The Land of the Penguin, Everything is Black and White
Google refers to the links it punishes as “questionable”. According to the law of the Penguin, a “questionable” link is one that:
- Has anchor text that is an exact match to the anchor text in the majority of your incoming links, particularly if the content that is linking is low-quality content.
- The link comes from an auto-approve, non-moderated blog — again, particularly if the content on that blog is of lower-than-average quality.
- OR, the link comes from a web site that has a significant number of outgoing links and no real traffic to speak of. (BuildMyRank, anyone? BuildMyRank deindexed)
These things seem relatively banal and minor, but if you’re a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) wonk, you’re already wincing. You can see between the lines that most links that may have been the SEO-baseline before Penguin are now out:
- Autoblogs? Nope.
- Site directories that few people use (i.e. a lot of them)? Useless.
- Even ubiquitous SEO toolbox items like optimizing for a specific keyword on each page got hit
- now you must spread your keywords around on every page or you’re flirting with the Google sandbox.
The result of the Panda / Penguin double-punch has been profound across the field of SEO. It’s no longer about ranking as high as you can, as quickly as you can. It’s not even about deep research into your competitor’s backlink structure so that you can out-backlink them in an Olympic-style speed-back-linking event. (If you did SEO a year or more ago, you know exactly what we’re talking about.)
With black-and-white in play, the focus is (in our opinion) back where it should have been all along — on creating a truly outstanding user experience and backing it up with truly outstanding content. It used to be that even with Google’s impressive algorithms, a black-hat SEO ninja could get completely spammy sites to rank very high in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP)s by gaming Google. There are still ways to do that, but they are much fewer and further between. Nowadays, black hat SEO is getting to be such a pain in the butt that white hat SEO is actually less expensive and very close to as effective — and that’s exactly how Google wants it.
A Problem with Penguin
The major downside to the Penguin update? It has opened up an entirely new field of black-hat SEO evil; the Penguin Umbrella. The Penguin Umbrella is a tactic also known as ‘Negative SEO’, wherein someone focuses on a website that is doing better than you — one that you need taken down a notch — and you link to them from all manner of Penguin-disapproved sites. It’s relatively easy to use automation software to build a thousand autoblogs and then link from each of them to a given webpage that you dislike (all with the exact same anchor text, naturally). That can cause them to drop out of the SERPs like a rock out of a fluffy white cloud.
Google recognizes this problem and has began a program wherein webmasters can report that they’re being ‘attacked’ with negative SEO and Google can take countermeasures — but it can take webmasters weeks to notice that their SERPS have dropped, much less figure out why and report it to Google. Fortunately, the upside of Penguin makes it worth the downside — more on that next time.
- SEO Isn’t What You Think It Is : Updates to Google’s algorithms mean that social engagement, rather than search engine trickery, yields top results.