What is Google's Penguin Update?

Google Penguin is an update to Google's search algorithm that is specifically designed to combat link spam and manipulative link building tactics.

Google Penguin Update

Following shortly after the release of Panda in 2011, Google launched a “webspam algorithm update” to better catch sites trying to maliciously game its search results. Codenamed “Penguin” via a Tweet from Matt Cutts (former head of the webspam team at Google) in 2012, the algorithm specifically targets manipulative link building techniques such as link schemes and keyword stuffing. Its augmented update, Penguin 4.0, now operates in real-time as a part of Google’s core algorithm. 


What Is Google Penguin?

At its core, Google Penguin is an algorithmic update meant to optimize Google’s search engine. Essentially, the updated algorithm now looks at links in terms of quality, rather than only in terms of quantity. The better, more relevant links pointing to your website are, the more authoritative your website becomes. Conversely, the more authoritative your website becomes, the better your links are for other websites. Links can be measured for quality by anchor text, age, domain authority, page authority, and context, among other measurements.

The purpose of this algorithmic update is to stop manipulative link building techniques such as link schemes and keyword stuffing. Referred to as ‘black hat,’ these techniques take advantage of the limitations of search algorithms. They allow pages or websites to rank well in search without necessarily providing sound answers, or without serving the interests of the searchers. 

Penguin, however, does more than just punish websites it deems are employing black hat techniques. Penguin also works to reward websites that foster high-quality content and natural, meaningful backlink profiles

What Happened Before Penguin?

Prior to Penguin, Panda was the algorithm responsible for understanding and recognizing quality content, as opposed to links. Panda’s 2011 release was met with various complaints, as its sweeping results targeted entire websites. However, Penguin had its fair share of complaints too. Before Google Penguin operated in real-time, sites affected by its update had to wait until the next update to mitigate any negative impact such as a loss of visibility or traffic.  

What Changed After Penguin?

Since the release of Penguin, an understanding of what good linking building is and what it requires has been cultivated. The bulk of the change comes from Penguin discrediting links that lead to irrelevant sites. While links are still essential ranking factors for search, how they are qualified compared to other ranking factors is more nuanced now. Essentially, any link deemed to employ webspam is prevented from actually improving any ranking. This change has made a clear the distinction between white hat and black hat search engine optimization.

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What Does Penguin 4.0 Do?

In 2014, Penguin became a part of the core algorithm and began operating in real-time. Extending its name to Penguin 4.0, this update allowed for the continuous filtering of Google’s search queries as well as a more immediate impact of effective link building and remediation work. Before Penguin 4.0 the filtering of search queries was entirely manual, and months or even years might pass between Penguin updates being implemented. 

Penguin 4.0 also has more specific targets. Prior to this update, Penguin affected a Webmaster’s entire website; now websites are affected on a URL-basis. Lastly, the update no longer assigns a negative value to bad links, which resulted in debased URLs. Instead, bad links are discounted, meaning they hold neither a positive nor a negative value. In other words, bad links will cause no effect on a URL. 

Did the Penguin Update Hit Me?

If your website has been hit by the Google Penguin update, you will notice an impact on your search visibility, traffic, or conversions. Look at the day the update occurred, September 23rd, 2016, as well as the following few weeks. Check for any abnormalities within that time frame. Make sure to rule out seasonal fluctuations, such as blogs about Halloween decorations in February. Lastly, consider whether any of the content on your website would be deemed spammy by Google — then make adjustments accordingly. 

Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips

For websites hit by the Google Penguin update, consider the following tips for recovery: 

  • Create a list of all your backlinks - Google Search Console, previously referred to as Google Webmaster Tools, can create an index of all the backlinks pointing to your website. Use this to successfully complete the following three tips. 
  • Analyze your links - It is important to recognize which links are quality and which are not. Go through all your links and categorize them from “quality” to “okay-quality” and finally to “low-quality.”
  • Ask webmasters to remove links - Reach out to the webmasters linking back to your site. A simple request for link removal may be all that is needed.
  • Google’s disavow tool - If asking webmasters to remove backlinks to your website doesn’t work, consider using Google’s disavow tool, which discounts the value of inbound links. 

How To Play By the Rules

Use the following suggestions to avoid being the target of the Google Penguin update in the first place:

  • Quality over quantity - Backlinks should come from quality websites. Numerous backlinks from low-quality sites do a website no good. 
  • Diversify your anchor text - Using the same anchor text for different links will appear spammy to Google’s algorithm. Diversify your anchor text with synonyms. 
  • Don’t buy links - Private Blog Networks that offer to sell you links are traceable by Google’s algorithm. Avoid buying these links as their results are fleeting. 
  • Don’t automate link building - Link building automation is more likely to end in low-quality linking. Use organic strategies instead. 
  • Earn links - Avoid taking shortcuts. Good links come with time and quality content. Links can be earned through guest posting, Q&A’s, and connections.