Analyzing Penguin 2.0 (4.0) and Its Impact to Date
Matt Cutts, Google’s master of search spam, made the rare move of announcing the search engine giant’s release of the latest version of Penguin last week. The move, as expected, has sent webmasters and SEOs heart rates through the roof wondering if their sites will be impacted and how badly.
New blog post:Penguin 2.0 rolled out today goo.gl/fb/U7llH— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) May 23, 2013
The move from Cutts to announce that Penguin 2.0 was rolled out on 22 May was rare as Google tends to keep its lips shut when it comes to announcing the specific release of Penguin and Panda updates. After discussing the updates frequently over the past month, it seemed only natural that Cutts would break with trend and immediately inform webmasters of Penguin’s release.
Why Penguin 2.0?
While the latest release of Penguin algorithms is technically the fourth release of such software programs at Google, it is officially referred to as Penguin 2.0 because of the nature of this update. The original Penguin algorithm hit the web in April 2012, with subsequent updates to that program in May and October.
The latest version of Penguin is referred to as 2.0 because it marks the first time since the initial launch that a full blown overhaul of the algorithms has taken place. When the original Penguin was launched it affected some 3.2% of English language queries. The updates to that version affected a mere .01% and .3% respectively. Penguin 2.0 is expected to have an impact on roughly 2.3% of English language queries.
What is Penguin 2.0 Targeting?
Penguin’s initial version, along with its two updates, had a profound impact on many sites and webmasters, but the impact was relatively narrow in scope and targeting compared to the goals of Penguin 2.0. When Penguin was initially released, the scope of its searching through websites was largely limited to the homepage of any given website.
Penguin 2.0 however, will be going beyond the home page to scrawl through secondary pages on a website in search of spam. The new algorithms will go deeper in search of advertorials (paid, unnatural advertisements) on sites that violate Google’s webmaster guidelines and work harder to assign a value to the links found on each site.
This will lead to cleaned up search results for web users. Penguin 2.0 will focus on cutting down the number of spammy results for search queries that tend to be overpopulated with spam. A perfect example of such a query would be any iteration of “payday loans.” Additionally, search results will be cleaned up by eliminating multiple pages from the same domain showing up on page one of SERPs.
What Sites Will be Most Affected?
Just because a Penguin update or algorithm change comes out does not mean the entire web needs to go on high alert for changes in search rankings. By in large, bigger corporations and groups with a web presence are already using clean approaches to SEO and have developed a strong position of authority that is reflected in search engine rankings.
While updates like Penguin 2.0 tend to target the traditional areas of spam such as porn and gaming sites; that does not mean that those are the only sites to feel the sting of an update. SearchMetrics, an SEO software company, has already conducted an early analysis of Penguin 2.0’s impact on certain sites across the web.
In its initial look, SearchMetrics ranked the top 25 websites affected by Penguin 2.0 based upon changes in their “SEO visibility.” This benchmark tries to determine the visibility of a webpage across a variety of keywords in Google search results. Below is the list of the top 25 sites that have been impacted the most early on.
One look at the list of highly affected sites and most users will see common spammers included on the list. Nearly half of the sites in the top 25 are porn or gaming sites, both of which are frequent violators of black hat tactics in the eyes of Google. However, in addition the expected crop of pornographic and gaming sites, there were some unexpected victims of Penguin 2.0.
Websites like Dish.com, Salvationarmy.org, Cheapoair.com, and DailyDot.com are far from the typical spammers that one might find on porn and gaming related sites. The problem these reputable sites faced with Penguin 2.0 was the continued focus of Google on stuffing “money keywords” into the content found on these sites.
In a separate comparison of Penguin 2.0’s early impact, it was discovered that sites like Cheapoair.com suffered from a lack of brand quality and overuse of these “money keywords.” The following chart offers an analysis of Cheapoair.com’s site:
In the table above, the orange bar in the graph represents the keyword usage type on Cheapoair.com compared to its competitors. A comparison of keyword usage for Cheapoair.com in the “money keyword” category shows a whopping 66% of keywords matching up to “money keyword” stuffing on their site.
Compare that to an average of just 29% among the rest of the competition and even lower percentages among the top three and top five competitors in the same category. At the same time, Cheapoair.com fell way behind the competition in terms of trusted brand links contained on its website. Just 21% of its links were considered trustworthy while the average amongst the competition was 50%, skewing even higher for the top three and top five competitors.
While this analysis applies directly to Cheapoair.com, there are other reasons that trusted sites such as that of the Salvation Army or DailyDot (a daily news blog) suffered a big hit from Penguin 2.0. In addition to stuffing a page with certain keywords that are frowned upon, Google is punishing webmasters with poor links.
Links that take customers to sites known by Google to be infected with malware, paid text links from link networks, and links to dead webpages all have a negative impact on sites and can be just one possible reason for some trusted websites landing higher in the ranking of those most impacted by Penguin 2.0.
Overall, a number of reputable websites lost out in Penguin 2.0 because of poor links or bad SEO tactics. Among the harder hit across all industries were websites belonging to small businesses. Many small businesses are still struggling to understand and properly implement SEO strategies and are bound to pay for that lack of knowledge under the latest Penguin algorithms.
Where to Go from Here
Now that Penguin 2.0 is up and running, the analysis of its impact will continue to roll in over the coming weeks until analysts find a new Google update to critique. For many websites though, the battle to recover from Penguin 2.0 will be waged over more than just the next couple of weeks. Adjusting to the impact of the new algorithms will take time and no SEO strategy can be perfectly adapted overnight.
Simple as it sounds, the best place to start is inside your own head. If your website has noticed a drop in page ranking with Google it is best not to panic just yet. This doesn’t mean do nothing and hope for the best, but rather don’t go out and make a whole bunch of changes in hopes of regaining standings.
Just as an initial SEO strategy is implemented over time, so too must adjustments be implemented over time. With each change made in content and linking on your site, give it some time to see how the change affects page rankings before making any more changes. Of course, this is rather generic advice so let’s move to more specific examples of things that can be done to adapt under Penguin 2.0.
First off, try cleaning up your link profile to remove any backlinks to your site from questionable websites or those that are no longer indexed online. Dead and malicious links are a big red flag to Google and their presence is never going to benefit your page. Remove as many of these bad links manually as possible, and when you reach the point you can no longer remove them manually you can turn to Google for help.
Matt Cutts has been very active in the past week on social media providing SEOs and webmasters with guidance on adapting to Penguin 2.0. Once you have gone through the process of trying to manually remove spammy inbound links, report those links and others you cannot remove to Google using their Disavow Tool.
Once you have purged the bad inbound links to your site it is time to start a new campaign focused on gathering up reputable inbound links from trusted third party sources. Reach out to some of the publishers that continually rank high among Google’s search results and try to establish a relationship that results in inbound links to your page.
Next, it might be time to clean up your webpage a little bit. When Penguin 1.0 was released it focused largely upon the content on the home page of any given website. With Penguin 2.0 diving deeper and crawling through subcategory pages on sites, it is important to ensure that each page on your site adds value to the website as a whole.
If there are pages that are redundant or do not offer enough quality to stand on their own, consider merging them into other subcategories on your site to strengthen those pages or remove them all together to boost the overall quality of your site. Remember, sometimes less can be more.
While we’re on the topic of content, ensure that all your content on every page is of the highest possible quality. Many SEO-devoted sites such as Search Engine Journal rank content as the single most important SEO strategy for any webpage. The content on your site is the very stuff that Google’s algorithms crawl through looking for inconsistencies and issues.
Rather than populating your website with article after article just to have constant updates, focus on providing visitors with real quality. It is better to draw in visitors and attract inbound links with quality content posted every couple of days than to post mindless drivel every day of the week. Constant updates on content do more harm than good if the quality contained within is poor.
An important note here regarding content quality; Penguin 2.0 will be able to catch popular derivations on keywords and reward those using this variety with better rankings. Recall from earlier that Cheapoair.com has suffered in the early days of Penguin 2.0 because of an overuse of the same “money keywords.”
When developing new content, focus on creating a few different phrases throughout the content that touch on the main keyword you are looking to tackle. More specifically, Penguin 2.0 will be looking at keywords on a primary, derivative, and synonym basis.
An example of this would be fishing poles. The primary keyword for the content would be “fishing poles,” but rather than stuff that keyword down the throat of readers it would be better to offer up content within the piece that includes keywords considered to be derivatives and/or synonyms like “deep sea fishing poles” or “cane poles.”
Finally, the value of social media to SEO remains a debated topic, but it seems the search gurus at Google see a social media presence is a good thing. More and more businesses are developing a social media presence on the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but it might be time to consider a Google+ account as well.
As biased as it might seem, it should come as no surprise that Google would reward those with a positive social media presence on its own social media network. A word of caution though, spamming techniques have become just as popular on social media and if you can’t or won’t devote the time and resources to running a positive social media campaign, it might be best to avoid it altogether.
In the End
Penguin 2.0, as mentioned, is expected to impact somewhere around 2.3% of U.S./English language queries. This is certainly smaller than the 3.2% impact the original Penguin offered, but with five billion English language search queries conducted each day, 2.3% equates to roughly 115 million affected queries. Add to that the fact that Penguin 2.0, unlike 1.0 and its updates, will extend its reach to other languages on the web.
While English language SEOs and webmasters have been working around Penguin for over a year, some other languages might still have major spam issues and this update could wind up having a much greater impact on the global internet than any of the previous iterations.