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Penguin 2.0: The Slappening
And so it arrived, not with a bang, but with a fizzle. The day of reckoning for SEOs everywhere, the day spam would sink to the fiery depths of sub-100 rankings and the cream of the search crop would float to the top, ascending like particularly well-optimised angels.
Penguin 2.0 was supposed to be the ‘big update’ of 2013, an update to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who had ever dared to ‘artificially’ build a link to the website. Speculation was mounting as to when the update would roll out, but one thing was for sure. It was going to be terrifyingly big, laying waste to the world of SEO with one swipe of its vast flippers.
The update was finally rolled out last night, as announced by Google’s perma-grinned Head of Web Spam Matt Cutts on his personal blog (the post is well worth browsing, especially the comments below). According to Cutts, the update has affected around 2.3% of English queries, making its impact slightly smaller than Penguin 1.
However, Penguin 2.0 was apparently going to be much harsher on the sites it did hit. So, what has the impact been so far?
Apparently, not a lot. The forewarned SEOpocalypse hasn’t materialised, and a lot of SEOs are reporting that their rankings have held true and even increased in niches where competitors have been hit.
As with any update, though, other SEOs tales have been mixed. Some have reported massive drops, others have reported rises and others have stayed the same while the world around them collapses.
There have also been reports of spam sites still dominating certain keywords, suggesting that Cutts and his team at Mountain View still have a way to go until they’ve achieved their spam-free SERP utopia.
What Has Penguin 2.0 Targeted?
Like its predecessor, Penguin 2.0 is an anti-spam update primarily targeting backlinks and anchor text. If you’ve built low quality links en masse to your site targeting money keywords, the chances are you’ve been hit with some kind of ranking drop (in theory, anyway).
This means avoiding Penguin comes down to the two things; quality and diversification.
It’s been stated time and time again but building quality links gained through methods that appear naturalistic are the best, safest way to improve rankings. It’s a long game, and success can sometimes take a while to achieve, but it’s a game worth playing.
What makes for a ‘quality’ link is debatable, although there a few metrics that play a part, such as page authority and domain authority. Some SEOs suggest only building links from sites over DA30, but this can present problems that I’ll get to shortly.
Two of the main ways of building ‘high quality’ links often bandied about are through creating ‘quality content’ that people will want to link to and through blogger outreach, which can take many forms.
The main branch of outreach most SEOs (including ourselves) pursue is guest posting, a tactic which involves writing (or filming/drawing and so on) something and pitching it to various bloggers and websites. It’s a process that can earn some seriously good links but sadly one that is also open to abuse.
Outreach can also involve offering incentives to a blogger (such as sending a product for review) or hosting an event for bloggers, with the idea being that they blog about the event and send you a nice juicy link while they’re at it.
Building these kinds of links can be a time and budget-intensive process, leading many SEOs to cut corners and post low-quality content on equally low quality sites. This could either be because the SEO is lazy, or under a lot of pressure to build links with a tight budget. Either way, it’s a methodology that is becoming increasingly outdated.
Another key aspect of avoiding a good slapping from Penguin is the diversification of link sources and anchor text.
Diversification is important as it is the surest way of building a link profile that appears natural. Anchor text is the most obvious area of diversification, with the recommended brand to exact-match keyword ratio becoming an increasing point of debate in the SEO world. Essentially, you need to think how people would link to your site naturally; through brand links and ‘junk’ text like ‘click here’ or ‘view here’.
This can then be mixed with a small percentage of exact match anchor text for your main keywords, although your exact match text should also be mixed up to give a broader link profile.
Link source diversification mainly comes down to metrics. The obvious course to take when building ‘quality’ links is to only seek links above a certain threshold (i.e. DA30+ links only). However, focusing on building only high quality links can present something of a problem, as this post on SEOMoz illustrates. In short, neglecting ‘lower quality’ links entirely can lead to your link profile looking unnatural and potentially draw the Big G’s attention.
Are You At Risk of Penguin 2.0?
Although the full impact of Penguin 2.0 cannot be assessed fully yet, early reports suggest that the update hasn’t had as much of an impact as Cutts’ forewarnings have suggested. The main victims of the update have apparently been game sites, mucky websites and, bizarrely, the Salvation Army.
Many are also reported that spammy sites are still dominating for their keywords, which has led Cutts to release a ‘form’ where you can essentially ‘grass’ on other websites. On the one hand, this is quite useful and should lead to some of the more spammy sites out there getting the boot. On the other, we’re essentially doing Google’s work for them. How open the form is to abuse, with SEOs potentially reporting competitors, has also yet to become clear.
All in all, however, Penguin 2.0 seems to have passed without the SERP changing implications that were suggested in the preceding weeks.
However, in a passing comment on his blog, Matt Cutts has suggested that the severity of the update could be ramped up if the webspam team feel it necessary. We might not be out of the woods just yet…