Google’s Penguin Update: What it is, What it isn’t, and What to Do

Discussion in 'Black Hat SEO' started by BLIXX, Apr 27, 2012.

  1. BLIXX

    BLIXX Regular Member

    Mar 26, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Location, Location.
    As everyone already knows, Google's Penguin Algo update targets what it deems to be ‘webspam': both onsite, and offsite (links). The update's intent was not to reward ‘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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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.
    • Thanks Thanks x 76
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2012
  2. Pesterd

    Pesterd Junior Member

    Feb 2, 2010
    Likes Received:
    Incredible Information. This will definitely shake up a lot of the SEO services around the web. But furthermore, I agree with what you have said. Abandon the sites that will not be working in the near future and look forward to new income streams.

    It seems like SEO will be very shaky over the next few months and as you said, will be quite expensive.

    My only suggestion to you all is to focus more on you Social Media Marketing and things of that nature, dont rank for keywords now, rank with EdgeRank on Facebook, built income streams based around Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube. Look for new Online/Offline income streams. Don't focus on the Organic searches, focus on getting referral traffic to your money sites. Look for things of that nature, at least for the next few months until everything settles in and new theories come out for how to effectively break the ice for the new algorithm.

    This is a community of Marketers, everyone should test new strategies. If its with Social Media, Offline Tactics, Mobile Tactics, share your research, share your thoughts, create discussions and that way we will be able to start ranking once again.

    I myself will be doing a lot of testing for certain tactics but now that I have lost all of my income streams I cant stress enough how important it is to try and utilize the Social Media platforms. I know for a fact that they will definitely be very hot and I will hopefully be releasing some new Income ideas based around Social Media.

    If anyone has questions feel free to PM me.

    To your success!
  3. FuryKyle

    FuryKyle Elite Member

    Nov 19, 2010
    Likes Received:
    While I do agree this changes the entire game, you forgot to mention a rising niche in SEO - Negative SEO.

    For $5 I could do so much damage to anyone I want to. Non authority sites are so vulnerable you wouldn't believe what you could do with a few blasts. Google probably doesn't give a shit about small time webmasters\bloggers now since they don't make them much money anyway.
    • Thanks Thanks x 3
  4. lmaestro

    lmaestro Power Member

    Jan 28, 2011
    Likes Received:
    All I can do now is hope that there would be some clues as to how to rank sites now after they remove spam and blank sites off the serps. This negative seo bs is freaking me out. Imagine trying to start a new nich experimenting on new seo techniques only to be blasted by sb or xrumer by competitors. Its a lose-lose situation. Only option is to get traffic from other sources ie twitter, youtube etc. We should occupy google headquarters. Kill some penguins and leave them on Matt Cunts car.
    • Thanks Thanks x 2
  5. mccullum

    mccullum Power Member

    Aug 21, 2009
    Likes Received:
    That was an impressive post. Thanks for that. The bright side of all this is that i see no niche authority sites right now ranking in google for some of 5k and 10k per month niches i know of. Time to get into those? I do not know, for no one knows what it takes now for a site to rank for such a keyword. Guess we all have to wait and see.
  6. Dumper

    Dumper Supreme Member

    Mar 20, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Perdido Key
    Home Page:
    Abandon the site? That's what you should do? Brilliant!
    • Thanks Thanks x 2
  7. MrBeastsOnToast

    MrBeastsOnToast Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

    Dec 17, 2011
    Likes Received:
    The Internetz
    Yup - everyone stop trying to rank please. Im not going to be doing anyyyyyy SEO.... Honest.
  8. darkfury

    darkfury Regular Member

    Oct 23, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Thanks for taking the time to share this with us! Based on the research I've been doing I've had a hunch this update may be a major game-changer, but I didn't want to believe it - and I still don't! But its looking that way ...

    Like many others, with so much on the line, so many unanswered questions regarding the future of SEO and no factual solutions on the table yet, it's incredibly frustrating. If it gets to the point where I have to abandon my ecommerce stores I could literally be put back years from a financial perspective.

    I've put a hold on all SEO for the the time being (with the exception of testing post-Penguin methods on useless domains I own). Just waiting patiently ....
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2012
  9. HostStage

    HostStage Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

    May 20, 2010
    Likes Received:
    BHW - CEO of Webhosting Company
    BWH from France
    Home Page:
    I'm sorry @OP, i couldn't disagree more on most of the points you've raised :).

    I'm still investigating but from i'm noticing some significants results already.

    The signals you raised aren't enough, to justify the update. Google isn't as smart as you think it is, and it didn't learn how to read content. All it can do is based on statistics, maths, algorythms.... They can practice sums of concepts but that's it.

    So well spunned content for me isn't an issue if you protect a keywords semantic around your spun articles. And with all the spun web 2.0 ranking fine now, it prooves that it isn't about spun content.

    "If i speak like this without considering" the stop words or "stops words speak if like without this the considering" it still means something for a robot...

    Dropping a website which is moving backward in search engines isn't the right thing to do either as the website isn't penalized but the metrics and positive signals changed. You just need to tweak those signals to get higher.
    However, it is important to understand those before getting back in the SEO game.

    Dropping a website which is wiped out of the top 1000 may be necessary for 3 months as it means that the website has been hit by an algorythm penalty. It means that the signals of spammy website was too high and trigger an automatic penalty. Before doing anything, you need to find out here too what is now working.

    Dealing with backlinks in general, how does google can determine which site is better than the others one without backlinks ? I mean how could it determine the authority of blackhatworld VS any new random forum with the same content lenght ?

    The only way they can do this is on site statistics, but it doesn't seem to be the case as crappy websites are ranking and their on site statistic are very low or inexisting.
    • Thanks Thanks x 10
  10. Ghoast

    Ghoast Power Member

    Nov 17, 2009
    Likes Received:
    I'm waiting for the dust to settle, making bots and programing software so that when I know what's going on I'm ready..

    Nice post btw!

    Guys at the end of the day there is always going to be one thing which ranks better than anything else: Naturalness.. Make it look natural - that's what Google wants.. Pyramids aren't natural..
  11. Nordajgt

    Nordajgt Regular Member Premium Member

    May 12, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Director of Marketing
    Abandon my site? That'll never,never,never,never,never happen ever.
  12. CoyoteAssassin

    CoyoteAssassin Elite Member

    Jan 3, 2010
    Likes Received:
    Full Time IMer
    This is a great update - thanks for taking th time to put this together.
  13. Getwhatchuwant

    Getwhatchuwant Elite Member

    Jul 25, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Peeping Tom
    Thank you for taking the time to write this but I think it is still early before we can conclude. There are too many crap sites still ranking and while the webspam algo may be the cause there is still a content algo in affect and for sites with poor/duplicate/no content still are popping up. We have not seen the end of the update I think and I think we have to give this a few more days (or weeks) to shake down.

    Incidentally all of my sites either stayed put or got better with one exception, and that exception was for all intents and pursposes a test site, so it may have indeed got smacked for something I did last year when 1st starting out.
  14. kicksetc

    kicksetc Newbie

    Sep 5, 2011
    Likes Received:
    A couple of my sites saw a drop in rankings. Not too drastic but for example 1 to 5. How can I know what I need to do to get back to 1? I was using some blogs to get the rankings. Could the drop be the blogs being deindexed and now it is like I don't have the link anymore?
  15. gerryboy

    gerryboy Junior Member

    Sep 30, 2009
    Likes Received:
    thx for the read however this penguin/panda update thing has helped me. the only thing i did was minimal link diversity and targeted blog commenting on high pr sites.
  16. vothiquynhyen

    vothiquynhyen Registered Member

    Sep 4, 2010
    Likes Received:
    writer, webmaster
    somewhere on the planet
    thanks for this amazing post and the time and efforts you have put into this post.
  17. blackieman

    blackieman Power Member

    Jan 28, 2008
    Likes Received:
    There is another thread with this guy saying that all his tier 1's were authority links .. high PR (obviously we are not talking blog networks here). He is doing really well. So maybe some truth to that?
  18. xhizor99

    xhizor99 Jr. VIP Jr. VIP

    Jun 7, 2009
    Likes Received:
    In Your Head
    It's still way to early to decide and abandon sites. One of my sites got hit and 3 days later it's back to where it was. Anyone else experienced this?
  19. dog-tag

    dog-tag BANNED BANNED

    Oct 19, 2010
    Likes Received:
    You forgot the "curve ball" algo... basically rank some crap to confuse people.
  20. beakon

    beakon Regular Member

    Aug 4, 2010
    Likes Received:
    From my own research thus far, and the results Google is currently displaying I have to dis-agree with the OP.

    On too many of my keywords I am now seeing even worse EMD's ranking in the top with even worse content, even worse ad layouts, even thinner sites, and even worse link profiles. Either these sites were simply missed and with the next refresh will be dropped like the rest, or this update remains an epic fail.

    Too much of this update just doesn't make sense to come to any kind of logical conclusion at this time.