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

googlepenguinWith names like Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Ice Cream Sandwich, Google definitely rules the roost when it comes to giving software versions yummy-sounding names. In fact, it sometimes seems like Google has an entire division dedicated to coming up with cool and funky names for its products. The Cool and Funky Division, I like to call it, and I often wonder how I can apply to be the VP of Cool and Funky.  But Google’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.”

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