By  at Search Engine Land

Google has announced that it is releasing a new search algorithm that it hopes will better catch people who spam its search results or purposely do things to rank better that are against Google’s publishers guidelines. Going live today, Google says the “Penguin Update” will impact about 3% of search queries.

From the company’s posts on the Inside Search and Google Webmaster Central blogs:

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s quality guidelines. This algorithm represents another step in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.

Fighting Web Spam

What’s “webspam,” as Google calls it, or search spam? Pages that try to gain better rankings through things like:

Our search engine spam penalties page explains more about these types of common spam.

Did Google Already Fight Spam? Yes, But…

The web spam techniques above aren’t new. Some of them are more than 10 years old and date back to before Google even operated as a search engine. So why is Google only now going after such methods?

It’s not, even though the blog post might give some newcomers that impression. Google’s warned about and fought against such techniques for ages. Rather, what’s really happening is that Google is rolling out better ways that it hopes to detect such abuses.

Despite warning against such spam techniques, it’s easy to find cases where they still work. It’s enough to make some long-time “white hat” SEOs feel foolish arguing that people should avoid spamming Google when it seems to pay-off, as I wrote about recently.

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“We’ve heard a lot of solid feedback from SEOs who are trying to do the right thing and who don’t want to see webspam techniques rewarded, and we feel the same way,” said Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team.

How’s Google improved its spam filters? No surprise here, Google’s not saying.

Targeting Spam, Not “Over-Optimization”

Somewhat related, is this the “over-optimization” penalty that Cutts warned was coming last month? Yes and no. It is the update he was talking about, but Cutts is clarifying that now somewhat infamous over-optimization statement.

“I think ‘over-optimization’ wasn’t the best description, because it blurred the distinction between white hat SEO and webspam. This change is targeted at webspam, not SEO, and we tried to make that fact more clear in the blog post,” Cutts told me.

By the way, if you’re looking for a catchy name for this update as Google has sometimes given other ones like the Panda Update, bad news. Officially, Google is calling it the “webspam algorithm update,” the company told me.

Postscript: Google has now released a name, so we’ve updated the story headline. See our follow-up post, The Penguin Update: Google’s Webspam Algorithm Gets Official Name

SEO Continues To Be Encouraged

Indeed, today’s post makes a point of contrasting “white hat SEO” against “black hat webspam” and encourages people to continue with SEO best practices:

Our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics…. 

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings….

We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.

3% Of Queries Impacted

Is this update the reason behind ranking drops that many reported last week? Google had already said the cause of that was due to a problem with a parked domains classifier and reconfirms that today’s new spam fighting algorithm update was not part of last week’s changes.

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Google says the new update will impact about 3.1% of queries in English; 3% in German, Chinese and Arabic. The percentage might be higher for languages where spam has been slipping through even more, such as in Polish, where 5% of queries are expected to change.