A Recap of Google’s Penguin 2.1 Search Engine Update

Google’s penguin, spam-filtration algorithm received an update recently: coined “Penguin 2.1” by Google, but accepted as Penguin 5 by most internet users. Essentially, Penguin was released by Google as an algorithm which punishes websites using black-hat SEO tricks to improve ranks – namely by irrelevant link building. The release of Penguin 2.1 reflected a huge hit to a number of sites; claims of nearly 1% of all searches on Google have dramatically affected results. Though it is not definitively known yet precisely what the algorithm penalized, it has been made abundantly clear that mass link building (as a strategy for SEO) has been hurt. This type of link building, found through some networks, comments, wikis, and so forth has been hit before by Penguin – had its strategy slight altered and then been hit again.

That much has been discerned based upon the sites that have been hit. What is still up in the air is how the algorithm punished exactly – it may have been based on the types of sites these links were built on, the volume or velocity, with which they were gained, or a number of other factors. People are still feeling the hit of the initial sweep and although it is impossible for someone to have generated a flawless formula to medicate the issues in this amount of time, a few things are clear. Websites that generate their links in a PR, relevant manner were not hit. Google’s initial algorithm was predicated upon these types of links – relevant content pointing towards other related, relevant content is valued highly – much more so than an absurd number of links which are out of place and irrelevant.

The newest Penguin sweep brings back to mind a controversial issue in the world of SEO: White-Hat vs. Black-Hat. Though the debate is not explicitly acknowledged with Penguin 2.1, there is a clear-divide in the community. Generally, mass-link building is seen as a black-hat means of improving position artificially. Google has targeted these links in the past, and clearly they are set on doing so in the future, which leads to people to question the effectiveness of this tactic. Conversely, in general (not always), PR link building is seen as a white-hat, relevant and long-term strategy. By writing relevant content, and getting these links out on other relevant sites, the web owner is adding value to both websites. Google values this added value very highly, and has rewarded these websites with improved rankings, and no penalties.

Because Google is not silly enough to give out their specific algorithms, it will be a matter of time before the inner-workings of Penguin 2.1 are known definitively. Much more data will be needed, and people will undoubtedly come out with new mass-link building strategies that work with the Penguin 2.1 filter. However, history has a tendency to repeat itself; surely Penguin 2.2 or 2.1.0 or 3.0 or 6, depending on where Google’s nomenclature takes them, will provide similar results. It is clear that Google views link-networks as irrelevant spam, and has no patience for these tactics within their results. SEO experts will react in ways which will surely combat the sweep; the interesting part will be to view the sustainability of these solutions.