Penguin 2.1 was announced this past week by Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts. 2.1 is not an update in the pre-Hummingbird sense. Hummingbird was a re-haul of the whole algorithm and contains much of the important logic of the past Penguin and Panda updates. Penguin 2.1 is a small part of the search engine acting as a filter and can be replaced periodically.
Cutts’ announcement came through his twitter account where he noted that the update would affect roughly one percent of searches. Compared to Penguin 2.0 which was released May 22 which affected 2.3 percent of searches, Penguin 2.1 initially appears to be much smaller.
The tweet includes a link to the Google Blog article “Another Step to reward high-quality sites.” The article was posted back in April 2012 and references black hat techniques such as keyword stuffing; essentially nothing we didn’t already know. While Cutts’ announcement and link represent a minimal alteration to the Google algorhthim this may not necessarily be the case.
What did it Target?
Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive has analyzed Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 sifting through the data of over 200 sites. After the release of Penguin 2.1 Gabe examined 25 websites impacted by the change determining which factors contribute to sites getting hit. After completing his analysis he believes that Penguin 2.1 has proved to be more influential than Penguin 2.0 and represents a larger impact than Cutts’ initially suggested.
The purpose of the initial Penguin update was to eliminate spammy links from contributing to a sites PageRank. However the update only reached to the homepage of the offending sites. This was quickly fixed through subsequent updates that could reach farther into a website to identify spammy deep links. Penguin 2.1 is another demonstration of this ongoing effort.
Unnatural Links Targeted
Forum Spam: Forum Spam was heavily targeted in the update, including comments in threads that used exact match anchor text.
Forum Bio Spam: Spammers who set up profiles on websites and used their profile to gain exact match anchor text links to their own sites were hit. Link builders using Bios for targeting multiple websites with exact match anchor text were similarly flagged.
Do-Follow Blogs: Do-follow blogs don’t include nofollow to links posted (even blog signatures in some cases). These sites act like a directory using exact match anchor text links. If you are listed on these sites it is sending Google the message that you are gaming links.
Blogroll Spam: As with past updates this has come up again. Just as a reminder, blogrolls themselves are not bad but can be used very poorly. Having blogroll links from questionable sites can prove fatal for your website.
Spammy Directories: This one may be obvious but can be very time consuming to fix. As with previous Penguin updates, having links from numerous spammy directories makes your website a target of Google.
Blog Comment Signature Spam: Blog signatures that use exact match or rich anchor text are targeted. Gabe noted that some of these links are flagged even when they aren’t followed links. It appears that exact match anchor text on your blog comment signature can be a target for Penguin even if those links are nofollowed.
Shared Tactics Victims: Forum comment spam and forum bio spam that contain multiple sets of exact match anchor text links (to two different sites) were lumped together to be penalized. Google may be able to identify additional spam targets by finding additional sites associated with offenders. It looks like Google may be using associations to find like-minded spammers, catching all Penguin Offenders in the same net.
To read through Glenn Gabe’s full report click here.
Were You Hit?
If you are unsure if you were hit by Penguin 2.1 look through your organic traffic in Google Analytics over the past couple weeks and try to spot any dips. If you see any dips try and dig deeper to find where the fall from traffic was coming from. You may be able to identify a possible source beyond the Google Search Engine.
In some cases your traffic may have increased; not because you are doing anything differently but because one of your competitors may have been hit.
How to Recover
As the Penguin updates continue you will need to move away from a link building mindset. Cutts has cautioned several times that user experience rather than link building should be main focus. Create and promote quality, useful content. If you are able to succeed in creating valuable content then links will result naturally from users.
More specifically, here are step you need to take to recover form Penguin 2.1:
Step 1 Find Your Links
Download your links from all sources you can and analyze them looking for unnatural links, especially those that use exact match or rich anchor text. If you notice that a domain contains several spammy links don’t try and target specific URLs but mark the whole domain.
Step 2 Destroy the Offenders
Remove these links. Start by reaching out manually to destroy as many as you can. Afterwards, contact the different webmasters and request to have your link removed from the site. Make sure to track all of these efforts meticulously because if you are unable to contact the webmaster you will have to request Google to disavow he links and they will ask for proof that demonstrates you have made a good-faith effort to remove the links yourself.
Step 3 Edit Your Site
Google may not remove some of these links even after all your efforts so you may find that you need to remove the pages that the links are pointing to on your own site. Removing these pages is essentially the same thing as removing links. Save your valuable content and create new pages to place it on. Unfortunately this will not work all the time as some pages like your homepage are too important to delete.
Step 4 Looking Forward
Screen any additional link building efforts. Make sure you are not using old tactics to build additional links. It would be pretty pointless to go through all of this effort removing links while simultaneously creating new problems. If you need help in identifying white hat methods contact an SEO company.
Step 5 Move quickly
Although this is not technical advice it is the most important. During the initial Penguin rollout many sites using black hat linking were hit hard while others, though more guilty, escaped unscathed. The sites who escaped were using deeper links that did not lead directly to the homepage. Penguin 2.0 eventually caught these sites and penalized them. However, there are still other guilty parties who as of yet have avoided getting caught. Eventually the updates will catch up to you and it is much wiser to clean up your links now rather than wait the next update that is able to find them. If you have been hit there is a good change that you can recover so work quickly.
Photo Credit: Martin Lafrance, Also Scott