Search Update #1: Penguin, Phantom, and Domain Crowding

At Elasticity, we’ve been working on our Google Dance moves for more than a decade. From the early days of Altavista, to the latest Panda and Penguin updates, we’ve seen a dramatic evolution in how search engines organize the world’s content.

To help you navigate the always-changing state of search, we’ll be writing bi-weekly updates that highlight the most important news from the world of SEO and search engine marketing.

Google is the de facto way in which people find what they’re looking for; ultimately, this makes search engines a critical component of an overwhelming majority of businesses. After all, in today’s world, if your customers can’t find you in search, you’re all but invisible.

Today, we’ll dive into some of the most recent updates from Google: domain crowding, Phantom, and Penguin.

Penguin and Why It’s Important to Digital Marketers

Goofy name, huh? Fortunately, we know that Google isn’t harming any real Penguins; they’re just using it as a code word in their quest to decrease search rankings for those who violate their Webmaster Guidelines.

Penguin’s focus is to penalize websites who participate in “black-hat” SEO techniques, specifically keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes, and creating duplicate content, among others.

Ultimately, for search marketers, the latest Penguin update is another validation point that the future of SEO lies not in deceptive linking schemes, but rather in developing and marketing content that engages your audience.

Here are a few of the main ways to avoid getting penalized:

– Don’t overuse the keywords outlined in your Keyword Analysis to the point of exhaustion. Instead, incorporate them into your copy when they’re needed and when they make sense.

– Don’t buy links or participate in lucrative ways to acquire links on a massive scale. Instead, focus on acquiring links from publications and websites that directly relate to the content on your website.

– Don’t use other website content in the benefit of your own and don’t reuse your own website copy for blog posts. Instead, create original, relevant, and valuable content that helps your audience.

Google frequently updates Penguin to best address the current climate of the web, and they most recently rolled out Penguin 2.0, which is also known as Penguin 4. In a nutshell, the biggest losers of this rollout included adult sites, game sites, and some big companies like, the Salvation Army, and CheapOAir. More on this in the coming weeks.

The Phantom Update and Related Findings

In early may, there was significant chatter about another major update from Google – although nobody really knows if it was an update or not. Shortly after this time, Google’s Matt Cutts announced that Penguin 2.0 would be rolling out in the coming months, with no mention as to what this mysterious Phantom updated encompassed.

The initial analysis of this “phantom” update suggests that the major changes had to do with link data. For instance, they found that a particular site (that didn’t seem to be hit by Penguin) was hit hard because they were linking to lots of other sites using follow links, instead of nofollow. Also, they found that two sites were cross-linking heavily to each other as partner websites. Not only were they participating in this lucrative scheme, they also were using exact match anchor text links, which is a big no-no when done excessively. Keep in mind that you should avoid excessive cross-linking with sister or partner sites, and you should especially avoid the use of exact match anchor text.

For instance, we looked at a website that had a pretty solid link profile but unfortunately had pockets of serious link problems. These problems included low quality directories, comment spam, and spun articles, which ultimately drove many links in unnatural ways.

The majority of what was found was correlated with black-hat types of link data, with only one of the sites being affected by a content scrapping initiative. Nonetheless, we’ll continue to monitor this so-called Phantom and keep you updated with the latest.

Google Looks to Address Domain Clustering

A couple weeks ago, Matt Cutts published a video on what to expect from Google in the coming months. He said that some of the updates would be geared toward domain clustering in search engine results pages, or SERPS for short. Domain clustering is when you see multiple results for the same domain on the first couple pages of Google. Mr. Cutts mentioned that Google is looking at an update that says once you’ve seen a cluster of results from one site then you’d be less likely to see more results from that site as you go deeper into the next pages of search results.

You will most likely notice this when you perform a site: search against a domain. For instance, if you enter the query “,” you’ll most likely get a message at the bottom of page 3 or 4 results that says, “In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 30 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.”

The site: search is most likely an edge case of what’s occurring. Here’s our guess for what’s next on this front:

– Google will start to deliver a diversity of domains in SERPS, especially on page 1 and 2.

– Structured data will become more important, specifically to minimize real estate of one domain while still getting the most of your ranking.

– Seeing the above example in a more rolled out form.


We understand this is a lengthy post, and that’s because there was a lot to cover from last month’s updates. In short, you should carefully examine the kind of linking profile your website possesses. Use Google’s Disavow Webmaster Tool to eliminate links that are coming from spammy sources, and have your website developer take a look at how your links are being treated in your website’s robots.txt file.

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