Google Penguin Algorithm Review 2012

Google’s new Penguin update has been the hot topic around the office and the SEO world for the last few weeks, but it is only now that we feel we can deliver an opinion on Google’s latest algorithm without stepping into the world of conjecture and guess work.

Of course without having our own mole in the Google HQ some of what we believe can not be proven, but with more and more data coming to light on the subject to support our theories, the few guesses we make are all educated ones.

Since it’s launch in 1997, Google has unleashed a string of updates for its system with the aim of improving their customer service. In fact in the weeks leading up to Penguin, Google released yet another Panda update as well as another Link update. Understandably all these updates’ makes attempting any in-depth analysis problematic. However we will try.

Picking up the Pieces: An Insight into Google Penguin

What is Penguin?

Unlike the Panda update which was a more content related update, focused on targeting sites with duplicate and poor quality content, the Penguin update seems to be a far more comprehensive algorithm. It targets many factors but primarily focuses on stopping low quality link building tactics. Whilst Google understandably wants to catch out excessive spammers it would seem that some legit sites have also been effected detrimentally in Google’s latest purge.

Google’s Matt Cutts commented that the Penguin update has so far, ‘been a success from our standpoint’. When asked about the possibility that some legit, hardworking businesses may have been affected he went on to clarify.

“We’ve seen a few cases where we might want to investigate more, but this change hasn’t had the same impact as Panda or Florida…No algorithm is perfect. While we’d like to achieve perfection, our litmus test is, ‘Do things get better than before?’”

With the Penguin  algorithm change they obviously feel it has.

Matt also went on to state that Google’s Penguin update was one of the most precise algorithms Google have ever produced, focusing solely on pages where there was a high concentration of spam located.

Spam is defined as – any deliberate human action that is meant to trigger an unjustifiably favourable relevance or importance to a web page when considering the page’s true value.

So What Exactly Happened?

When looking into examples of sites affected by the latest Google update, there appear to be three main factors.

  • The majority of the website’s backlinks are low quality.
  • The majority of the website’s backlinks are from unrelated websites.
  • Too many links are directing back to a website with exact match keywords in the anchor text.

“The Google Penguin Update has clearly shown us Google is happy to tweak its search algorithm to stop spam and poor content. While I do not believe Google Penguin penalises bad, cheap or irrelevant links, it certainly has removed any credit it had given previously for these links. If that were the case we would have the world buying poor quality backlinks as a favour for their competitors.” remarked Rumble Romagnoli, managing director here at Relevance Web Marketing.

It is interesting to note that the Penguin algorithm review doesn’t appear to be affecting sites with a few poor quality links as harshly so long as they have enough quality links to tip the scale. What was also apparent was that certain search terms were being more harshly targeted by Penguin and as a result saw dramatic loss in page rank. This appears to be due to over-use of ‘exact’ anchor text, creating un-natural looking links pointing back to the affected site.

‘Black hat’ link building tactics that Penguin updates are drawn to include:

  • Poor quality paid links – Purchasing vast amounts of low value links on poorly ranked sites using exact keywords goes against Google guidelines. Google sees this as blatant pagerank manipulation without providing any value for visitors.
  • Contextual links – When legitimately done inserting contextual links is a fair way to generate traffic to a site. However, when exact keywords are forced into low-quality articles Penguin dismisses the value of the page as it appears to focus on keywords rather than the content.
  • Comment spam – Poor grammar as well as keyword stuffing in article comments were also a common factor amongst Penguin affected sites.
  • Links from dangerous sites – Links on sites flagged for malware, excessive pop-ups or other spammy issues were an instant Penguin target.

Penguin is believed to be a purely link orientated algorithm, but we would be naive to dismiss the possibility that our on-site actions have nothing to be concerned about from the latest Google update.

Penguin’s Opinion of On-site Web Spam (Theory)

This SEO company has only ever used best practices when building and running our clients websites, however it is worth noting down here a few of the areas that Google’s Penguin update might look at for on-site spam.

  • Words per page – Studies have shown that over laden text pages are common playgrounds for spammers.
  • Keywords in title – A page’s title should be concise and devoid of unnecessary SEO.
  • Anchors to anchor text – Disproportionate ratio of text to anchor text on a page.
  • Percentage of visible text – Avoid hidden or alternative text on pages
  • Query spam – By looking at query patterns and combinations any un-natural statistics should become apparent.
  • Phrase spam – By looking for textual anomalies in content Google can highlight keyword stuffed pages.

We Live and Learn

What is apparent to us is that SEO is far from dead as some pessimistic individuals have decreed. Just as the Panda and Florida updates forced a few re-thinks for web users and those in the industry, so too will the Penguin update.

“As an SEO company we must continue in our quest to provide hand-picked quality contextual links that are relevant and natural. With social SEO becoming more important we are happy with our long-term strategy of quality blogging, contextual links, partnerships, and social seo through Google+. While Penguin shocked many SEO companies around the world as well as in France, it has actually done Relevance a favour; less people and companies will have the time to work on their SEO ( a good link or referrer can take a day to secure)  so I see our business continuing to increase through 2012 and beyond.” concluded MD, Rumble Romagnoli.

What is clear is that too many links to unrelated sites and directories are subject to Penguin’s link de-valuation. However links to relevant sites or directories are acceptable so long as they provide a service to the visitor. This is a practice Relevance has long been disciple of.

Sites should avoid over using ‘exact’ keywords in links coming in. Google accepts the use of synonyms and semantics in in-bound links. Data suggests that at least 20% of keyword links should be non-branded or exact.

Bought links on low quality sites should also be avoided, these include footer links without descriptions. Contextual links in good quality articles however, are a perfectly legit means of acquiring links.

As stated earlier, some legit sites may have been adversely affected having committed none of the above offences. For these Google have provided a ‘reconsideration contact form’, this may be an option for sites that feel an injustice has been served.

For those on a cleanup mission we suggest that these changes are put into practice immediately but in stages. Complete a few and then check if your positioning is returning to normal levels, this may take a little time as Penguin updates will only be run periodically.

Search engines, and in particular Google, will always roll out new updates in order to provide a better user experience for the public. All that businesses can do is provide well-built and optimised websites that adhere to ethical link building strategies. Relevance Web Marketing can perform free website audits in order to assess your current rankings and discover where improvements can be made, all Penguin and Panda friendly.

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