Google Launches Penguin Update: Opens the Doors to Negative SEO

Google PenguinAt a recent conference Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team announced that Google was working on an algorithm update that would level the playing field for sites that don’t participate in “over-optimization” strategies. He later clarified that “over-optimization” wasn’t the best way of putting it because it is really about webspam. According to Cutts, “The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines.”

After the official announcement earlier this week, Google released the new update, which has been officially called the Penguin Update. The Penguin Update will impact “about 3.1% of queries in English to a degree that a regular user might notice,” said, Google. Despite the recent update, many webmasters did notice the changes. Some search results have been turned completely upside down. Unrelated sites and sites without content have even managed to rank at #1 after this update rolled out. Other search results like searches relating to web hosting have seen some pretty good improvements.

Google emphasized that the Penguin Update was targeting sites that participate in certain types of webspam tactics; mentioning keyword stuffing and link schemes as two specific examples. Keyword stuffing is not something new to SEO. Many webmasters have been doing it and finding different ways to hide it from search engines in order to game the algorithm and get higher rankings. Link schemes have been around for a while now and can also be effective for propelling websites to the top of the search results. Earlier this year Google targeted specific link networks as part of their ongoing war on webspam. Many blogs that were part of these link networks were removed from Google’s index. The result was that many websites which had been getting links from these networks saw their rankings drop as those links lost their value.

The Penguin Update is taking the war on these types of link schemes one step further by penalizing sites which have participated in them. Specifically, the update targets sites with “unusual linking patterns” or links from pages with spun content where the content is “spun beyond recognition” and the links may or may not even be relevant to the content. It makes sense that these types of links should not be rewarded because they are clearly for the sole purpose of manipulating search engine rankings. However, by penalizing sites which have unusual linking patterns, Google has opened the door to “negative SEO” tactics.

Can negative SEO really work? While I wouldn’t personally attempt to knock a competitor out of the search results using any form of negative SEO, this strategy could absolutely work with the Penguin Update. What would prevent someone from getting these types of links to a competitor’s website to knock their site from the search results? If you think about it, if I was tired of ranking #2 to a specific competitor, all I would have to do is get some of these webspam links to their website and their site drops from the top position. I hope that in the light of negative SEO being a real possibility now that Google might reconsider penalizing sites for the types of links that they have and look for other ways to devalue those links. Giving links from link schemes no value in the search engine’s algorithm would result in no reward being given to webmasters who participate in those webspam tactics and would also prevent the possibility of using the same link schemes for negative SEO.


About the Author: Dustin Williams is a Search Engine Marketing expert and the Global SEO Manager for MidPhase, a domain registration and website hosting services provider. He has been practicing SEM and optimizing websites since 2004. Follow Dustin on Twitter: @WebGazelle.


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About Dustin Williams

Search marketing expert and Global SEO Manager for UK2 Group. Dustin has been practicing SEO for almost a decade and has built a track record of getting websites ranked in the top in even the most competitive industries.

9 Responses to “Google Launches Penguin Update: Opens the Doors to Negative SEO”

  1. Many big sites are hit hard by this changes, so these updates can be an opportunity to rank for some profitable keyword which seem to be impossible before.

  2. with Google penguins, the ranking of a blog now so ya jumping on google SERP .. is not constant, probably an animal like a penguin, which moves by jumping

  3. it is unbelievable. a while ago people were struggling with seo to increase their rankings,,,now that google released penguin the folks are using deceiving techniques like this negative seo. google should come up with a better update

  4. Many websites suffered from the penguin update! The Black SEO tactics such as keywords stuffing and over optimization should not be adopted. Some natural ways such as quality content, regular updates can be used to improve your rankings~

  5. Yes. At this time we must begin to think like people, not like machines, to stop spam on forums and blogs. To provide only unique content and to reduce exact anchor phrases in up to 10%. We have to put our URL -addresses, our brands and the phrases like: “for more info follow the link” as anchor text.

  6. Google has yet again created an update with many flaws. As the animals suggest, these updates are far too black and white in my opinion. By just maneuvering around the anchor text variation, many people can avoid this update altogether. In fact, people who were using only URL’s as anchor texts benefited tremendously by this update!

  7. I dont know why google always sneaky with there update,
    They will never tell you , What exactly it is, and how you cannot be get affected

  8. I have some websites Build for affiliate marketing. All of them have participated in link-exchange systems. (But no blackhat or Spam). I see that only the sites with more then 50% automatic generated content (via RSS) are punished (traffic drop of 80%). The other sites are affected (-10%) but are still doing well. I guess the Penguin update did also something on the unique content side. What is your experience?

  9. The Penguin update was all about finding and penalizing sites that participated in web spam tactics like keyword stuffing and manipulative link building. Sites which cleaned up their content and removed spammy links experienced a big recovery after each Penguin refresh.

    The Panda algorithm is more focused on quality of content and user experience. Shallow, low-quality and duplicate content can all cause sites to be penalized by Panda.

    Affiliate sites can have problems in both of these areas. The best thing to do to avoid penalties is to make sure an affiliate site provides good quality content that is useful for website visitors and is good enough that it will get shared. Avoid any forms of manipulative link building and focus on earning links by providing high quality content that people will want to link to.