If you are even mildly tuned in to the search engine optimization (SEO) world, you have been hearing a lot about the latest update to Google’s ranking algorithm, referred to as “Penguin 2.0″ by Google’s employees. The first Penguin update rolled out on April 24, 2012. Google Penguin 2.0 launched on May 22, 2013. Search experts say creating quality, custom content is the best way to improve your backlink profile, but is that really all you need to know about link building today?
The Penguin updates have everything to do with linking profiles; that is to say, who links to you. A site’s linking profile involves much more than just the number of inbound links that point to it from external domains. It also has to do with link anchor text (the words used as a part of the actual link), the authority of the site doing the linking, the number of total outbound links that site has, the relationship between the topic of the page containing the link and the page it links to, the timing of the link’s appearance, and many other factors.
Sound overwhelming? You’re not alone. Linking is one of the primary methods used by Google (and other search engines) to inform its ranking algorithms. Hypothetically, a link from another site is beyond a site’s control. It is an unbiased endorsement of a site’s content. The link’s anchor text is a relevancy signal. Alas, human nature messes with a search algorithm’s best-laid plans.
Website owners asked themselves why they should wait around hoping some other webmaster likes their site enough to link to it when it’s easier to:
1. Add their URL to 100 different directory sites
2. Take part in any number of reciprocal linking schemes with other sites
3. Comment on as many blog posts as possible for the sole purpose of spreading links in a signature
4. Set up as many social profiles as possible just for the links in their profile
5. Buy paid links
In essence, an incredible variety of schemes arose for acquiring links. And in the beginning, this approach worked. Google’s algorithm was nowhere near sophisticated enough to sift through all the Web’s links and figure out which ones were gamed. Sure, they could detect three-way “triangular” linking schemes pretty easily. Not so with lots of other types of links.
Back as far as 2005, there were rumblings from the Googleplex about the dangers of buying links. But it was easy money for the firms that acted as the middlemen between site owners wanting to monetize the value of their Google PageRank and sites that craved that PageRank and were willing to pay for links. A lot of self-styled “white hat” SEOs were buying links and using various combinations of what would today be considered “black hat” linking techniques.
Since any system that can be manipulated for gain, will be manipulated, Google has had to become ever more vigilant in policing its index for unfair and unnatural links. Think about it this way: Would you rather see the most relevant result when searching for, say, “lowest credit card rates,” or a bunch of results for affiliate credit card scam sites? The only good link is a link that has been created to provide a viewer with additional worthwhile information.
The Penguin 2.0 update is a more sophisticated version of the original Penguin release. It was designed to take into account more complexities than the original update, and to keep up with the ever-escalating tactics that unscrupulous site owners are employing to unfairly stack the deck in their favor. If you or your SEO firm has engaged in any unsavory linking tactics, it behooves you to get well-acquainted with Google’s Link Disavow tool, post-haste.
I have no sympathy for the SEOs and site owners who scream with outrage every time Google launches an update to Penguin and they lose rankings. If I were in their shoes, I’d be embarrassed to admit that I lost those rankings, because it would be a sign that I was doing something less than honest with my linking profile. There are some cases where sites have lost rankings due to a glitch in the algorithm. For those situations, Google provides a means to contact them to report the problem, and although their response may not be immediate, they will make every effort to investigate reports and make adjustments where they are warranted.
If you remember nothing else about Penguin, remember this: As long as you are creating quality content that will interest others, you will stay in Google’s good graces and you will be able to compete for rankings with other sites on an even playing field.