For marketers who’ve made their living on tricking search engines and gaming the system in order to secure web traffic, penguins are turning out to be mighty fierce birds. Google released Penguin 2.0 last week, its toughest algorithm yet in the search engine giant’s quest to reward websites that deliver quality content and punish sites that try to buy their way to the top of search rankings.

As you might know, Penguin is Google’s webspam algorithm, designed to find black hat web spam and target and address it. The bigger picture is that Google is trying to make the Internet a better place – a place where quality content rises to the top.

According to Google webspam guru Matt Cutts, Penguin 2.0 will affect 2.3 percent of English queries. When you consider that previous updates to Penguin affected less than one percent of English searches, you can understand how impactful this update is. Specifically, Penguin 2.0 is cracking down on black hat techniques, the manipulative efforts to find loopholes in the Google algorithm to trick the search engine into ranking a site higher. For a lot of SEOs this has been their bread and butter, but they’re going to have to change. So-called link spam – buying links in order to make your website appear more popular – is always a Google target, and Penguin 2.0 cracks down hard on that. And interestingly, Matt Cutts specifically mentioned that advertorials and native advertising, a very popular tactic lately, is in the crosshairs. Paying for content placements, such as sponsored posts on blogs, is not going to be accepted as a way to drive SEO results.

Search Engine Land reports that some of the biggest losers under Penguin 2.0 are porn sites, notorious for actively working to trick search algorithms.

There are steps you can take to make sure you don’t suffer the same fate. Primary among these steps is content creation – by creating a steady flow of content for your site, especially on the home page, you can keep crawlers coming back day after day, negating the need to trick the spiders. Of course, this requires an ongoing effort and commitment. There are also smart (ethical) linking strategies you should embrace, linking externally at least half as often as you link within your site. Another smart tactic that isn’t resource intensive is the creation of additional landing pages – entryways into your site that appeal directly to external audiences.

Yes, content creation is at the center of all this; again, Google is trying to make the Internet more information-rich. SEO practitioners tend to poo-poo the value of content marketing; they argue that SEO has always been about content, and that is obviously true … as far as it goes. Old school SEO sought to game the system with crappy content and link farms – the goal was never to educate or entertain the audience. Rather, their focus was on compiling as many links as possible and loading their site with keywords.

Over the last 18 months, Google has been on a siege against those tactics, and a lot of old school SEO folks are scrambling. As I wrote recently, there is a balance to be found between the art and science of content creation, and Google is using science to reward art; Google can do this because of the place it occupies at the top of the Internet.

It means that content that is driven purely by SEO factors is less valuable today than it was a week ago. It means that writing for human beings rather than search spiders is more important than ever. This is the direction we’re heading, and it’s good news for marketers looking to create a real connection with their audience.  But for those who’ve been focused on SEO, it also means changing tactics to meet the new reality – you’ve got to earn your way to the top.