Analyzing Googles Approach to Link Schemes in 2022





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June 6, 2024


UK, Manchester

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Analyzing Googles Approach to Link Schemes in 2022

The Penguin Squats to Conquer Webspam

It was a dark and stormy night in May 2013 when Google’s Penguin algorithm update descended upon the digital landscape. SEO experts around the world held their breath, bracing for impact. Would this bird of prey swoop down and decimate their carefully crafted link profiles? Or would they somehow avoid its wrath?

As I sat in my cozy Manchester office, sipping a warm cup of tea, I dove headfirst into analyzing the aftermath of Penguin 2.0. I pored over webmaster forums, studied client sites that had been hit, and tried to decipher the pattern behind Google’s ferocious attack on webspam.

According to Glenn Gabe, a renowned SEO expert, the Penguin 2.0 update was indeed a “nasty algorithm update” that targeted unnatural links even more aggressively than its predecessor. Gabe analyzed 13 unlucky sites hit by the algorithm and found a common thread – their link profiles were a tangled mess of exact-match anchor text, spammy directories, and shady link networks.

Penguin Goes Deeper, but Stays Narrow

One key insight from Gabe’s analysis was that Penguin 2.0 had expanded its scope beyond just the homepage. “Matt Cutts explained that Penguin 1.0 only analyzed your homepage links and not pages deeper on your website,” Gabe wrote. “But Matt also explained that Penguin 2.0 now analyzed deeper pages on the site.”

This meant that website owners could no longer hide their dodgy linking practices by keeping them confined to their interior pages. Penguin 2.0 was now sniffing out unnatural links leading to all corners of a site, ready to pounce on any sign of manipulation.

However, despite this broadening of Penguin’s reach, Gabe didn’t see any evidence that the update was targeting additional forms of webspam beyond just spammy links. “It’s still extremely link-based,” he concluded. “I have not seen any sign that additional types of webspam were targeted by Penguin 2.0.”

A Tale of Three Coding Schemes

As I delved deeper into the world of search engine algorithms, I stumbled upon a fascinating academic paper that explored the intricacies of spiking neural networks and their potential applications in artificial intelligence. While the technical jargon was initially a bit daunting, the paper’s insights into different coding schemes for time-to-first-spike (TTFS) neural networks sparked my curiosity.

The researchers introduced three distinct TTFS coding schemes: Rank Order Coding (ROC), N-of-M Coding (NoM), and a hybrid approach they dubbed “Ranked-NoM” (R-NoM). Each of these schemes had its own unique way of prioritizing and processing the first spikes from a set of input neurons, with varying levels of discriminative power and hardware-friendliness.

As I pondered the parallels between these neural network coding schemes and Google’s approach to link schemes, a lightbulb went off in my head. Could these concepts hold the key to understanding Penguin’s inner workings?

Unraveling Penguin’s Priorities

Let’s take a closer look at how these TTFS coding schemes might relate to Google’s link scheme analysis:

Rank Order Coding (ROC): In this scheme, all input neurons fire a spike, but their contribution to the final output is weighted based on the order of their firing. The earliest spikes carry the most significance, while later spikes have diminishing impact. This mirrors Penguin’s focus on the order and prioritization of incoming links, with exact-match anchor text leading to harsh penalties.

N-of-M Coding (NoM): Here, only the first N spikes out of M total input neurons are propagated, and the output neuron simply counts the number of these “first spike patterns.” This is akin to Google’s approach of focusing solely on the presence and quantity of unnatural links, without necessarily caring about their order or precise anchor text.

Ranked-NoM (R-NoM): This hybrid scheme combines the best of both worlds, propagating only the first N spikes but weighting them based on their order of arrival. The researchers found this approach to be the most discriminative, able to identify the preferred input pattern much more effectively than the other two schemes.

Interestingly, the paper’s authors suggest that R-NoM coding could be the most “hardware-friendly” option, striking a balance between the complexity of ROC and the simplicity of NoM. This resonates with Google’s tendency to favor algorithmic approaches that are scalable and efficient to implement across its vast search infrastructure.

Penguin’s Evolving Tactics

As I connected the dots between these neural network coding schemes and Penguin’s link scheme analysis, I couldn’t help but wonder: has Google’s approach to webspam evolved over time, much like the research on TTFS coding?

MCR SEO, the agency I work for, has seen firsthand how Penguin has become increasingly sophisticated in its tactics. Early iterations of the algorithm seemed to focus primarily on the prevalence of exact-match anchor text, similar to the NoM coding approach.

However, over the years, we’ve observed Penguin delving deeper into the nuances of link profiles, scrutinizing factors like link velocity, link diversity, and the overall “naturalness” of a site’s backlinks. This shift aligns with the Ranked-NoM coding scheme, where the order and priority of incoming links play a crucial role in determining the algorithm’s response.

It’s almost as if the Penguin has evolved from a single-minded predator, fixated on easy-to-spot spammy links, into a more strategic hunter, capable of detecting the most subtle manipulations within a site’s linking ecosystem.

Preparing for Penguin’s Future Strikes

As we look ahead to the future of link schemes and Google’s efforts to combat them, I can’t help but wonder what other insights we might glean from the world of neural networks and computational neuroscience.

Perhaps future iterations of Penguin will incorporate even more sophisticated algorithms, akin to the “cognitive mapping” technique described in the content analysis research. Instead of just examining the individual links and their properties, the algorithm could start to analyze the holistic relationships and patterns within a site’s entire link profile.

Or maybe Penguin will evolve to incorporate “affect extraction,” tapping into the emotional and psychological signals hidden within a site’s linking behavior, much like the way humans can infer meaning and intent from subtle cues in language.

One thing is certain: as long as there are unscrupulous webmasters trying to game the system, Google will continue to refine its algorithms to stay one step ahead. And for SEO professionals like myself, staying ahead of the curve will be essential to ensuring our clients’ sites remain safe from Penguin’s ever-sharpening talons.

So, the next time you hear that familiar flapping of wings, take a deep breath and remember: the Penguin is watching, and it’s getting smarter every day. The best defense is a good offense – build a clean, natural link profile, and let the algorithm do the rest.

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