Google launches Penguin 2.0 update

Google has launched Penguin 2.0 (also known as Penguin 4) earlier this evening. Matt Cutts made the announcement on This Week in Google.

The update, which is targeted at link spam, comes at no surprise as Cutts and other members of Google’s Search team have provided more than a few hints at the largest iteration of Penguin we’ve seen yet. Google is saying that Penguin 2.0 will impact 2.3% of English queries, which classifies it as a significant update. (The initial Penguin update was reported to impact 3.1% of queries).

What is Penguin 2.0?

Penguin 2.0 is the next generation of Penguin, an algorithm update that launched on April 24, 2012. The algorithm targeted sites that used link spam to manipulate Google’s algorithm. It was the first update by Google that specifically targeted off-page factors, and now, a little over a year later, Google is at it again. Google is known for building upon updates they’ve made in the past; Google Panda anyone?

Matt Cutts said prior to Penguin 2.0’s release that the update would improve and build upon the first generation of the link spam update. Google has had over a year to research and collect more data regarding Penguin’s initial launch.

Cutts said in his Webmaster video series Google Penguin 2.0 will:

– target and address webspam.

– target advertorials with PageRank-passing links. These are against Google’s guidelines.

– will have better detection of hacked sites and relevant communication to webmasters.

How will Penguin 2.0 impact my site?

Cutts gave some advice to webmasters prior to Penguin’s launch, urging them to continue to “make a great site, that users love, that they’ll want to tell their friends about, bookmark, come back to, and visit over and over again. All the things that make a site compelling.”

Websites that have participated in link spam, PageRank-passing advertorials and the other gray areas of SEO that the update is expected to address may see a sudden drop in organic search traffic from Google. Oftentimes, it takes several days to notice the full effects of an algorithmic penalty in terms of visitors and website traffic.

The initial Penguin update targeted specific pages on web sites that were benefiting from link spam and other promotional methods against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Webmasters of sites that were impacted saw drastic drops in traffic on or around April 24, 2012.

There are a few data sets to focus on when determining if your site was hit by Penguin 2.0 or not. Look at traffic coming from unbranded searches in Google. If you typically get a high volume of search traffic from Google and you see a sharp drop compared to similar days and times in the past, you may have been penalized. Another key factor to look at is your search engine rankings in Google. While it may take a while for lower traffic sites to notice any penalties in terms of traffic, ranking changes will provide a pretty clear and immediate indicator if a site is penalized.

It’s expected to take a few hours for the algorithm update to fully roll out, so things should be settled by the morning of May 23.

How do I recover from Penguin 2.0?

If the algorithm is deployed in the same vein as its predecessor and namesake, Penguin 2.0 recovery can be achieved by cleaning up your backlink profile. This is a lengthy process that involves going through all of the inbound links to your site and pruning the ones that may be construed as link spam by Google.

Common examples of link spam include bulk, low-quality directory submissions, bulk reciprocal linking, link networks and links within spun articles/content.

While these algorithm updates target link schemes similar to the above, every situation is unique and every website’s backlink profile should be treated as an individual case.

Once the unruly links are identified, they need to either be removed (preferable) or disavowed using Google’s Disavow Tool. Attempting to get the links removed is likely the most time-consuming process of Penguin 2.0 recovery, but also the most fruitful.

Go through your list of low-quality links and contact the webmasters of the site and see if they’ll remove the link. In some instances, you may be able to remove the link yourself, but most times you’ll need to reach out to another website owner.

However, some links can be impossible to remove as the website owner is unresponsive or there is no way to contact them. In that case, links can be ‘disavowed’ by uploading a text file of the links that you are unable to remove into Google’s tool. These links will then be discounted by the search engine.

After you complete this step, the final hurdle is filing a reconsideration request with Google. This is a formal request to have your penalized pages re-included in Google’s results. You’ll have to include all relevant information about why the links were created, who created them and how they were built. Next, you’ll need to provide full documentation of your efforts to remove as many links as possible and then include an explanation on why you had to disavow links, if needed.

The actual reconsideration request should be a summary and can link to a shared Google Doc with full info on your efforts. Google’s search team won’t follow links in the reconsideration request to random sites around the web, so be sure you host the information on Google Docs.

Reconsideration requests can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Google will provide notification when they receive the request through Webmaster Tools and will let you know if the penalty has been revoked after they complete the review.

As more information comes out following Penguin 2.0’s launch, we’ll be able to provide more specifics on recovery but this process has proven to be effective for all earlier versions of Penguin updates.


Photos by sidduz, Robert Scoble