As everyone already knows, Google's Penguin Algo update targets what it deems to be â€˜webspam': both onsite, and offsite (links). The update's intent was not to reward â€˜quality' sites - per se - in spite of Cutts' spin. The primary aim of this update was, first and foremost, to punish sites that engage in â€˜unnatural' link building. So, if you engaged in unnatural link building, and have sites that either moved up in rankings or held their position, it's not that you did something right or your site is of necessarily higher quality than your competitors that got the axe. It's that your site's link profile, relative to the specific section of the total link graph to which your site's niche belongs, didn't do things as â€˜wrong' as the sites that got destroyed did. This explains why garbage has risen up significantly across all verticals - these sites are in nearly every instance complete non-offenders. Therefore, Penguin (in conjunction with Panda) deems them of higher â€˜quality' since there is no way for them to trip the algo as engaging in link spam. Only from the mind of Google, right...? In spite of whether or not you have survived Penguin, looking only at what off-site stuff you have done for answers is to misunderstand the Penguin update. This is why so many people can really and truly say that they have sites that survived, and even gained rankings in some instances, despite having â€˜incorrectly' used certain automated tools, heavily spun content, or full-on blackhat methods. These sites simply did not crap where they were eating to the extent that their competition did. In short, to understand the winners and losers in your niche, you have to analyze the profiles of, at least, the top 10 winners, relative to your own site's profile - forget comparing your site's link portfolio to other losing sites; and, stop trying to find commonalities with sites that lost that have nothing to do with your niche, since, again, different niches have offended differently as a group. Google's Link Graph, Their Continuing Attempts to Master the Semantic Web, Human Behavior Tracking on the Internet, and Backlink Organicity A fancy (if not long-winded) heading, but there's really no other way condense it. Luckily, there is a fairly simple way to explain it: Google has been in dogged pursuit of understanding human language, colloquialisms, what people actually mean as opposed to what they might type (and how to distinguish such things) from the beginning, and they have made a lot of headway. In making that headway, Google - by default - is better able to understand organic linking patterns across their crawls of the Web, synonym-based content spins, and which backlinks just stick-out as inorganic, without any further analysis whatsoever of any other of a link's characteristics. The net result for Google is a more refined understanding of their link graph as a whole, and where it is being manipulated the most. Many of you have found getting a thing indexed lately to be difficult, and this is why: it now falls under Google's refined definition of spam. Google couples this improved understanding of the Semantic Web with an almost unbelievable amount of data now at its fingertips about what people do online. Predictable patters. From that, it can be statistically extrapolated what people do not do online, as a matter of regularity. Ergo, we enter a whole new world with the Penguin update: Penguin actually does identify link spam very, very well; the problem - and I think this is something we can all agree upon - is that it is exactly link spam that, for the most, and not without its irony, actually gave really good search results. Having said that, Joe and Suzie Websurfer are unlikely to take any notice of the changes. Put another way, whatever Google puts in front of Joe Public is going to be just fine with Joe Public, so if you rely on organic search to make money, you're the one with the problem - not Google. Why Your "White Hat" Site Got Nailed Almost all people claiming that their "White Hat" website got hit fall into one of four categories: 1.) You didn't understand what Google considers "White Hat" and built links according to that misunderstanding, 2.) Your White Hat site is being retroactively punished for things you did that once were White Hat, but now are not after the Penguin update. 3.) Your site is collateral damage from the update - a glitch in the matrix; or, 4.) The linking patterns established by the people linking to your site tripped the algo (this can happen to perfectly White Hat sites that do not lend themselves to what the algo is programmed to see as â€˜organic' anchor diversity/linking). I, myself, have 2 White Hat sites that were wiped out; the only premeditated link building ever done for them being press releases. However, these two sites really only lent themselves to being linked to organically with 4 or 5 different anchors, each; these sites tripped the algo in spite of no fault on my behalf. Frustrating? You bet. Moving on... Google's Definition of "Link Scheme" Just Got Realer There is nothing - whatsoever - organic about backlink tiering/pyramiding in the way we've all been doing it to manipulate SERPs. We've all grown very accustomed to this technique working, and when we get accustomed, we get comfortable; when we get comfortable, we tend to not bother with keeping ahead of the game. And I'm guilty, too, so please don't take this as some high-and-mighty patronization: My organization has been tiering/pyramiding links since it was proven to work and have done it all the way up to basically yesterday. And now we're not, not in the way we and everyone else has been, anyway. That all of us have ridden the SERPs gravy train this long with link tiering/pyramiding is what we should all be shocked about, not that we've finally been busted. Backlink tiering/pyramiding in the way it has been done is a Link Scheme by definition, and is now - I believe - the largest blip on Google's spam-dar. The Common Denominators/Link Types Used of Sites that were Penalized And yes, there do appear to be some across-the-board commonalities, in spite of needing to focus on one's niche as a whole for specific, detailed answers: Exact anchor text: There doesn't seem to be a common percentage threshold, however, so look to your specific niche. Extensive link tiering/pyramiding. Spun 2.0s (usually en masse and as a majority of one's profile). Extensive article marketing with essentially the same article (resulting mainly in link devaluation outside of the instances in which Google deems a directory as part of a spam network). Blog Networks (these are being caught more and more because they are not niche-specific, topically consistent sites = flag). A greater number of irrelevant links in one's profile than relevant, quality links. (The threshold for this is appears to be frighteningly low, too. I saw one instance just yesterday of a penalized site whose profile contains no more than 20% of its links from irrelevant sites via high PR blog comments). Combinations/permutations of the above Yes, there's probably more; no, not all of these will apply to you. What To Do For quite a few of you, I imagine this is going to be anti-climactic. There's no small irony in this, because it is for you that I'm actually writing this the most. First, you can't backlink, naked URL or social signal your way out of this. If you have websites that were obliterated by Penguin (and I mean -30 or more in SERPs nearly across-the-board for your keywords), and, you've only got a trickle of traffic from low-rent long tails or image search, and it's showing no dramatic signs of recovery in the next 15 days - abandon the site, or figure out new traffic streams if the site lends itself to them. Your life in organic search for these sites is toast. The time and perhaps money you will spend flailing about in this unknown and unknowable SEO environment is simply not worth just starting over with something else and/or repurposing your approach if not the site, itself. Got PR? Sell it, as just one quick example - it's better than nothing, right? Diversify not only your website portfolio, but your SEO approach to all of them, and do it yesterday; this will include the addition of test sites to your portfolio for purposes of experimentation. While I indeed feel for all of the people in all of the threads here screaming at Google and pulling their hair out, this is the surest indicator of someone who got waaaaayyyyy too comfortable with the profitability of one or a few sites, that utilized only one or a few different traffic streams. Again, not a criticism - you should have seen me after the first iteration of Panda. Which I now thank goodness for, actually, since it not only forced me to drastically diversify my online income streams, but to diversify into offline ventures as well. The Future of SEO Anyone who claims to have a firm grasp on this right now should, in my opinion, be avoided, lest they do a document dump on all of us containing scientifically controlled for data. What I can give is my opinion, and my opinion only - here it is: Google's entire link-based model is outdated and moving towards a new paradigm in which the link base will remain, but will be remarkably altered in nature by behavior patterns on the Web, as well as Social models that we've not yet seen. In the near future, however, I think we'll be seeing niche-relevant blog networks popping up, concentrating on well-written content. Put very simply, the near future of SEO looks expensive, but that's how shit goes, too. It's the story of the ages: the only way the little guy wins is to become the big guy. Be that guy.