Google Penguin 2.0: The End of Traditional Link Building & Webspam?

Yesterday, Matt Cutts shared an update on what’s coming up from Google in the next few weeks.  He made mention of Penguin 2.0 which appears to be a substantial update on the original Penguin.  The goal of Penguin 2.0 appears to be to reduce the rank of sites that are using black-hat SEO techniques that includes items such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, or participating in link schemes.

According to Matt Cutts’  video (see below), Penguin 2.0 will be rolling out in the next few weeks.   While we cannot predict the precise impact of this update, being aware of what Google is telling us can help you prepare.  Frankly if you have not participated in any of the above mentioned black-hat techniques and haven’t undertaken any “traditional” mass link building efforts, you should be okay.  For sites that have used tactics that may violate Google’s guidelines, you might be in for an interesting summer.

Consider what happened when the original Penguin Update rolled out: link wheels and farms were shut down, links that were identified as “spammy” were devalued and, as a result entire sites lost rankings or were de-listed and in some cases specific sections of sites suffered declines. Ultimately, this reduced traffic to affected sites.

Looking forward, note that in his video,  Matt mentions that Penguin 2.0 will have more of an impact than the original update.  Google (and Matt’s team in particular) is dedicated to make link spam less effective. We also know that Google will have learned a lot about spam from the data it collected from Penguin 1.0 so this update will be more effective and, as Matt points out, go “further upstream”.

Separately Google is looking at advertorials on sites that violate their guidelines. Basically any paid ads that you have should not “flow PageRank”. There should be clear and conspicuous disclosure to differentiate when an ad is paid vs. not.

Over the next few weeks, keep an eye on your rankings, but don’t panic if you see some fluctuation: this is often a side effect of Google updates. Also, keep an eye on your Google Webmaster Tools for any messages from Google. We did see some warnings in GWT for some sites just before Penguin 1.0.

What this means for site owners:

  1. If you are already building quality content on your web properties, you have very little to worry about.
  2. If you are building your link inventories in an “unnatural” manner you might be in for an eventful summer.
  3. If you have been hanging around a lot of black-hat forums and applying related practices, you too might be in for an eventful summer.
  4. If you are a relevant authority in your industry, Google will be looking to make sure that you rank highly according to the algorithms.
  5. In some cases when you see a cluster of results from one site, as you go through the Google results pages, it will be less likely that you see more results from that same site.
  6. Link-spammers will be showing up less and less over the next few months.
  7. Clean up your link profiles.  As Matt mentioned in the post: One common issue we see with disavow requests is people going through with a fine-toothed comb when they really need to do something more like a machete on the bad backlinks. For example, often it would help to use the “domain:” operator to disavow all bad backlinks from an entire domain rather than trying to use a scalpel to pick out the individual bad links. That’s one reason why we sometimes see it take a while to clean up those old, not-very-good links.  So go through your external link inventories and clean up all low quality, irrelevant links.
  8. Avoid traditional link building practices of trying to drive a massive amount of links to your site.  Focus on producing rich content.
  9. Avoid spamming your site with keyword stuffing, doorway pages and syndicated content.
  10. Pay attention to your traffic via your analytics.  Also ensure that you monitor your site’s activity through Google Webmaster Tools.  It is probably a great time to review Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to ensure that you are working within the Guidelines set forth by Google.

If Google is taking the time to “warn” the masses, you know that there is a major change coming.  Again if you have a high quality site that is not violating any of Google’s Guidelines, you probably have nothing to worry about. If you’ve been aggressively trying to link-build and artificially inflate your link inventory you may want to revisit that approach.  Penguin 2.0 will not be the last Penguin update.  The Google webspam team is committed to fighting webspam and sites that are trying to “game” the system.  Focus on your users and not the search engines.  Work on creating a site that is or will become an authority so that this algorithm (or any future algorithm) update should not have a negative impact on your online efforts.

Google’s Matt Cutts:  What to Expect in SEO in Upcoming Months