Following hard on the heels of Google’s Hummingbird update, Penguin 2.1 is a smaller algorithm change that may have a much greater impact on online businesses. The fifth-generation of Penguin, introduced on Oct. 4, affected an estimated 1 percent of search queries and left many members of the SEO community picking up their pieces. Though not as large as Penguin 1.0 or 2.0 in scope, Penguin 2.1 has proven to be especially virulent in its targeting of new link-building methods that sprang up in the wake of its predecessors.
Unlike Hummingbird, which focuses on analyzing and running queries, Penguin is primarily concerned with link quality. Backlinks help establish the authority of a website by demonstrating its popularity with other domains, but the system is prone to exploitation. Thankfully, if you experienced lost traffic as a result of Penguin, it is possible to recover your ranking with a basic understanding of how the algorithm operates and how to avoid invoking a penalty.
What Penguin 2.1 Targets
Penguin 2.1 addresses forms of link building that have become more popular since Penguin 2.0 was introduced. This includes spam links on Web forums, particularly those with exact-match anchor text, and similar links on forum profiles. Blogrolls, or long lists of links to other blogs, and low-quality article directories are now more heavily scrutinized.
Beyond the obvious spam sources, Google is also cracking down on abuse of do-follow links. A large ratio of do-follow to no-follow links indicates link manipulation and invites Penguin’s punishment. On the other hand, Google is examining no-follow links as well. Although they should not play a large role in page ranking, spammed no-follow links in the comments sections of blogs now appear to be penalized.
It is unclear whether or not Penguin 2.1 addresses the problem of negative SEO, though it seems it will remain a threat for some time. The ease with which a business can plant harmful links on low-quality domains can temporarily devastate its competitors. With any luck, future updates will be able to detect and deal with this phenomenon more quickly.
Recovering From a Penguin 2.1 Penalty
Once a website is identified as containing spam links, it will continue to rank poorly until they are removed, no matter how strong its SEO in other areas. By now, any dip from Penguin 2.1 should be noticeable as a steep, sudden drop in traffic. Cleaning up your website’s link profile follows the same basic strategy as for Penguin 2.0. Depending on the extent of your link-building, it can take a few hours to a few days to run a thorough analysis.
Begin by using Google’s free tools to download a complete list of inbound links pointing to your domain. Comb through them and identify which are coming from suspicious websites that lack authoritative page ranking or are clearly link-building directories. These are the most problematic links and should be removed immediately. Any links that you no longer have access to can be disavowed, but this should only be a last-resort measure.
Penguin tends to dole out automatic penalties, but manual holds can be appealed through a reconsideration request. Otherwise, your website should resume its normal rankings once Google’s indexing bots take notice of the change. As with most things in SEO, prevention is the best medicine. By maintaining a high-quality, natural link profile, you can avoid further unpleasant surprises when the inevitable Penguin 2.2 unleashes further havoc on the SEO community.