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May 31, 2013

Penguin 2.0 Went Live Last Week – Were You Affected?

After several weeks of baited breath and waves of smaller changes to Google’s algorithm, it seems that the penguin is at last out of the bag, as announced by Google Webspam Head Matt Cutts on his blog on May 22. According to Cutts, 2.3% of English-US queries are affected by the update, the largest percentage since the original roll out of Penguin 1.0 in April 2012. The update also affects searches in other languages to different extents; according to some, the impact was greater in German-language queries than English. The goal of the update was to reward genuinely valuable sites, and punish sites that have gained ranking with black hat techniques.

The original Penguin was Google’s first update to specifically combat off-page factors, especially targeting link networks and unnatural linking strategies. This update affected over 3% of all English queries, dramatically altering the search engine’s results pages and obliterating any ranking for some particularly bad, black hat offenders.

Penguin 2.0 uses new, highly advanced spam-fighting techniques that continue to punish unusual and “fishy” activity, penalizing sites that acquire large numbers of links very rapidly (usually through paid means), that get links from irrelevant sites, and those that overuse exact match anchor text. This update also will be specifically targeting ads with dofollow links (since the introduction of the nofollow tag, Google has told webmasters to use it to differentiate paid links and avoid passing on ranking value and trust), and improve the detection of hacked sites.

How Do I Know If I’ve Been Affected?

In some cases, the wrath of Penguin 2.0 will be immediately evident – a dramatic drop in traffic due to your site completely falling out of the results. If you normally get a high volume of incoming traffic from Google and are suddenly getting next to none, you’ve most likely been hit. For some shady webmasters, this won’t be a surprise – it’s probably something you should have been expecting for a while now. But for some business owners in particular, this will be a rather nasty surprise. If you’ve engaged in shady link building practices in the past, or paid someone who did it without your knowledge, those get-ranked-quick schemes may be coming back to bite you now.

For others, the effects might not be quite as obvious. A couple unnatural links may have knocked you back in the results a few spots or pages. Your search traffic may have dropped for some of your keywords. Your sales might fall for products to which you’ve built tons of exact match anchor text. Take a look at your organic search tracking in Google Analytics and look for differences before and after May 22 in particular.

If you’ve been engaging in high-quality link building, however – getting some great guest posting opportunities or getting awesome editorial links for your infographics or blog posts, you may actually see the flipside of these issues. Google isn’t implementing these updates to screw over businesses (well, as long as you’re playing by their rules) – they’re creating them to reward great content, like what you’ve been creating. Nice job! If your competitors have been penalized and lost ranking, you might have seen rises in ranking for your own site, and consequently an increase in traffic.

An Unexpected Boost to Local Results

Amidst the panic surrounding Penguin 2.0, Trevin Shirey from the SEO company WebpageFX seems to have been the first to notice an unusual trend in the SERPs. According to Shirey, Google seems to have been integrating large numbers of localized results into organic searches.

In their examples, such as a search for “hockey” in Dallas, Texas or a search for “marketing” in Miami, Florida, up to 5 results on the first page are local, sometimes even ranking above the results one would expect to see, such as Wikipedia.

The hockey example is especially striking, with two Dallas Stars results from appearing above the Wikipedia page for ice hockey. The Dallas Stars’ Wikipedia page also features prominently in the results.

You will probably notice some of these changes to broad keyword searches in your own queries. For me, in a search for “chocolate,” my favorite local cafĂ© (which happens to also sell chocolate) appears above Ghirardelli, a premium international chocolate company, in the results. WebpageFX gives some other examples of searches to try, such as “ford,” “coffee,” and “computers.” You will probably see some of your favorite local spots featuring highly, as well as business listing websites such as Yelp and Yahoo! Places.

This is definitely a great bonus for local businesses. As Shirey puts it, “local and regional businesses could stand to gain from an update like this as it increases their exposure for informational queries.” However, he adds that it is unclear how this change will be perceived by Google’s users. He adds, “Do searchers really want such hyper-local results for broad queries? Google’s research must show that they do.”

How has your business fared since the onset of the newest rendition of Penguin? Share your experiences in the comments.

Adrienne Erin is an internet marketer and blogger who has been glued to the SEO blogosphere since the onset of Penguin 2.0. She has been helping a number of businesses, such as one of the best drug rehabs out there, 12 Palms Recovery Center, fare the storm.