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Google's search engine is displaying Frankenstein-esque characteristics. Like the fictional scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who created a monster more powerful than its master, Google's algorithm designed to rid the Internet of spammy links is proving difficult, if not impossible, to control.
In June, CNBC.com reported on a Google algorithm called Panda that crawls the Web to periodically push what the search provider considers lower-quality sites down in the rankings while elevating better pages. The result is that some small Web businesses that rely on Google for traffic can be decimated overnight.
In keeping with the theme of exotic zoo animals, Google has another algorithm called Penguin, first rolled out in 2012, that aims to punish websites deemed to be abusive in splashing links across the Internet to artificially bolster rankings and lift traffic.
If you own an online music store focused on classic jazz, for example, and Google finds a bunch of unrelated Russian literature websites linking back to your site, the Penguin algorithm can ensure that fans looking for Louis Armstrong records no longer reach you. Late last year, lyrics website Rap Genius was slapped down by Google for its over aggressive use of links. In the industry, such abusive behavior is known as "black hat webspam."
After being hit by Penguin, webmasters seeking to get back in Google's good graces have to locate the spam, get rid of it and then wait for Google to hit the refresh button so they can—hopefully—climb back up the rankings. But here's the problem.
Penguin hasn't refreshed since October, so businesses hurt by the latest update almost a year ago are still reeling even if they've spent massive amounts of time and money to regain compliance. Some of them, as far as they knew, did nothing wrong, says Josh Bachynski, a consultant who works with companies on search engine optimization (SEO) and is a regular critic of Google's practices.
"Not only do they have a lot of collateral damage, with sites that were inadvertently hit that didn't break rules in any way, shape or form," Bachynski said. "But they've been held down for 10 months."
Since introducing Penguin in April 2012, Google has released four updates. Before the current 10-month stretch of inactivity, the longest break between updates had been seven months. The Mountain View, California-based company doesn't pre-announce its refresh plans so as not to give spammers any additional ammunition. And since Google assumes that it's only hurting the bad guys, it's in no hurry to let them recover, Bachynski said.