Cheating Penguin is Easy

TL;DR: Google’s latest Penguin update doesn’t seem to detect unnatural link surges or anchor text abuse from expired domain link networks.

After Venice-like update in Australia, we had a rather uneventful week. Google started warming things up again on May 21 hitting orange alert on Algoroo on the 22nd of May. The next day we saw clean and unambiguous signs of the pre-announced Penguin v2.0 update. What’s interesting is that the update doesn’t seem to be technically finished, take a look at this graph:


Since the Penguin update Google has been tweaking results daily and in some cases several times per day.

What’s going on?

Penguin is just an algorithm. It’s been designed with the aim of wiping out the next layer of webspam and Google’s Matt Cutts promised a smarter, more thorough impact with the second version of Penguin algorithm. Google’s team is surely making adjustments in hope to improve the accuracy of webspam detection and the way they act on it. This is normal.

[blockquote type="blockquote_line" align="right"]If you see a spam site that is still ranking after the latest Penguin webspam algorithm, please tell us more about it. Google[/blockquote]While some webmasters are experiencing traffic growth and rankings increase, it’s evident that Penguin seems to have targeted a very specific type of webspam unable to detect and act with confidence on certain types of SEO tricks including expired domain link networks which seem to work really well at the moment. Speaking of confidence, Google’s search quality team is now openly crowdsourcing Penguin fails1 . The “Penguin Spam Report” has been debated in the industry as something webmasters could abuse but I still believe it’s a good move on Google’s behalf.

Post-Penguin Success

We reviewed several cases of domains suddenly surging up in rankings without containing any of the following:

  1. Quality content and authorship
  2. Great user experience
  3. Organic links
  4. Social signals (including Google+ activity)
None of the above seem to truly matter in many reviewed search results.

What works instead is rather simple, if not old-school:

  1. Exact match anchor text
  2. Link velocity
  3. Expired Domains
Here’s a link acquisition graph of the post-Penguin winning domain:

Link Velocity

Referring Domains

Yes, links can move up in this pattern naturally, and that would be a clear sign of website’s popularity. In this case we’re looking at near 100% exact match anchor text link profile from an expired domain link network.

The example below appears to be a failed activist-type campaign website which eventually expired, but no doubt collecting links and social shares during its lifetime:

Expired Domain

Wayback MachineThe domain operated for a few years until it expired and dropped in 2013 at which point it was turned into a WordPress blog and loaded with the type of content Panda should have taken care of. In my opinion Panda did a fairly good job at detecting low quality content so the question is, how is it that pages like this still pass link equity to websites they link to?

It won’t be easy to prove this with an experiment and unless we hear Google say otherwise I’m going to say that Penguin and Panda don’t talk to each other much. This makes no sense though, for if you’re in charge of Google’s search quality you’d surely use all resources available to make search better and this involves allowing Panda-Penguin collaboration.

Pages which fit in the Panda-like pattern should not pass link equity. Full stop.

The purpose of this article is to flag flaws in Google’s search quality algorithm and raise awareness about bad SEO practices. Please refrain from using the tactics described in this article on your own website.

Unanswered Questions

  1. How is it that with this round of updates we’re seeing Penguin v1.0 targets get away? (Penguin v2.0 has a better “engine” and acts on a granular level while Penguin v1.0 acted on home page level only2 .)
  2. Why is anchor text abuse still working so well?
  3. Why is Google unable to detect/act on footer/sitewide links with exact-match anchor text?
  4. Why is it so hard to detect low quality expired domains, even though Penguin has been refined for years?
  5. Why allow inorganic link growth act as a strong quality/QDF signal? Are the two processes separated?

Reader Reactions

Another interesting observations made by our readers was that sponsored/affiliate links seems to fly under the radar as well.


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Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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