Google Penguin for negative SEO?

penguins-attackGoogle’s recent Penguin update seems to have ruffled a lot of feathers. It’s part of their continuing efforts to keep their results spam free and relevant, but it seems to have demoted a lot of high quality sites. Could this well meaning update be handing a powerful weapon to the nefarious?

The site owner forums and search engine specialist blogs are full of discussion about this topic. This most recent update seems to be focused on external factors, and in particular incoming links to your site. Having an “unnatural” link profile seems to have a significant detrimental effect on rankings – much more than was previously the case. (Useless Penguin fact – the name is derived from the Welsh “Pen Gywn” or white head, the name being bestowed upon the bird by early Welsh settlers in Patagonia. Could this be a hint that it’s to encourage “white hat” or ethical SEO behaviour?)

The sites we manage for clients have come out unaffected by this update, but we noticed a big traffic drop on a “hobby” site that we created for our friend and Italian Food enthusiast, called Italyum. This site have taken a huge traffic hit, so we thought we’d investigate. As this graph demonstrates, the traffic drop is significant and sustained, coinciding with the Penguin roll out.



So using Ahrefs and the excellent Raven Tools, we did some digging into the back link profile. Does this look natural to you?


Nope, me neither. But the interesting thing is, we haven’t done ANY link building on this site for literally years – it does just fine attracting links from Italian food enthusasts and social sites. So where did all these links come from? Reviewing the detail of the current link graph for Italyum there are suddenly a lot of spammy links, with identical anchor text – the very keywords we’ve lost all that traffic for. This is a (very) small sample:


Whilst this is interesting as it may help to confirm that penalising dodgy back link profiles is part of Google’s focus, this is really bad news for site owners as it seems with so much emphasis on external factors – you can use Penguin as a weapon.

when penguins attack


The next question that of course went through our head is – who would do this to Italyum? It’s just a hobby site! However, it did do very well in the rankings beating many high profile sites. Could Jamie Oliver have unleashed a frenzied band of spammy link builders upon us? Does Gino da Campo hate us? We may never know!

jamie oliver

Surely not Jamie? 

Advice for those hit by the Google Penguin update is to address the link profile issues and there is comprehensive guidance at Search Engine Watch. There is a fundamental problem however, that the honest site owner seems to have had much of the control over their own destiny taken away from them if the link graph has such a powerful effect on ranking.

We are lucky. Italyum is our hobby. Italian food is our friend’s passion. No business has lost money because of this traffic decline. No jobs will be lost. No tears shed. But what if this was a small business site, under attack from a competitor? If this is indeed a move by Google to re-evauate the link graph, and actually penalise sites based on factors the site owners can’t control, then this is a very bad move.

Bonus tip: Here is a link to a great article with 1500+ quality blogs that accept guest posts.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below.

Photo credits:

Penguins Nick Rusill, Flickr. Jamie Oliver, Scandic Hotels, Flickr.

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Jeremy Webb

Chief & Adventurer

Jeremy WebbGoogle Penguin for negative SEO?

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