What is the Google Penguin Update?

The Penguin update has been described by Google themselves as an algorithm change that’s aimed at webspam and, more specifically, “sites that we believe are violating Google’s quality guidelines.”

Here is a snippet from Google’s Webmaster Blog about the Penguin update:

The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, 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.

What does that actually mean?

It’s an update to Google’s ranking algorithms that is designed to target websites that violate’s Google Webmaster Guidelines by using SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, duplicate content, link schemes and more. It is effectively the nickname for the over-optimisation update that Matt Cutts (head of the webspam team at Google) mentioned at SXSW. I did briefly cover it in a previous blog post but it went live on 24th April, 2012 and was updated a month later on 25th May, 2012.

I realise that we are a bit late to the game with this blog post as it has been out for several months now but it has given us time to analyse the full effects of the update, rather than just writing a post full of speculation, guesses and possibilities of what might and might not happen in the months to come.

What does it target?

– Keyword stuffed content
I have talked about this point in a previous blog post, My site’s disappeared from Google; what do I do? but this point really needs emphasising. The content on your website should be written for the website visitors NOT for the search engines. Yes you should include keywords naturally but read it out loud and if it doesn’t sound right then it probably isn’t right to put on your website either.

– Duplicate content
Your website should contain 100% unique content, just copying content from your competitor’s website is a very bad idea, and has been for a long time.

Penguin - This is unacceptable

Image Source: https://liyun.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/all-about-penguins/

– Low quality inbound links
Buying 1000 directory submissions for £99 might have worked 5 years ago but it won’t work anymore. Links to your website should be natural links from relevant, quality websites.

– Link placement
Natural links aren’t links just stuffed in the footer or sidebar of a random website. Natural means exactly that, give people a reason to link to you. Provide a great product, service or write genuinely interesting content and people will recommend your business/link to you.

– Exact match anchor text
140 out of 150 links to your website using the exact phrase you are trying to rank for is going to raise alarm bells to Google. If you are building natural links then there should be a lot of variety. At the end of the day a link is a link and having good anchor text is just a bonus. You should focus on getting links on relevant sites rather than making sure your desired keyword is used in every single anchor text.

What effect does it have on the websites?

If your website has been affected by the Penguin update you will know about it. Positions within Google.com will have drastically fallen across the board for all the keywords you were ranking for previously and you will see a equivalent drop in traffic from Google.co.uk. You may well maintain your positions in Yahoo and Bing though.

What effect does it have on the search results?

According to Google’s estimates, Penguin affects approximately 3.1% of English search queries. From our findings we are actually seeing better results since the Penguin update went live. A lot of low quality, spammy sites that were likely using questionable or out dated methods to achieve those positions are nowhere to be seen, or have been replaced by better sites that were previously struggling to rank.

However there have been some casualties along the way. https://wpmu.org/ was hit by the Penguin update and didn’t really deserve it, however after a serious link clean-up they are now back to where they were previously.

What’s going to happen next?

As with anything to do with Google, there is little transparency about what future algorithm updates are going to entail. There is almost certainly going to be fairly regular updates to the Penguin update, just like with the Google Panda update. We would like to see more updates like this as they are genuinely improving the web.

Recovering from the Penguin update

Clean up your inbound links, but remember not all links are bad so don’t just get every single link removed. Also clean up your website itself, a good starting point is to ensure your website follows Google’s quality guidelines. Work on getting good quality, relevant, natural links to your website and make sure your website offers something unique to visitors; it shouldn’t just be a copy of another website. We do include a thorough SEO audit with our SEO packages to address many of the issues that could cause a Penguin and Panda penalty in the future, contact us for more information.

If you believe your website was targeted by mistake you can fill in a form to provide Google feedback.

Hopefully this blog post has helped, remember Panda’s still coming for you and now it’s recruited a Penguin as well!

This blog post was written by Diana Esho – follow us on Twitter or Facebook for an inside look into the technical side of SEO.