Google created a minor shockwave last April when it introduced a new tool that caused millions of websites to tumble in its search listings. The tool, known as the Penguin algorithm, punishes sites that attempt to use dubious linking tactics in order to increase their visibility. Now, a new report suggests that the company is applying the punishments with increasing severity.
According to a study by Portent, an internet marketing firm, Google is steadily decreasing the number of manipulative links it will tolerate before it downgrades a site. When Google first introduced Penguin, the algorithm would permit 80 percent of a site’s incoming links to be spammy before it took action; that number then dropped to 65 percent and then 50 percent by the end of 2012 (which is end range of the study).
To come up with the findings, Portent examined thousands of incoming links for 50 major websites, and the effect those links had on sites’ prominence in search listings.
If the findings are correct, the upshot is that companies will have to be even more cautious about search engine optimization (SEO) tactics that rely on external links. These links are one signal that Google uses to decide if a site is popular, which has led some companies to acquire non-organic links through trade, purchase or other means. In one famous example, JC Penney used SEO tricks to appear as the top search listing for a wide range of terms, including “bedding” and “area rugs” before Google took action.
In some cases, it may be unfair for a site to be punished for outside links — particularly, if they have control over the sites that are linking to them. To prevent this, Google offers a “disavow” tool that sites can use to indicate that they don’t want particular links to considered as part of their search score.