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.
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.
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 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.
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.