Ian Lurie // May 14 2012
If I say ‘Google Penguin’ to an SEO pro, they shudder. In the SEO world, Google’s Penguin update is the nastiest, scariest update since, I dunno, Florida?
Here’s an explainer for all the marketers who are wondering what the hell just happened to their traffic:
[emailoptin type="seo"][/emailoptin]The engineers at Google constantly tune their search software to provide (hopefully) more accurate results. Most of these tune-ups are pretty small, and go unnoticed by anyone except us hardcore search geeks. They’re like thunderstorms: You don’t name them.
Every now and then, though, Google rolls out a humungous change that throws the search world into a state of meteorological higgledy-piggledy (that’s a lot of Gs). Those are named updates. Panda was one. Penguin’s another.
Google rolled out the Penguin update April 24th. It appears to target artificial link acquisition, or ‘link spam’.
Link spam is any attempt to acquire lots of links by buying them, trading them, or building your own ‘link network’. The easiest way to describe link spam to talk money: You can go out and earn money by creating something of value, or providing a valuable service. Or, you can print or steal it.
Link spam is the whole printing/stealing thing: Go to a link broker or service, for example, and for a fee you can acquire anywhere from one to thousands of links with a click. Or, launch one hundred blogs, fill them with stolen content or gibberish, and then link them in a network that funnels authority to your own site. It’s a lot easier than writing amazing content, or doing good PR, or (I dunno) marketing or something.
I’m sounding judgmental, I know. The truth is, I don’t see anything morally wrong with link spam. It’s another marketing tactic that taken too far can really screw things up. But compare it to plagiarism on the Evil Scale it barely moves the needle.
Link spam has always been a bad long-term SEO strategy. Google and Bing have fought it for years, and they catch the site networks and companies that use it all the time.
Penguin, though, took it to a whole new level.
It’s hard to know for certain, since Google doesn’t reveal details. But a few things are clear:
Penguin focused on offsite factors. Panda, the update that came before, focused more on site quality and onsite factors.
If your search traffic suddenly dropped after April 24th, and you got a warning from Google about unnatural links pointing at your site, and you no longer rank in the top 10 for your own brand name, you probably got a Penguin penalty.
Otherwise, though, let your conscience be your guide. If you know you’ve got a lot of link spam pointing at your site, clean it up. Even if you didn’t get penalized under Penguin, chances are you’re due. Fix it before you get hammered.
And, fix it a little bit at a time. Go out and get higher-quality links while removing the spammy ones. Read the SEOMOZ article for info on how to remove spammy links.
Most sites I’ve seen got hit by a combination of factors: Penguin (offsite) plus Panda (onsite) or a screw-up around a site re-launch or similar.
I say this because it’s important that, in the initial Penguin Panic, you still pay attention to SEO best practices: Visibility, authority, relevance. Make sure all three are in good shape.
If you think you’ve been hit by Penguin, and can’t/won’t hire someone, do some reading. These articles are a great place to start:
Ian Lurie is founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More