Google Penguin 2.0: Shock and Awe, or Ho and Hum in the War on Spam?

google penguinGoogle’s predilection for names goes far beyond the tasty, and anyone involved in Web development is probably well aware that Google is a veritable Noah’s ark when it comes to algorithm naming. One of those algorithms is Google Penguin, which just hit version 2.0 last week. Penguin is Google’s answer to those who might target you when you’re searching the Web using the big G’s search engine.

We’ve long known that spammers are diversifying, making your e-life more treacherous by tying together a sticky web of confusion that includes email, social media, SMS texting, and the Web itself –which in a very real sense is the delivery mechanism for all that sticky spam. It’s also reasonable to expect that users might use search engines like Google to check the validity of domains. It goes something like this: you get an email from a long-lost cousin you’ve never met, one who just so happens to be a Nigerian prince in desperate need of your account information and a grammar lesson. All you have to do is click that link, and that’s where Google comes in. You go in and type in the link, for example,, and voila! Google tells you that it’s a perfectly safe link and that it’s quite all right to click questionable links from Nigerian princes.

At least, that’s what life might be like without Google Penguin. You see, Penguin is the algorithm that sits in the background and detects when badly-behaved websites use Black Hat SEO techniques, also known as spamdexing, which is the dark art of manipulating search engine indexing. By using techniques such as repeating unrelated phrases, Black Hat SEO aims to pump itself to the top of page rankings. Not so fast, say search engines like Google. These techniques violate our terms of service, and we’re going to slap you down for being so sleazy (my words, not Google’s). That’s Penguin, and the fuzzy little fellow just turned 2.0.

According to a Webcast, Google Engineer and guru supreme Matt Cutts said that Penguin 2.0 is going to “have a pretty big impact on web spam. It’s a brand new generation of algorithms. The previous iteration of Penguin would essentially only look at the home page of a site. The newer generation of Penguin goes much deeper and has a really big impact in certain small areas.”

This is important because, as we all know, slimy things tend to be slippery, and so go the spammers.

In fact, just because you sound like a reputable organization, don’t assume you can just get away with Black Hat techniques. According to, the big losers are ones you might expect, like porn sites and game sites, but big well-known brands like, the Salvation Army, CheapOair and Educational Testing Service are getting swatted off the Google ladder for being too spammy. In fact, in the list of the top 25 losers, only eight are porn sites, only three are game sites, and none of the porn sites are in the top 10, which is worth noting. You can see the list here.

Google takes this stuff seriously, and for good reason. The Web is a minefield and a moving target for malicious code and general sleaziness, and Google’s at the top of the world when it comes to telling people where they can find things. They’ve even put up a report form that you can use to report sites that are still ranking after the Penguin 2.0 update:

So, with all the buzz about this major update, is all the hype a valid commentary, or much ado about nothing? Well, it might be a little of both. In his blog, founder Marcus Tober says that it’s not the update he expected.

“Some small business sites were hit because they haven’t taken SEO serious enough. Google itself confirmed that the impact wouldn’t be as high as many thought – maybe this is just the calm before the storm and the big update is really coming in the future.”

Written by Malcolm James


  1. Rob · May 29, 2013

    I’m pretty skeptical this update will clean spam from search results. The previous updates didn’t – they only shattered the landscape a bit but still spammy results continued to come at the top. Rather, these updates are good to promote PPC – if you want traffic, pay for it because when you rely on the free stuff (i.e. SEO), you can quickly land from page 1 onto page 101.

  2. Joan Marie · May 29, 2013

    I’m glad that none of the sites I work on are in the Penguin 2.0 losers list! I work on legitimate sites, not porn or anything. But as per Marcus Tober’s statement, several “business sites were hit”. So I wanted to make sure. It’s not that we don’t practice correct SEO, it’s just that I’ve heard of stories from friends who were hit by the previous Penguin even if their sites were good ones. Anyway, Penguin 2.0 is good news for us in the White Hat SEO business, but I hope it does its job better than the first one.

  3. Michael · May 30, 2013

    No porn sites on the list? Maybe it’s because they don’t need to aggressively market in the first place! They don’t look for clients. Clients come to them, and when you need something, you’re willing to turn tables and beds just to find it. Kidding, though. Well, it only shows who’s really taking all these Penguin and Panda seriously.

  4. Arlene · June 2, 2013

    Haha! You actually have a point there, Michael. Honestly, all these algorithm changes are now putting SEO on such instability, and many SEO specialists find themselves busier than ever. Considering the many laws that govern these porn sites and gambling sites in the first place, as well as the laws that are imposed by the federal or the state, they don’t number many compared to commercial websites. It’s therefore not surprising most of the changes happen on the latter.

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