Google Penguin is an algorithm update that affects Google search results and is one of the most significant updates Google has ever launched. Unlike the Panda algorithm, which focused on a sites content, the update focuses on decreasing the rankings of websites that have manipulated their backlink profiles to rank higher against Google’s Webmaster’s Guidelines.
Pre-Penguin, there was a problem of spam sites ranking for search terms they either shouldn’t have been showing for, or were of low quality which meant better sites were not ranking.
Penguin helped increase the efficiency of automatically removing these sites or dropping them further down the rankings, something Google’s search algorithm was not great at doing beforehand.
How does Penguin work?
Penguin specifically focused on links that were:
- Keyword rich or over optimised anchor text.
- Links from sites that are not relevant to your business or your industry.
- Paid links on websites, regardless of whether they were on relevant websites or not.
- Sites deemed ‘low quality’ by Google (i.e websites that are ‘spammy’ and are only created to sell and/or create links for ranking purposes).
Penguin was first integrated on April 24th, 2012 and affected 3.1% of English search queries. As of writing (Feb 2014) there have been four updates released since:
- May 25th, 2012 – 0.1% of websites affected.
- October 5th, 2012 – 0.3% of websites affected.
- May 22nd, 2013 – Dubbed Penguin 2.0 by Google, 2.3% of websites affected.
- October 4th, 2013 – 1% of websites affected.
Future Google Penguin Updates
Eventually all Google Algorithm updates become permanently ingrained and cycle monthly in the background with updates no longer announced by Google, which has happened to Panda. Penguin is still so new that it is still not integrated to run automatically, so the next update to Penguin should be announced soon. The smart money is on May 2014 for the next iteration but whether it’s a small 2.2 update or a large 3.0 update we’ll have to wait and see.
As with Panda, you will receive no notification from Google if you have been hit by Penguin. The first signs something is wrong will be a drop in traffic and sales.
It can either be the dramatic:
Or it can be significant but not completely kill your traffic, like so:
Either way, the quickest way to confirm you’ve been affected by Penguin (or most Google penalties) is to look at your traffic in Google Analytics. Also be sure to check Webmaster Tools for any manual penalties Google might have hit your website with.
Can it be fixed?
Fixing a Penguin penalty can be incredibly tough; it usually involves sustained link auditing and removal that can take weeks, even months of sustained work in severe cases.
Depending on the severity of the penalty, you might not see an instant recovery and there have been reports that websites do not recover until Google launches a refresh of the algorithm (currently roughly 6 months apart). Some websites have yet to recover.
It all comes down to your link building practices pre Penguin and whether you were engaged in white or black hat practices, but I’ll save that for another blog post!