Launch date: April 24, 2012
Hazards: Spammy or irrelevant links; links with over-optimized anchor text
Following on the heels of Panda, the Penguin update was announced by Google as a new effort to reward high-quality websites and diminish the search engine results page (SERP) presence of websites that engaged in manipulative link schemes and keyword stuffing.
The initial rollout of Penguin impacted 3.1% of English language search engine queries. Between 2012 and 2016, the filter went through 10 documented updates, evolving over time and influencing the SEO community’s understanding of the problematic practices Penguin sought to address. As of early 2017, Penguin is now part of Google’s core algorithm.
Triggers for Penguin
Penguin targeted two specific practices:
- Link schemes – The development, acquisition or purchase of backlinks from low-quality or unrelated websites, creating an artificial picture of popularity and relevance in an attempt to manipulate Google into bestowing high rankings. For example, an insurance company in Tampa could fill Internet forums with spam comments linking to itself as “best insurance company in Tampa”, falsely inflating its appearance of relevance with these unnatural links. Or, the same company might pay to have links reading “best insurance company in Tampa” appear on an unrelated third-party article about dog grooming; content that has no relationship to the topic.
- Keyword stuffing – Populating a webpage with large numbers of keywords or repetitions of keywords in an attempt to manipulate rank via the appearance of relevance to specific search phrases. For example, an unnatural repetition of keywords on a given page might look like:
How can I discover if I’ve been hit by Penguin?
First, it’s important to differentiate between Penguin and a manual penalty for unnatural linking. In brief, Penguin is a Google index filter applicable to all websites, whereas a manual penalty is specific to a single website that Google has determined to be spamming. These manual penalties may be the result of a given website being reported by Google users for spam, and it’s also speculated that Google may manually monitor some industries (like payday loan companies) more than others (like cupcake bakeries).
If your website’s analytics show a drop in rankings or traffic on a date associated with a Penguin update, then you may have been affected by this filter. Be sure you’ve ruled out expected traffic fluctuations from phenomena like seasonality (for instance, a Christmas tree farm in April), and carefully evaluate whether your keyword optimization or linking practices would be deemed spammy by Google, making your site vulnerable to update like Penguin.
How to recover from Penguin
Unlike a manual link penalty, for which you must file a reconsideration request with Google once you’ve cleaned house, you do not file such a request to have a Penguin penalty lifted. Rather, taking action to remedy problems will often earn ‘forgiveness’ the next time Googlebot comes to crawl your site. These recovery steps include:
- The removal of any unnatural links over which you have control, including links you’ve built yourself or have caused to be placed on 3rd party websites
- The disavowal of spammy links that you can’t control
- The revision of your website’s content to remedy over-optimization, ensuring that keywords have been implemented naturally instead of robotically, repetitively or nonsensically on pages where this is no relationship between the topic and the keywords being used
Other facts about the Penguin update
- Penguin was initially launched as a separate “filter” through which search results were passed, but in September of 2016, Google announced that Penguin had become part of the core search engine ranking algorithm.
- Google staffer John Mueller called Penguin a site-wide algorithm, meaning that the presence of a large number of low-quality links pointing to one page of your website could result in a reduction of Google’s trust in your entire website. However, some SEOs have asserted that by the iteration of Penguin 4.0