My first blog post: How far will Google’s next Penguin update go?

As is often the case, it took a conversation with someone not so ingrained in the world of SEO as me to help me properly make sense of Google’s ongoing link spam strategy . Usually, when I’m reading, thinking and talking about this kind of thing I get bogged down in too many details to really cut through the clutter – so it’s only when I have to explain it in very simple terms that I can get to the very core of the issue.

As Einstein (probably) said: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough

So with those words ringing in my ears, I decided to try and shed some simple light on Google Penguin for this, the first post on my brand new blog.

A brief Google Penguin timeline

First things first – a little context.

- Google Penguin was rolled out on April 24 2012

- There followed a raft of blog posts and guides about the dramatic effects the Penguin update had on websites and businesses

- These were followed by an even bigger raft of articles on ‘How To Recover From Google Penguin

- The term ‘link profile’ was suddenly on the lips of every webmaster and SEO – with all the advice from third party SEO experts focussed on analysing link profiles and identifying the suspect looking backlinks

- This naturally led to calls for Google to provide some kind of tool to allow webmasters to flag up these spammy looking links and get them ‘disavowed’

- 6 months after the Penguin update, Google unveiled their ‘Disavow Links Tool

- Now, one year on from Penguin Matt Cutts has been hinting at a new Penguin update, an update that is expected to be ‘big’

So, in simple terms…

When this new update does hit, I think it’s going to be pretty huge. Ever since the advent of ‘Web 2.0′ and ‘user generated content’, Google’s original reliance on links as a quality signal in line with academic references has been completely subverted. Links of all sorts of ‘quality’ and ‘trust’ can now be created on the fly using blog networks, advertorials, social media sites, article sites, guest posts, directories, forums, comments and so on. Google recognised they had lost control of these signals so they released Penguin to target all the spam signals they were aware of – which was by and large quite successful.

But here’s where it gets interesting – I think the Web has now got too big for even Google’s huge data centres to make sense of. There’s so much data, and so many new ‘signals’ being created on a daily basis, that Google needs help to determine exactly what is ‘spam’ and what isn’t.

Since they released their Disavow Links Tool last October, webmasters and the SEO industry in general has been effectively crowdsourcing this data for Google – identifying exactly what they consider to be spam links on a massive scale.  With Matt Cutts’ recent assertion that a big, game-changing Penguin update is on the horizon, it makes sense to surmise that Google has now crunched through a lot of this crowdsourced data and now has a much better idea of all the spam signals out there. So prepare for a Penguin update that is much more wide reaching and potentially devastating than the original one last April!

Who could be hit by the new update?

Just about everyone, I think. Even when I started in the SEO industry about 5-6 years ago I never went in for the popular ‘easy link’ strategies that were all the rage back then (article marketing, directories etc…), as they just seemed a bit ‘icky’. But I have engaged in link building practices that could easily be construed as me ‘actively building links’ – guest posts being the most obvious.

The next Google Penguin update will target just about every link we have actively built ourselves, and add extra weight to the more obviously independent editorial signals and references. This means big-budget brand sites are likely to be favoured in lots of key verticals – and new strategies are going to have to come to the fore to help smaller sites and businesses compete in the SERPs. I’m thinking content marketing, long-tail optimisation and lots and lots of social!

What do you think?

If you’ve taken the time to read this entire post, I’d love to know what you thought of my ‘theory’ and what you think about the next Google Penguin update in general. Join the discussion in the comments below…

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