any other search spam tactics were hit hard. In general, the sites that got hit the hardest were those which had too much exact match anchor text and those who, in Google’s eyes, had an unnatural link profile.

As stated previously, the scope and volume of Google’ algorithm updates are never truly clear. Google strategically remains vague and ambiguous as they attempt to punish those websites who do not deserve to rank they way they have in the past. As we prepare for Penguin 2.0, it is important for webmasters and SEO professionals to understand the basic principle behind every single update in the history of Google update: white hat practices get rewarded, black hat practices get punished. Seems simple, right? Let’s dig deeper.

Surviving Penguin 2.0

SEO experts often cringe at the mention of hats. Black hats, white hats, they all seem to denote some sort of right versus wrong moral dilemma that most of us would like to avoid. And, to be honest, continually repeating that “white hat practices get rewarded” when a Google update comes is not only redundant, but also not helpful, at all, to someone trying to garner a true scope of what needs to be done to survive Penguin 2.0.

In the real world, business owners don’t really know what’s going on with their sites. The SEO company that is currently handling their web presence may be different than it was 6 months ago. How could someone truly know what their link profile looks like with minimal SEO knowledge and a history of several webmasters? Between exact match anchor text, unnatural links, and potential negative SEO (someone negatively targeted your website), it can be difficult to get an idea of where a website is in terms of a link profile.

After analyzing inbound links, it is critical for SEOs to take action immediately, before Penguin 2.0 strikes. It goes without saying that a substantial content and social strategy should be in place and underway. From strictly from a link perspective, Penguin 2.0 seems to focus on link profiles and punishing link spammers. Before we get into what should be done to survive the impending Penguin 2.0 update, let’s take a moment to hear from the big guy, Matt Cutts, on what we can expect in the next few months in terms of SEO for Google:


Moving past the “duh” predictions (we know they’re looking for compelling websites with useful content), let’s breakdown the most 10 most significant things that Google is working on with Penguin 2.0. Cutts describes this update being more comprehensive than the original Penguin update and projects this refresh to have an even bigger impact.

Advertorials

Google targeted advertorials earlier this year when Cutts made a statement in February 2013 indicating that SEOs should be weary of paying for links on advertorial pages that suggest the passing of page rank. In a violation of Google’s quality guidelines, sites with links from advertorial pages were warned that lower rankings in search results were imminent. At the time, Cutts warned those who did not get caught were encouraged to remove their paid links and submit a reconsideration request.

With Penguin 2.0 on its way, we predict Google to take a much more fervent stance on advertorials. It seems as though the flow of page rank from an advertorial page to a site would directly violate Google’s quality guidelines. Therefore, SEOs should be very cautious when approaching advertorials. We suggest taking them down immediately or clearly indicating that the link is a paid message in order to fully disclose the paid nature to users.

Search Spam Queries

When Cutts discusses search queries in the video above he is incredibly vague. We believe this is largely due to the nature of the specific update in that it is an issue occurring outside of Google. Any type of gambling, pornographic, or otherwise popular search topics are hit with massive amounts of spam. Based upon Google’s current framework, it is clear that spammers are using some form of “exploits” to rank for terms such as “payday loans”. Due to the mystery of this topic, “exploits” may reach beyond links. However, it seems as though links play the most significant role.

From our perspective, it is difficult to predict how Google will counter the current spam queries and cleanup the SERPs. That being said, one thing is for certain, ranking for terms like “payday loans” will become less impossible as the update punishes the mass of spam and negative SEO presently consuming these SERPs.

Punishing Spam Links & Link Analysis

In the video, Cutts suggests that Google will attempt to “upstream to deny the value to link spammers”. The ability to devalue spammy links will have an enormous impact on many sites that are currently in shady directories or otherwise spammy networks. We predict that link networks will be hit pretty hard in Penguin 2.0. While this is not a new concept, the SAPE link network was hit in early March, SEOs will be happy to see their sites climbing in the rankings against their competitors who have been resting on the laurels of black hat directories and other spam networks.

Back to those business owners who are not fully aware of their link profiles. Use the Google Disavow link tool to ensure that all links are authorized. Generally speaking, Google is continually trying to improve the manner in which they conduct link analysis. As they refine their methodology, Cutts denotes that they will discover if “that bear fruit or not”.  In our opinion, low quality sites and low quality directories will not survive much longer following Penguin 2.0.

Hacked Sites Upgrading

First and foremost, Google is attempting to find a better way to identify hacked sites. Simply put, Penguin 2.0 and the next several updates will focus on improving webmaster tools to detect hacked sites versus sites that serve up malware. By improving their webmaster tools, Google will be able to quickly clean up hacked sites as they are made aware more readily.

Authority Recognition

Penguin 2.0 will also address those sites that are an authority in their respective industry. Considering most searches are regarding niche industries or segments, Google hopes that the update will reward worthy sites within niche industries with rankings above the less authoritative sites.

We are a bit wary about this update, as we fear it may punish those smaller sites that truly provide relevant, industry-specific content. However, Google claims to authorities on keyword phrases will begin to rank above those with less authority. Time will tell how this portion of the update will play out.

Panda Aftermath

Panda Updates are no longer announced as they were in the past. With these minor updates being rolled out all of the time with no warning Penguin 2.0 will hopefully to curb the aftermath of Panda slightly by finding additional signals. Far too many “borderline cases” were negatively hit with Panda. Penguin 2.0 will attempt to soften the massive impact that Panda brought. Those sites that were shocked and unable to recover from Panda will supposedly begin to rank if white hat practices remained.

SERP Clusters

Complaints have surfaced regarding clusters of pages from the same domain appearing on SERPs. These changes will help to reduce the amount of results stemming from the same large, authoritative site. Users can look forward to less scrolling to find information from different websites as these clusters are slowly reduced. From our perspective, this will help smaller businesses to rank when they are in a space where current clusters have been dominating the SERPs.

Google Webmaster Tools

Communication to Google Webmaster Tools is something that Google continually improves upon. It is in this space that Google is able to refine and perfect the elements that influence a site’s performance. As information becomes more readily available, Google will be able to diagnose sites better and thus advance the overall user experience.

Final Thoughts on Penguin 2.0

At the end of the day, no one other than those sitting inside of Google’s super secure headquarters truly knows what to expect from Penguin 2.0. While Cutts’ video certainly gave incredible insight into what will likely come in the next couple of weeks, the bottom line is that no one knows for certain. With ambiguity and uncertainties laying the foundation for any Google update, our finals thoughts on Penguin 2.0 remain the same:

  • Know your link profile, and know it well
    • Tools like Majestic make this much easier
  • Look into where your links are currently coming from, not simply the quality of the source
  • Build relationships with those sites inside of your niche
  • Consistently run back link checks to make certain they aren’t coming from shady neighborhoods

All in all, produce useful content, earn your links, and keep a thorough tab on site’s link profile. So, are you ready for Penguin 2.0? Contact Inbound Authority today to learn more about your site, its potential, and whether or not you will survive Google’s Penguin 2.0 update.

4 Responses to “Google’s Penguin 2.0 is Coming. Are You Ready?”

  1. Brent July 16, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Please read below and tell me if this makes sense. If what I have are advertorials then I need some one to do a backlink audit for me, etc. to fix the issues.

    I believe I have been hit by Penguin 2.0. The traffic started decreasing on May 22 or 23, 2013 – the same time that the new algorithm came out.

    I analyzed the backlink profile and found some unnatural looking links and I also found some of what seems to be “advertorials” (though I’m not sure – this is where I need your opinion). Penguin 2.0 has partly to do with advertorials.

    Here’s what I did – I paid a company to write high-quality articles for me and then post them on sites like Forbes, HuffPost, Business Insider, etc. I’m trying to figure out if those would be considered advertorials or not. Based on what Matt Cutts from Google says the answer is yes. The links from those articles to my sites were all dofollow and there was not any disclosure stating that the articles were ‘advertisements’ or ‘sponsored’. There were many of these ‘guest blogs’ and they were all done by the same company that used mostly the same targeted anchor text for all the links pointing back to my site.

    I wanted to get your opinion as to whether these are advertorials or not.

    I’ve done a lot of research online as far as what Matt Cutts from Google says about these. I have not listened to nobody except Matt Cutts thus far since he would know what an advertorial is or is not. But now I’m opening this debate up for discussion. Here are the things I have found that he (Matt Cutts) has said in regard to advertorials (almost everything below has been said by Matt Cutts):

    Just because it is a high-quality article on a high quality site does not mean that it’s not an advertorial.

    Advertorials – This is paid content that is made to look like genuine, organic content. Matt says it shouldn’t flow pagerank to the target site. If it does flow pagerank then you could have gotten hit for that as well.

    Inbound links with rich anchor text are powerful for helping boost search engine rankings. Therefore, many companies have tried to game Google’s algorithm by acquiring inbound links using the anchor text they want to rank for. One of the acquisition methods is buying paid text links from sites they believe are powerful to Google. This is clearly against Google’s guidelines and can get you in a lot of trouble with Big G.

    So, if a company gets hammered by Google overnight, it very well could be that the company was engaging in paid links. One quick way to identify this is to analyze the anchor text leading to a site. Note, a natural link profile will contain some rich anchor text links, but will also be balanced with other types of links. For example, a normal link profile might contain links that contain the URL, the brand name, non-descriptive links like “click here” or “learn more”, etc. Rarely (if ever) will a website naturally contain 99% rich anchor text links.

    Many websites were hit by Penguin based on risky link profiles filled with unnatural links.

    To address the issue, make sure that any paid links on your site don’t pass PageRank. You can remove any paid links or advertorial pages, or make sure that any paid hyperlinks have the rel=”nofollow” attribute. After ensuring that no paid links on your site pass PageRank, you can submit a reconsideration request and if you had a manual webspam action on your site, someone at Google will review the request. After the request has been reviewed, you’ll get a notification back about whether the reconsideration request was granted or not.

    A lot of people guest post or guest blog to try and increase their personal brand, gain new readers, and one would think improve the performance of their website in search engines. This is not a bad thing in and of itself as long as it’s done the right way according to Google.

    Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, posted a new video today on YouTube clarifying Google’s stance on Advertorials and “native advertising.”

    Matt Cutts says, “Now there’s nothing wrong inherently with advertorials or native advertising, but they should not flow PageRank and there should be clear and conspicuous disclosure so that users realize that something is paid, not organic or editorial.”

    Google doesn’t care about advertorials or outside advertising per say. The only time they care about it is when they think it might be manipulating their ranking algorithm.

    One option is to write to the site and ask them to remove the link. Keeping the post, especially if it mentions your site or business by name, may still help your rankings.

    Another option is to ask site owners to change the anchor text and keep the link but make the link a no follow link. This can help diversify your anchor text profile.
    Google’s Cutts wanted to make it clear that it is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for webmasters and advertisers to use advertorials or native advertising as a means of passing PageRank to your webpages.

    Matt explained that Google treats links as editorial votes and editorial votes helps sites rank higher because of the way that the algorithm is written. When links are embedded into advertorials or paid stories, if they are not disclosed, that is against Google’s guidelines because they see it as trying to manipulate their ranking algorithm.

    Matt Cutts posted a slide showing their guidelines for both user advertorial disclosure and search engine advertorial disclosure. Here’s what the slide said:

    Guidelines
    Disclosure to search engines
    • Paid links should not flow PageRank
    Ex: rel=”nofollow”

    Disclosure to readers
    • Clear and conspicuous
    Ex: “Advertisement” or “Sponsored”

    In summary, the Google guidelines for Advertorials are:

    (1) Search Engines: If links are paid for, i.e., money changes hands, then links should not pass PageRank. You should nofollow links in Advertorials.
    (2) Users & Readers: It should be clear to your readers that this is a paid story by labeling it advertisement or sponsored story.

    So, why is Google talking about this now? There was no change in Google policy, but Matt said that there has been an increase of webmasters using this technique in the recent months.

    Here are the things I think I need to do for those “guest blogs” I have which I think Google calls advertorials:

    Make sure that any paid hyperlinks have the rel=”nofollow” attribute.

    Another thing I would do is to modify the anchor text on those links pointing back to your site. Make the anchor text more diversified. Note, a natural link profile will contain some rich anchor text links, but will also be balanced with other types of links. For example, a normal link profile might contain links that contain the URL, the brand name, non-descriptive links like “click here” or “learn more”, etc. Rarely (if ever) will a website naturally contain 99% rich anchor text links.

    And then the last thing I would do is have those paid articles marked “Advertisement” or “Sponsored”.

    That’s 3 different things to do. Does that make sense?

    According to Matt Cutts from Google, any link that is acquired as a result of money changing hands is not viewed as legitimate in Google’s eyes. It doesn’t matter that money was not changed hands between the company that wrote/posted the articles and the site where the post was published (Forbes, HuffPost, etc).

    What does matter is that money exchanged hands somewhere in order for the posts to have been posted (i.e. money changed hands between me and the company that wrote and posted my guest blogs). It basically means that someone gave some money to someone else and that’s the reason the post got published (rather than Forbes, HuffPost, etc. or Heather writing about you naturally because they thought it was interesting or because they wanted to).

    Had it not been for the money that particular post would not have been published. These words come directly from Matt Cutts from Google.

    The way I understand it is that I should make sure that if links are paid (especially in regard to guest blogs/advertorials) – that is if money changed hands (anyone’s hands) in order for a link to be placed on a website – that it should not flow PageRank.

    For a supporting reference, this is a video from a Webmaster Central Hangout from February: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xEu_VzVU3s&feature=player_embedded

    When someone in the video says they submit articles to the Huffington Post, and asks if they should nofollow the links to their site, Google’s John Mueller says, “Generally speaking, if you’re submitting articles for your website, or your clients’ websites and you’re including links to those websites there, then that’s probably something I’d nofollow because those aren’t essentially natural links from that website.”

    Here’s another supporting reference in another February Webmaster Central hangout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEv59p2aQbg&feature=player_embedded

    In that one, when a webmaster asks if it’s okay to get links to his site through guest postings, Mueller says, “Think about whether or not this is a link that would be on that site if it weren’t for your actions there. Especially when it comes to guest blogging, that’s something where you are essentially placing links on other people’s sites together with this content, so that’s something I kind of shy away from purely from a linkbuilding point of view. I think sometimes it can make sense to guest blog on other peoples’ sites and drive some traffic to your site because people really liked what you are writing and they are interested in the topic and they click through that link to come to your website but those are probably the cases where you’d want to use something like a rel=nofollow on those links.”

    Another thing (according to Google) that most likely caused me to get caught up in this latest algorithm update:

    My guest blog post was not written by an independent and neutral third party. Instead, it written by someone at my company or someone my company paid to guarantee placement.

    Advertorials are considered “guaranteed” placement because they have been paid for. The money is what guarantees their placement. In contrast, true journalistic editorials are never “guaranteed”. For example, you might write up a blog post and then submit that post to a blog such as Forbes, Huffpost, etc. and then at that point the blog has the choice of whether or not to publish it or not. Sometimes they might and other times they might not.

    Google can easily figure out that a paid-for company (which is in business and gets gets paid to do this) has posted my blog posts on sites like Forbes, Huffpost, etc. on my behalf. If you visit the company site (the ones who wrote and posted my articles) you can see that they do not offer their services for free. They charge money for the “guarantee” or service that your blog post will be published. This, in Google’s eyes, is not a true editorial. It is a post that has been paid for in one way or the other.

    Google says, “True journalistic editorials are usually written by the editors of the blog, not by a company. When a company writes a blog post it will almost universally be biased and slanted towards the favor of the company writing the post. True editorials can be like that too but they are written by the editors of the blog and not by the company seeking to publish it’s blog post.”

    Also according to Google, something else that could have caused those posts to be considered advertorials is the fact that the company which I paid to write and post the guest blogs on my behalf consistently requires that blogs (Forbes, HuffPost, etc.) keep a link to my site in place in the author bios section of the article.

    Here are the facts of how Google currently views this issue:

    Editorial is unpaid.

    It’s difficult to define but editorial is generally considered to be content that appears in a newspaper, news channel, magazine or website that is considered timely, relevant news. Editorial cannot be paid for and you cannot demand that it be run nor anything about the story or how it’s covered. Companies do not control the final content.

    I know many bloggers receive releases from brands and companies. They are hoping that if you find their pitch interesting enough you will write about it. Some will. Some won’t. It’s the same as a newspaper or a magazine. And yes, writers for those publications get paid. But they get paid BY THE PUBLICATION, not by the company.

    “Editorials” technically refer to opinion articles in newspapers. Since a vast majority of blogging falls into the “opinion” category, “editorial blog content” has come to mean posts that the blogger has posted out of genuine interest, and unpaid. If you see an awesome pair of shoes and want to share it with your readers by posting on your blog or social media, that is editorial content. If you want to talk about your experience going shopping for the first time, again editorial content.

    If you get tipped off that your favorite designer is having a 80% off sale and you want to share that with your readers, that is editorial content.

    An advertorial is paid.

    Obviously if you are paying for it, you are guaranteed inclusion in the news outlet. Of course, then there is the argument that the “article” now loses credibility as it is biased and contains outright company messaging. But the message is out there and that is important to many brands. Sponsored posts are advertorial too according to Google.

    Advertising content is content that you have been paid to produce (i.e you paying Heather). This is usually negotiated in advance. The brand will have certain parameters and goals with it’s post and it will probably have negotiated a package with services:

    • Writing a post with specific links (sometimes tracked links)
    • Publishing the post on a specified date
    • Using specified language from the brand in your post
    • Giving the brand final approval for post publishing

    The list goes on. If a brand has specific branding to be included in the post, then that is indeed advertising content according to Google.

    The bottom line is, Google wants links that are freely given (or at least appear to be freely given) and anything else (to them) smacks of attempted manipulation.
    Furthermore, the posts that this company got published for me looked unnatural because each post linked to my site with targeted anchor text. Not only that, but also because of the fact that all of those published posts were done by the same person (company). That in and of itself smells of some sort of “package deal” for money (at least in Google’s eyes anyway).

    Although Google has no way of finding out whether a link or post was truly paid for or not their new algorithm update has been created to weed out paid for content that masquerades as ‘real’ content such as advertorials, sponsored content, etc. Google doesn’t know what your intent is. They have no way of knowing that you’re simply submitting guest posts for branding (not to gain ranking power via links). It is easy to misconstrue as an advertorial.

    Google is not saying to cease writing guest content on other people’s sites all together. I am not saying that either. In fact, they say that they are not against that and that it could be a good thing to do if done properly. I also say that it could still be a good thing (for now) if done according to Google’s guidelines.

    I know that’s a lot of information but based on what I’ve told you do you think it’s possible that Google could be viewing my “guest blogs” as advertorials?

    • Joshua Gill July 17, 2013 at 1:39 am #

      Brent,

      It is quite likely. However the first thing I would focus on is your anchor text in your link profile. If you have more than 20-30% of anchor text that is for high traffic keywords then this looks poor and the new Penguin update targeted that as well as the advertorials. If you do find that you have a large amount of head terms as anchor text I would work to either change the anchor text on those links to branded keywords or at least get more branded keyword anchor text links to make the ratio less problematic. Also, if you ever allowed guest posting on your site for others I would verify that those links in those articles are nofollow to prevent or remedy any problems. Each case is different so it is hard to make an executive decision on what one thing it may be. Your on the right track. Thanks for writing in. 🙂

  2. shruti9896 August 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    It’s good to see these changes going into effect and forcing SEOs to use good content in order to increase rankings instead of the spam. I’ve been an editor with Dmoz for 13 years, since Google used the RDF dump for indexing and gave priority to listed sites. It was a pretty effective way to combat spam since high ranking sites were manually reviewed.

    Of course, the amount of sites that need indexed has increased exponentially since then making quality and quantity a hard balance to find, but I think you guys are doing a good job and going in the right direction.

    • Joshua Gill August 14, 2013 at 2:33 am #

      Shruti,

      Thanks for your feedback and your wonderful contribution to the internet as a whole through your work at Dmoz. It is a privilege to have you visit the site and share your views. Thanks!

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