Repair News Articles from the Tech Industry
May 13, 2012
Two Weeks In, Google Talks Penguin Update, Ways To Recover & Negative SEO
It’s been about two weeks since Google launched its Penguin Update. Google’s happy the new spam-fighting algorithm is improving things as intended. But some hurt by it are still wondering how to recover, and there remain concerns about “negative SEO” as a threat. I caught up with Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, on these and some related questions.
Penguin: “A Success”
The goal of any algorithm update is to improve search results. So how’s Penguin been for Google?
“It’s been a success from our standpoint,” Cutts said.
What About Those Weird Results?
Of course, soon after Penguin was released, people quickly started citing examples of odd results. The official Viagra site wasn’t listed, while hacked sites were. An empty web site was listed for “make money online,” and there were reports of other empty sites ranking well. Scraper sites were reported outranking the sites they scraped.
How could Penguin be a success with these types of things happening?
Cutts said that many of these issues existed before Penguin launched and were not caused by the new spam-fighting algorithm.
Indeed, the Viagra issue, which has now been fixed, was a problem before Penguin hit. Penguin didn’t cause it.
False Positives? A Few Cases
How about false positives, people who feel they’ve been unfairly hit by Penguin when they weren’t doing any spam?
“We’ve seen a few cases where we might want to investigate more, but this change hasn’t had the same impact as Panda or Florida,” Cutts said.
The Panda Update was Google’s big update that targeted low-quality spam last year. The Florida Update was a major Google update in 2003 intended to improve its search quality.
I’d agree that both of those seemed to have impacted more sites than Penguin has, based on having watched reactions to all these updates. Not everyone will agree with me, of course. It’s also worth the regular reminder that for any site that “lost” in the rankings, someone gained. You rarely hear from those who gain.
Bottom line, Google seems pretty confident that the Penguin Update is indeed catching people who were spamming, as was intended.
Why Spam Still Gets Through
Certainly when I’ve looked into reports, I’ve often found spam at the core of why someone dropped. But if Penguin is working, why are some sites that are clearly spamming still getting through?
“No algorithm is perfect. While we’d like to achieve perfection, our litmus test is, ‘Do things get better than before?’,” Cutts said.
Cutts also explained that Penguin was designed to be quite precise, to act against pages when there was an extremely high-confidence of spam being involved. The downside is that some spam might get through, but the upside is that you have fewer false positives.
How Can You Recover?
One of the most difficult things with this update is telling people how to recover. Anyone hit by Penguin was deemed to be spamming Google.
In the past, if you spammed Google, you were told to file a reconsideration request. However, Google’s specifically said that reconsideration requests won’t help those hit by Penguin. They’ll recover naturally, Google says, if they clean the spam up.
However, one of the main reasons I’ve seen when looking at sites hit by Penguin seems to be bad linking practices. People have used sponsored WordPress themes, or poor quality reciprocal linking, have purchased links or participated in linking networks, such as those recently targeted by Google.
How do people pull themselves out of these link networks, if perhaps they don’t have control over those links now?
“It is possible to clean things up,” Cutts said, and he suggested people review two videos he’s done on this topic: