Google’s Quiet February Updates: What Do They Mean for SEO?

Published on March 8, 2017

Google may have taken another big swipe at blackhat SEO tactics – and that means big things for content creators all across the net. Anecdotally, we have seen some promising improvements for our Geek Chicago marketing clients, while the competition has fallen down a peg. 

While Google itself is playing coy on the matter, analytics trackers and industry forums have been going nuts since right around February 7.

Thanks to the eagle eyes at Business 2 Community and Search Engine Roundtable – who first brought this story to our attention – we know that several platforms that monitor Google “turbulence” and search engine ranking page (SERP) fluctuations saw huge heat in the middle of the month. Industry insiders also freaked out, taking to the forums at WebmasterWorld and BlackHatWorld to marvel at their changing results.

What’s behind the source of these sweeping SEO changes? Here’s the rub: We don’t quite know yet. As we said earlier, Google is mum so far. For all we know, there could be some algorithmic shifts happening over at the world’s largest search engine; after all, Google is updating itself all the time. Before this hubbub, we saw major tumult on SERPs as recently as January, when Google moved to further penalize sites that didn’t function optimally on mobile devices with a “mobile interstitial penalty.” It’s possible that the current signal changes are still a byproduct of that unveiling, or of some other algorithmic update.

The far more likely scenario, however – and the industry’s current working theory – is that Google is tweaking Penguin to target more blackhat tactics – and that’s good (great?!) news for anyone who believes in integrity and skill when it comes to content marketing and SEO.

A Few Notes on Penguin

Google launched Penguin all the way back in 2012 as a way of sussing out sites that violated its webmaster guidelines; its primary focus was to get rid of the many spam (and spam-adjacent) links that influenced search results and bogged down user experience. Like any virtual product, Penguin has been a living, breathing entity since its launch; the last huge, recorded advancement came in 2016, when Penguin was made into a “real time” filter, cutting back on lag time and making its focus more granular in nature.

(An interesting side thread: At the time of this rollout, Google claimed that it would no longer confirm any future Penguin updates, which is partly what has made this latest signal change so mysterious – and why so many are looking to Penguin as the answer.)

Penguin and PBNs

What has us Geeks so excited? The chatter is that this Penguin update – such as it is – may be really targeting PBNs, or Personal Blog Networks, a legendary blackhat technique that involves buying up expired domains and turning them into link farms, full of largely useless, spammy content that nevertheless leads back to a main website.

We’ve long been advocates of doing SEO the right way here at Geek. That means high quality content that considers the needs of audiences and users, not just crawlers and bots. It’s good to know – or at least have a renewed sense of faith – that the world’s leading search engine is on our side, promoting quality over dubious quantity.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this story in the months ahead; our team of Google wonks is always interested in the latest in SEO trends and best practices, and that shows up in our clients’ results. Want to talk shop and see what “good” SEO tactics can do for your website? Drop us a line today to get the conversation started!

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