Happy Birthday to you? Well, it has been 3 years since the first Penguin update changed the scope of the SEO world. It’s made SEO-ers look at link building in a different light, making sure they were following the quality guidelines of the search engine giant, Google, and making sure the overall link profile was healthy and any past link building was done properly. Here’s a little look back at what “The Penguin” has given us…
Penguin 1.0 – On April 24th, 2012, Google dropped the hammer and released Penguin 1.0, hoping to catch people spamming its search results on purpose with poor link building habits in an effort to fool the algorithms used to provide the most relevant search results. This update was set to penalize and decrease the rankings of websites that Google felt were violating their quality guidelines.
Some of the techniques used to gain better results in the search engines were link schemes, which included link farming or link wheeling, keyword stuffing, cloaking, doorway pages or purposely duplicating content. The Penguin update was set to target these schemes and stop their manipulation of site rankings in Google’s search results.
Some of the main ways people performed these “black hat” or “grey hat” techniques include:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank in exchange for money, goods, services or products.
- Excessive link exchanges or partner pages that cross link.
- Creating additional “relevant” sites to link within each other and increase the link volume (link wheel).
- Large scale article marketing with keyword rich anchor text links.
- Using an automated service or program to create links.
This was the first update of many to come, and it impacted over 3% of queries. It upset many people in the SEO community to start, but the bottom line was that Google was and is trying to provide the most relevant results and reward the people using “white hat” techniques while penalizing the poor techniques.
Penguin 1.1 or 2 – About one month later Google updated the original Penguin update with a “date refresh” of the algorithm. This was the first announced update since the original release on 4/24/12 and came with a lot of noise from the SEO community with many sites still reeling from the first update and questioning if it make search results better or worse. Google even set up a form for webmasters to use if they believe they were hit by mistake. This update impacted less than .1% of queries. With this they also even provided a form to report spamming so that if someone saw it they could report them! How many competitors of each other filled up that inbox!
Penguin 1.2 or 3 – Later that year, on October 5, 2012, Google announced the latest “data refresh” to the Penguin algorithm. Google (Matt Cutts in particular) said that about .3% of English queries would be “noticeably affected” by this update. Many webmasters tried to figure out what happened and how to fight it, but Google was actually providing helpful guidelines in their Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). If a site was set up in the GWT and they were hit by Penguin, many of the webmasters received a message directly from Google stating they were “under manual spam action.” In some cases, Google even gave examples of the poorly linked sites that were in violation of the quality guidelines.
To fix the problems, webmasters would need to reach out to their counterparts at the sites with the poor links and request that they be removed. Once that process was completed and documented, there was a file to upload the spammy links directly to Google, called a disavow file. The filing of the disavow file and a manual reconsideration letter to Google outlining the efforts put forth would go a long way to helping a website recover from penalty. If done properly, this was a time consuming but effective way to get out from under Google’s hammer…but the updates were far from over.
Penguin 2.0 – Some websites were not affected that much or came away unscathed in that first year, but Google’s Penguin 2.0, coming out in May 2013, was the “next generation” of tech to better stop spam. The first 2 updates after the original were classified as more of a data refresh, while this was being classified as a “major update” that would impact about 2.3% of queries. This update was said to go deeper than the original update and included non-English languages. The websites and webmasters that were doing the right things, and had recognized their issues, were being rewarded with the updates, while the black hat SEO-ers continued to get buried and more of them got caught.
Penguin 2.1 or 5 – The “spam fighting” algorithm was a part of the next update, which was released October 4, 2013, and impacted about 1% of searches. The latest update to the bird-named-link-spam killer didn’t cover anything more than the other updates, but helped to make sure the poor sites were targeted properly and the webmasters performing the right actions were being rewarded.
Penguin 3.0 – After over a year of no new announcements for Penguin, Google finally released the latest update to their algorithm filter aimed at fighting spam, on October 17, 2014. This was a long awaited update, as many webmasters who were requesting that links be removed and filing their reconsiderations in the disavow tool, were looking to be recognized for their cleanup work.
Moving forward after the last update and further in 2015, webmasters will need to keep a close eye on their link profile and how they do their link building, as Google’s Penguin is said to be continuously updating now with no real “new version” updates announced. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are working with a credible and quality SEO agency who knows how to clean up any previous poor link profile and also build up a positive one. A good SEO company can quickly identify the health of a link profile and put a game plan in place to take the necessary actions to make sure Penguin doesn’t even come and bite them.
While there were no songs or candles to be blown out last week for the Penguin, it has certainly made its mark in Google’s search results, the SEO community and websites across the world these past 3 years. Anyone in the SEO world certainly looks at penguins in a different light now… Sorry Chilly Willy, you lost a lot of fans.