Penguin 2.0: PANIIIIIIIIC!!!…(or not)

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Recent tweets and videos from Matt Cutts seem to have set the rumour mills racing in SEO over the last few days, and there have been some really interesting debates going on over exactly what we should expect from the upcoming release.

So what might the upcoming release have in store for SEOs? Who might it affect, and what can we do to minimise the risk? Get yourselves comfy, ‘coz this is our guide to Penguin 2.0.

#1 – Tiered Link Building? Prepare For Some Rather Different Tears

In a recent video Google’s Matt Cutts gave us a sneak peek into what we can expect from SEO in general over the next few months. In that video, he mentions that the webspam team plan to go more “upstream” to detect and clamp down on spam.

That seems like a pretty clear signal to me that tiered link building might be about to get a whole lot tougher. So if your current link building techniques consist of firing up GSA or SENuke X and blasting shed loads of links through to your tier 2’s, it might be time to start switching things up.

#2 – The disavow conundrum

Ever since the disavow tool came out, there have been loads of articles about why you should or shouldn’t use it. The upcoming algo update will be the first of its kind since the disavow tool was launched. Will Google be using all that lovely, juicey data as part of the update? Well…what do you think?

It’s crazy to think that Google would simply sit there, effortlessly collecting all this data about bad link neighbourhoods and various types of sites or groups of domains that webmasters no longer want to associate with, and yet somehow not use that in the update.

As to how they might use it…well that’s another debate altogether. They may not use information about specific sites as part of the update, but how much would you be willing to bet that that data has been analysed and scrutinised from every possible angle? As thousands of webmasters have sat back and handed Google a big old list of all the “dodgy” links they’ve built over the years in a mass panic, we may well find out we have been playing right into their hands all along.

We know that this process already happens when you file a manual spam report to Google. Due to the sheer scale of the problem, Google seem to have opted to review the sites individually before trying to work a fix into the algorithm rather than taking any individual action on specific sites. Perhaps this could be a sign of things to come with all of that wonderfully helpful disavow data we’ve all been feeding them for the last few months.

#3 – Swinging The Balance

The original instance of Penguin focused heavily around the % of exact match anchors a domain had in its backlink profile. Too many links for 1 specific anchor text meant that you were very likely to be considered as “over optimised”. Likewise too much optimised anchor text Vs not enough branded anchor text meant bye bye rankings.

Could Penguin 2.0 see a “tightening up” of those ratios? It’s been said countless times over recent months that Google does seem to love their brands at the moment. So might the update further strengthen that position, with even more preference being paid to those sites with higher rations of branded Vs none branded? We could also see a clamp down on the percentage of exact match anchor text which is considered OK for 1 specific keyword.

#4 – “Put my last quarter on, I play Authority Song!”

First things first on this one…if that header doesn’t mean anything to you, then you my friend have been living a very deprived life indeed. Turn this beauty up loud, and I’ll continue.

Matt Cutts has again said recently that they hope to be able to boost the rankings of those sites who are considered “authorities” in their niches. We may well see this forming part of the Penguin update, as Google look to enhance the SERP presence of those sites which it considers to be of particularly high value to users.

The best way that you can stay onside on this point, is to start to put some real focus and investment into what goes onto your site. This is such a cliché now that I actually feel a tiny bit disgusted with myself for writing it, but content really is king. It’s been said a million times before, but if you don’t have anything unique and valuable to offer to users, then you’re really not giving Google any compelling reason to encourage more visitors to your site.

#5 – Easy Does It

Link velocity has again become a big talking point.

Blasting a big bunch of exact match anchors at a site and then disappearing off down to the pub for a long lunch is the stuff of SEO history (trust me guys, I’m as gutted as you are!).

There’s mounting opinion now that Google have become even tighter at spotting an “unnatural” link velocity spike/trough. A completely natural looking link velocity graph would be steady and reasonably consistent. If your link velocity graph looks more like the Rockys, then this could be like waving a fish to a Penguin.

#6 – Going Social

Many SEOs agree that social signals already have influence over rankings, and that you can expect that to be a focal point of Penguin 2.0.

On the face of it, social signals seem like the obvious next step for SEO. A like or a tweet for example is after all, the upmost endorsement a site could receive from its readers, as it means that the person reading the content has been impressed enough to put their own name behind it and recommend it to their friends.

However, there are some industries where social signals just aren’t very forthcoming. Most B2B websites being a prime example.

To be totally honest, I think the social signals thing is still a little way off from being a viable metric for determining rankings. But that may well change in the future if Google continue to push users towards using Google plus and being signed in like they have been recently.

#7 – Guest Bloggers – Brace Yourselves!

Neil Patel wrote a great post on what guest bloggers should be thinking about in preparation for the update.

There’s no doubting that guest blogging is one of THE major link building techniques in play at the moment. But could an overuse and over reliance on guest blogging end up bearing the brunt of the Penguin?

With Cutts making mentions of further actions on advertorial style links (*cough* Interflora *cough*), you have to ask the question – will paid guest posts be the next logical step? Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment here…is paying a webmaster for his time to post your article (and link of course) onto his blog really any different to an advertorial? I’ll leave that up to you guys to decide and debate in the comments.


The truth is guys, that all of the above is purely speculation. No one outside of Google’s webspam HQ (and I’d bet quite a big portion of those inside of it too) could really tell you what the upcoming Penguin update is going to mean for the future of SEO. The only thing we do know for sure is that it’s coming.

So strap in tight guys, ‘coz this one’s gna be interesting!

Matt Burns
Matt Burns is a man obsessed with digital marketing - in all its forms! You’ll often find him lurking in the dark experimental corners of... Read Full Bio
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  • Nice Jimmy Eat World reference! Good article, this is the first one I’ve seen that has mentioned the idea of Google using disallow tool data as a data set to base an update on. Makes lots of sense.

  • So what does this tell us? We should go white hat and build natural backlinks?
    Or is this comment already a spam, when I make 10 of them per day at different domains? 😉

  • Matt

    From my personal view, if you have learnt the fundamentals of SEO and apply it appropriately there won’t be any problem no matter how Google change their Algorithm. You will definitely stand out front!

    Anyway thanks for this great post, Matt!

  • I wonder if the update is going to affect local results much. I am seeing insurance sites who do dodgy link buying ranking like crazy – and they really shouldn’t be according to Google’s quality guidelines.

  • In April 24, 2012 I almost lost all my business, a year later and thanks to Google I have more customers than ever. Obviously my current clients are small companies that were penalized for using the same techniques as the big brands … Penguin and Panda Rocks!!

    • Haha that’s awesome. Glad to hear you’re making the most of it Vicente. Fingers crossed the next update helps you even further!

  • I wonder if the update is going to affect local results much

  • Nice articles like this completely miss the point that Penguin updates are likely to INCREASE webspam than reduce it. It’s all well and good to say that one should invest quality content on the site and focus on quality marketing measures.

    While this is a very good for the users and the net as a whole, it’s also a very risky strategy. Who’s to say the site you’ve invested tons of time, effort and money doesn’t become collateral damage in the attack of the next fluffy animal?

    My older site got hit by Penguin (not saying it was hit unfairly) and the past year I’ve been focusing on building the best site on the niche. It did survive this update, but many times I’ve been thinking I’m doing something extremely stupid. Putting all my eggs into one basket (or site). When I could just build throwaway sites with a few pages of content and spam it to the top of the SERPS.

    Anyone who thinks spam doesn’t rank needs to wake up and smell the real world. I just checked one site ranking #1 for a competitive term in my niche. The site was registered 4 months ago, has over 500 referring domains (unnatural link velocity), links mostly from unrelated sites (I found one from an escort directory), and 70% anchor text was money keywords (again, completely unnatural). Most of the links were either hacked or paid and a big portion of them were hidden with CSS.

    The ugly truth is that building and investing into a true authority site is riskier and stupider than ever. And I kick myself on the ass for doing just that in the past year.

  • Your information is really very important i also bookmark this blog on my computer. i hope you will write more good content as soon as.


  • Google penguin rolled out today and i can already see some changes. My guess is social media will weight more and more in future and also negative SEO is getting more and more dangerous.

  • Rohit

    Who says spam doesnt work? the #1 site for “Best Wrinkle Cream” on Google. US is an awesome re-direct site. I gotta learn how they do this. What doesnt work anymore is Greyhat SEO. It’s either all Blackhat SEO or Whitehat SEO

  • Now this time, Panda includes with search quality…It’s good post

  • Matt, how much did you pay to get on SEJ? Kidding! This is great content and you know what you’re talking about…. High five! I don’t believe we are moving anywhere near paid guest posts. With all the talk about the evolution of link building into building relationships, anyone welling to pay doesn’t have the knowledge or creative ability to craft content worthy of quality exposure. Thanks for the great content fine sir!

    • Matts Backpack

      John charged me $3.71. I managed to haggle him down from the full $3.80 on the condition that I wouldn’t tell anyone. So shh…that’ll have to be our little secret. He probably wont approve this comment though. But that’s OK, coz it will only go to proving my point… 😛

      • Your secret is safe with …. everyone! 😉