Is Google Pardoning Link Spammers?

Google has incorporated Penguin into their Core Algorithm. That's big news. Prior to last week, sites that had deployed black hat SEO strategies such as link farms and similarly shady tactics were penalized. Not any more.

Now, the ‘punishment’ going forward seems to be that of wasted time and money deploying ineffective strategies. Is that enough of a deterrent to SEOs selling spam link services or people engaging in such activity?

Is Google looking at past link spamming as water under the bridge? If so, that’s irritating to those of us who didn’t need to be forgiven because we didn’t do the wrong things in the first place, but it’s not going to change a lot going forward. In fact, given that webmasters already had the option to disavow junk links and beg Google to lift their penalty, you could say the new algorithm update may simply be more of the same.

A Quick Penguin Algorithm Recap

You might have missed it, but Google’s algorithm changed again – and in a big way – just last week. This time, however, instead of introducing a new animal-themed update to their search formula, they brought an existing one directly into the core algorithm, changing it from a penalty, into a search quality valuation/devaluation filter.

When Penguin was first released, it was as a serious penalty that punished SEOs who were using spam links. Offenders found their entire domains pushed down in rankings. It was harsh, but mostly warranted. This updated version simply evaluates the links, and those not passing the mustard are ignored or devalued to the point of being useless.

One could imagine the short term effect to likely be that many previously-penalized sites will be able to bob back up to the surface once again, since they aren’t being held under by their bad link profiles anymore. The unintended side effect here could be that ethical marketers might find themselves suddenly losing ground to competitors who haven’t been as well-behaved.

So, I believe we can expect to see fluctuations in search listings over the next few weeks, with the possibility of a few old competitors popping up again. A few more conclusions…

Search Engine Optimization Continues to Shift in a New Direction

From the beginning, search engine optimization has led to all kinds of unnatural and unethical actions. It was bad enough when companies were doing things they shouldn’t to influence their own search engine visibility. But at the same time, we’ve seen bad SEOs working to point links from porn sites, online casinos, and other shady places toward their competitors – an underhanded strategy amounting to sabotage.

Some good news… with the new iteration of Penguin, these tactics aren’t likely to have any effect whatsoever. The black hat SEOs are just wasting their time doing any of them.


Of course, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that old habits are hard to break. Search engine optimization consultants/SEOs with less-than-ethical standards are going to continue to look for ways to game the system or charge clients for efforts to engage in such activities. And, many may simply rely on old techniques because they aren’t keeping up-to-date with best practices. That means you should be very careful about whom you trust to manage your SEO efforts. Their actions affect you, not them.

Penguin Applies Only to Google Search

Although it can be easy to forget, Google doesn’t have the market completely cornered on search engine optimization. Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines process millions of queries per day. The Penguin update doesn’t affect them.

That you need to keep the high ground and ensure that you're following best practices across the board. Don’t create spam links, and continuing to disavow those old links that mysteriously appeared in your link profile. After all, Google might have forgiven you for generating low-quality links to your website, but that doesn’t mean the other search engines have.

Is the Penguin Update a Net Positive?

In some ways, the Penguin update represents a step backward for good marketers. Those of us who were never engaged in spammy link practices could potentially be losing some of our advantages over less-principled competitors. In a bigger picture sense, though, Google is simply reinforcing the idea that shortcuts don’t work – whether it comes to links, keyword density, or other often-abused search signals, it just doesn’t pay to cheat.

As time goes on, the best practices in search marketing will continue to shift and evolve. Google’s going to keep getting better, though, and searchers themselves will keep demanding better, more relevant results. As long as you’re on the right side of the line when it comes to delivering quality to web visitors, you’re going to be fine in the long run.

Check out Google’s Search Quality resources, or download our search optimization best practices slides and our Local SEO Checklist now and get your site performing to the best of its ability.

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