Google Update: February 2017 - Rumors it targets PBNs, Links or Penguin?

SEO

Google Update: February 2017 - Rumors it targets PBNs, Links or Penguin?

There are rumors of another update during the first week of February that targets Private Blog Networks, Links, or possibly a Penguin related tweak.

Hot on the heels of the SERPs volatility in January, new rumors are circulating that a new Google Update has been released in the wild. From the chatter in the SEO community, the update seems to indicate that the update relates to backlinks, with chatter mentioning Private Blog Networks (PBNs), Penguin, or possibly just an adjustment on the impact of backlinks.

As is customary, we will first take a look at the SERP trackers to see if there is any basis to the rumors, and then take a look at the chatter in the SEO community. Finally, we will add our own speculations or thoughts on what may be happening.

Global SERPs Volatility

You will find below all the latest charts from the SERP trackers. It is clear the chatter in the community about an update has some basis to it, with the entire first week of February showing higher than usual volatility.

Rank Risk Index

The Rank Risk Index shows a clear spike on the February 1 and February 2nd. While it doesn't appear to be as large as the January Google update, it does stand out.

Rank Risk Index

SERPmetrics

The Flux chart at SERPmetrics is even more interesting. It shows an even more significant level of volatility than the January update, with it continue throughout the entire first week of February.

SERPmetrics

MozCast

The MozCast weather report similarly shows the volatility continuing throughout the first week of February, although their chart only shows up until the 5 February. The spike on the 5 February is particularly interesting and supports SERPmetrics.

Mozcast

Google Grump

The Google Grump rating shows an initial spike on the 1st and 2 February, but also another more significant spike on the 7 February.

Google Grump

Chatter in the SEO community

The majority of the chatter in the SEO community took place on the 1st and 2 February. Unfortunately, at present, there is very little chatter about the more recent spike over the last couple of days.

The first major chatter relates to a long forum thread on BlackHatWorld (currently six pages). Here are the take-aways:

User "beingink" started the thread, questioning whether newly expiring or expired domains are refusing to index, with suspicion of a new age filter being applied:

Anyone noticing that new domains expiring/expired are just refusing to index. Like a new age filter on re archived sites. Just wondering if its only me or somebody else experiencing this too.

In response, user "littlewebdragon" stated:

I've noticed as well that everything is moving in slow motion with G. It is working, but in slow motion. It seems that TIME is now one of the most important factors.

User "Johny_Tsunami" also replied, narrowing down the blamed to Personal Blog Networks:

I thought I answered it: there seems to be an algorithm change going on, going after PBNs, there are other threads complaining about these changes since a few days.

A Quick Primer on Personal Blog Networks

Using Personal Blog Networks, or PBN's is a black hat technique (i.e. one that Google does not like, and may get you a penalty) where webmasters purchase expired domains with authority, add content and backlinks, and then add posts on those PBN's linking back to their main website. In essence, it is creating websites to artificially create backlinks to the "money site." Google tries to actively hunt out these PBN's and often creates algorithms to counter their effectiveness, but black hat spammers usually adapt.

If you wish your website to be indexed for the long term, it is best to stay away from any black hat techniques.

Continuing in the thread, another user disagrees with the indexing being slowed down, but indicates Google maybe targeting PBN's or that Google Penguin may be experiencing some updates.

We have had a couple pbn sites get the boot from the index over the last few days, maybe penguin on the loose in our neighborhood?
The replacements we put up still get indexed right away, no problem there. Note: we only buy sites for our pbn's that are still in the index to ensure they are not banned, but new content gets indexed right away.

Also just bought a fresh new domain for another project, put up content, indexed and ranking same day, so I can't agree with the slow down thing.

The thread continues with a discussion of PBN's and how some have had theirs de-indexed, while others have experienced no change. Even a follow-up thread debunked PBN's were hit, but again, it could be that just some were hit.

In Webmasterworld, a more white-hat discussion was taking place:

One user, "reseller," linked the January Google Update with this one, saying that they believe it relates to a new generation of updates:

Just wish to mention that I think both Google Algorithm Update of 24 January 2017 and that of today belong to same new generation of Google Algorithm Updates. The impact of those updates display gradually during the several days (week) to follow the day of rolling out of the update.

Typically, with a more white hat forum, the reports are more positive, with user NickMNS reporting:

I saw a spike in traffic starting on Sunday evening. Monday was my best day ever, traffic was up more than 20% from the previous week's average and about 12% above my previous record. There has been a bit of a roll back but I am still seeing traffic levels well above average.

The difference between the discussion between the black hat and white hat forums may validate, at least to some extent, the theory that the update was targeting black hat techniques, like spammy backlinks. This is a view shared by MickMNS:

@zeeeze not using blackhat methods provides zero benefit. Your site is ranked based on the relative quality of the content. And by relative, I mean relative to the content published by your competitors. In other words, you can't just publish half hearted content and then expect to rank because you don't engage in a link buying scheme. And you may have some truly awesome content, but if the users believe that your competitor's content is better, your competitor will outrank you.

Also the post, referred to by reseller, claims that sites using blackhat methods are seeing drops in ranking and traffic while those that don't use these tactics are not seeing much of a change.

Our Suspicions

Based on all the SERP trackers it is clear some update happened. From the discussions on the various forums, we suspect that black hat techniques have been hit, with possible spammy link devaluation, Penguin tweak, or even better detection of PBN's.

What is also clear is that the primary way to get good results on Google hasn't. Stay white hat, and produce high-quality content.

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