Penguin, the punitive algorithm with a reputation for crushing site rankings in Google, HAS LANDED.
A Google spokesman confirmed in a Google Webmaster Hangout Penguin 3, in some form, has been run over the weekend (direct link). There’s been conflicting stories out there over the last few days – that the update may not be quite ‘over’. A Googler has confirmed it’s probably not ‘over‘:
google: penguin ‘refresh’ – not ‘update’ – impacts “fewer than 1% of ENG queries – not ‘about’ 1% = It could have been a lot less than 1%
— Shaun Anderson (@Hobo_Web) October 21, 2014
My webmaster tools account shows a massive crawl on the date of the update (although this could be unrelated):
- Google Penguin 3 Update hit on Friday / Saturday (October 17th and 18th).
- Quite a number of Blackhats are reporting they got hit hard by the looks of it.
- Targets obvious spam, obvious out of context links and obvious brute force linking (examples given are footer links, blogrolls and some pbns – private blog networks) – not the sort of links you want to point at your main site. Some are reporting 301s hit too – home pages disappearing and affiliate sites being penalised (although a black hat affiliate site isn’t going to last long these days without somebody who knows what they are doing at the helm). Suffice to say it will take a couple of weeks for any serious analysis to get published somewhere.
- This update blindsided most third party rank visibility tools leading many to think we are not finished…. yet
- Penguin 3 was nowhere near as keenly felt as Penguin 1 and 2 but then again you would expect most professional optimisers to have gotten well out of Google’s way on this. Blackhats – naturally – are the ones that will be the final judge on how aggressive this update was – as it seems to be targeted at them.
It looks as though Google has (at least) started this algorithm update by targeting obvious ‘spammy’ churn and burn type sites – but a lot of people are asking….. is that it? I think the industry expected something more like the first or second update – and certainly for some in the Google Webmaster forums and on black hat forums – Google delivered that.
The fact that most 3rd party tools totally missed this update could be telling….
I stopped looking at Google webmaster forums – the sites submitted there are usually total crap submitted by first timers who cant even read webmaster guidelines. I wouldn’t even link to it these days.
Black hats ARE, however, very much worth listening to at times like these. The most interesting discussion so far is on http://www.blackhatworld.com/blackhat-seo/black-hat-seo/711703-penguin-3-0-released-couple-hours-ago.html
It looks as if Google wants to make churn and burn less profitable – or at least – harder to pull off. Or at least – seem that way. That’s possibly a good thing, for most real businesses building real authority, but you can bet the black hats will be back with more of the same.
We’ll have a better idea in a couple of weeks – these updates are always designed, by Google, to confuse. It certainly ‘feels’ as if this update DID target OBVIOUS and RECENT black hat tactics, rather than small businesses who might have the odd unnatural link here and there.
Google Penguin 3 Targets Obvious Spam
After a long time in the coming, we’ve found out just what this algorithm shift looks like. Many web masters are reporting the algorithm has released them from rankings purgatory inflicted by the first or second Penguin update, and Black hats are reporting some damage in many forums around the web. There’s always winners and losers, though, and many are claiming the opposite, which is a hard pill to swallow considering web masters have waited over a year to be ‘released’.
Apparently it was not so simple to re-run Penguin. Google has since mentioned it might have been too aggressive for too many webmasters, to run it as was.
Penguin ‘penalties’, we now know, can last for over two years(!) and if you get hit with a Penguin penalty because of your OWN activities – there’s a really good argument for starting again with a brand new domain. That’s how serious it is.
Google will no doubt claim that Penguin is baked into the algorithm at some point – but would you really bet on that? Even if that is the case – if you get Penguined – Google still wants to penalise you for (maybe) a year – or – where’s the stick – or at least – where’s the carrot for White hats?
Most would spam Google silly if there was no ‘penalty’ in doing so.
The length of your ‘penalty’ is possibly calculated in part to how much brute force you used in the first place to rank. If you tried to rank with low quality all the way in terms of content and links – you’re probably never coming back.
Penguin & Panda
If they do bake it into the algorithm I wonder if it will become part of the monthly ‘Panda’ algorithm changes.
I think that because I think the two are more closely related than is talked about. I think there’s a heavy manual element to Penguin in a set up – perhaps, because of the negative seo fallout of any such update – whereas Panda can probably be largely calculated pretty easily by the algorithms. Both seem focused on quality, as Google defines it, although both are focused in different areas.
For instance – Google has published advice on high quality sites:
What counts as a high-quality site?
Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content. The recent “Panda” change tackles the difficult task of algorithmically assessing website quality. Taking a step back, we wanted to explain some of the ideas and research that drive the development of our algorithms.
Below are some questions that one could use to assess the “quality” of a page or an article. These are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves as we write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality. Think of it as our take at encoding what we think our users want.
Of course, we aren’t disclosing the actual ranking signals used in our algorithms because we don’t want folks to game our search results; but if you want to step into Google’s mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we’ve been looking at the issue:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- How much quality control is done on content?
- Does the article describe both sides of a story?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
Writing an algorithm to assess page or site quality is a much harder task, but we hope the questions above give some insight into how we try to write algorithms that distinguish higher-quality sites from lower-quality sites. SOURCE
Those guidelines above are generally recognised for PANDA and SITE QUALITY issues – and REALLY worth paying attention to – but equally, if you put your link building hat on, you could say they were a simple guide as to where you might NOT want to see a link to your site – which is where, in obvious cases, Penguin takes over.
Why would Google want to count a link to your site if your link was on any page that didn’t meet these quality guidelines? Why not considering penalising you if all your links are on pages that “users complain when they see pages from this site?”.
Right or wrong – this is what Google is doing – in it’s self styled pr ‘war’ on ‘black hats’ and you don’t want pulled into that battle if you can avoid it. Google doesn’t seem to care about sites hit by Penguin as much as per say a human reviewed manual action (when a penalty can be lifted sometimes very quickly if the infraction is borderline).
It might be too early to tell…. but this looks a lot softer on small businesses, with Google going more aggressively after beginner black hats using public (and so very risky) networks.
Should you be worried about future Penguin updates?
If you run a business that can’t afford to flip domains and change web addresses, then yes, especially if you are letting someone ‘build’ links to your site.
If you are not buying links (and have never done so) then you probably have A LOT less to worry about (and should be more concerned with Google Panda and overall site and page quality challenges). If you are the unfortunate recipient of negative seo attacks (as I have been the few last years) then the only real option you have is to have your disavow file in place at Google Webmaster Tools – and make a clear attempt to disassociate yourself from the most toxic of those links.
Google recently penalised a lot of not-so ‘Private’ Blog Networks (PBNs) that were breaking the rules, and Google’s John Mueller said recently also said that algorithms don’t operate in isolation – which could indicate your site needs to trip other algorithms, too, to be slapped by the harshest of Penguin – but Penguin has always been more traditionally about the nature of your backlinks.
Matt Cutts recent tweet would indicate that it was black hat seo services they were going for with this.
Blackhat SEO fads: like walking into a dark alley, packed with used car salesmen, who won’t show you their cars. http://t.co/pQEpSv5LIT
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) September 24, 2014
If you are worried about ‘unnatural’ links, I go into those kind of links here – and little has changed from when I wrote that – although I have expanded my thoughts in this recent link building tutorial for beginners. Many of my black hat friends won’t go near a disavow file but they have a completely different business model.
If you care about a site, you probably should have a disavow file in place – especially if you rank successfully for anything.
Penguin is the one algorithm you do not want slapping your site down – so check your back links for obvious, low quality links. I presume you are already addressing site quality issues to avoid getting continually pumped by a constantly evolving Panda algorithm.
Website Lost Rankings in Google?
If your main site did get hit with any of the Penguin updates (perhaps apart form the first!) then you’re probably doing something really, really wrong. Symptoms include website rankings dropping 5 or 6 places on the following dates I list, or dropping on to the second page of results, or even vanishing from Google completely.
Penguin Update History:
- Penguin 1.0 – April 24 2012 (3.1% of searches)
- Penguin 1.2 – May 26 2012 (0.1% of searches)
- Penguin 1.3 – October 5 2012 (0.3% of searches)
- Penguin 2.0 – May 22 2013 (2.3% of searches)
- Penguin 2.1 – Oct. 4 2013 ( 1% of searches)
- Penguin 3 – Oct. 17/18 2014 (LESS THAN 1%)
Previous Penguin Updates
- Many sites were impacted by Penguin 1 and Penguin 2, and some webmaster shave been waiting since 2012 to be ‘re-evaluated’ by this algorithm – leaving them in a desperate position. People have been pretty mad at Google.
- Google Penguin 2 did a pretty good job at devaluing some lower quality links from obvious link sources. Wether Google just slapped an algorithmic change on you, algorithmically penalised you or started ignoring your links – the end result was that your previously stable rankings disappeared overnight. If the sites that link to you have a quality issue (from Google’s point of view), expect that ranking problem to only worsen over the coming months.
- If you have been hit with one of Google’s changes – you can expect rankings to fluctuate, and perhaps dissolve in the coming weeks and months, especially if you have LOTS of ‘low quality’ links pointing AT your site.
- I do see Google rewarding a diverse and natural link profile even in some less spammy verticals. There is still a lot of spam, of course, and it has only got worse over the summer of 2014 in a lot of verticals.
- Penguin 2 was not initially as aggressive as Penguin 1. Penguin 2 looked like more of rerun of Penguin 1 with a net cast wider. Penguin 1 was focused on home pages (with lots of manipulative anchor text) – and Penguin 2 was a rollout of the same algorithm to internal pages on your site (as we understand it).
Penguin 2 was not a catch all update
MC mentioned in his blog comments that there was further changes to come:
we can adjust the impact but we wanted to start at one level and then we can modify things appropriately.
and hinted that Penguin 2 was not a catch all update. “Denying Value Upstream For Link Spammers”?, for instance, as mentioned in a recent webmaster video:
That comes later.
and also, when asked a question:
The site was registered 4 months ago, has over 500 referring domains (unnatural link velocity), links mostly from unrelated sites (I found one from an escort directory), and 70% anchor text was money keywords (again, completely unnatural). Most of the links were either hacked or paid and a big portion of them were hidden with CSS.
Matt Cutts responded:
we have some things coming later this summer that should help with the type of sites you mention, so I think you made the right choice to work on building authority.
Weaker than Penguin 1 and 2 but still visible
To be honest – in some verticals I am monitoring Penguin HAS had a noticeable impact over the years.
I doubt Penguin 3 will be as much of a shock to webmasters as Penguin 1 or 2 – but we can probably expect it to look at similar quality signals. Too many anchor text rich links from low quality websites. Too many links from sites effectively made just ‘for’ Google.
I really cleaned up all our link building practices as soon as Google released Penguin 1. That was a choice – I don’t want to be jumping through hoops every time Google goes after the herd. I’d rather make stuff for the long term and I am fortunate – I do have a choice on the type things I can work on.
That means effectively focusing on links from sources everybody else isn’t getting their links from, and focusing on getting relevant, editorial links.
It doesn’t change what anybody running a site for the long term should be focused on since last year:
- Making content
- Making content relevant
- Making relevant content reputable
- Increasing engagement
For the small retailer wanting to compete in Google who wants a certain amount of confidence the rankings they have today are there tomorrow, building links with lots of focused anchor text and using low quality networks is kind of finished.
AND don’t expect Spam to disappear. Spam always ranks before a fall. During that time – you lose out. By the time Google has caught up with the spam, it’s ranking new spam above you. Google makes a lot of money from the status quo if you haven’t heard.
Dissociating toxic links
Google says of the disavow tool:
This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.
If you believe your site’s ranking is being harmed by low-quality links you do not control, you can ask Google not to take them into account when assessing your site. You should still make every effort to clean up unnatural links pointing to your site. Simply disavowing them isn’t enough.
Lots of seo naturally are wary of anything Google says.
But, if your positions took a slap over the last few days, it may be time to clean up those links and get busy building new reputation and authority – disavowing the real crap is a potential place to start (although I would 404 / 410 internal pages with VERY spammy link profiles first).
What If I Do Nothing about my old toxic links?
You can also do nothing, and hope Google passes you by, and your rankings do not disappear over the coming months.
I wouldn’t. You SHOULD still be planning on disavowing ANY really risky links from your backlink profile as you are still at risk of manual actions and future algorithm changes.
You should STILL be link building, too, but with a piece of content that deserves links.
Links STILL make the world turn as far as Google is concerned – just don’t be doing what everyone else is doing.
If you are not involved in any low quality link building, Penguin will probably not affect you – there are lots of other things going on at Google to affect your rankings. Google has a habit of hitting us up with one update after another to keep us guessing – whether it is just public relations or not.
Google Penguin Penalties
The original Penguin update in 2012 was supposed to target ‘webspam’, but in fact, nuked a lot of other types of websites, and apparently, a lot of websites that had not been involved in any ‘link-schemes’, for instance.
A LOT of web masters were OUTRAGED, for want of a better word, at what Google did.
There were MANY LOUD complaints on the actual post from from Google about the Penguin Update, (although it’s usually only complaints you hear about as actually telling people you are winning in Google is not usually the best tactic)!
I built a public benefit website that for 8 years has helped thousands and thousands of addicts find addiction treatment for free… We were able to provide the service through the industry paying for featured status for their centers in our directory of treatment centers… Harvard’s addiction hospital links to us, as well as a number of super picky super high quality websites… A few years back I started to notice crap links pointing at the site… Then Panda came and the site lost half it’s traffic… We submitted reinclusion requests, we sent notices for sites to remove links to us and informed Google, and now this! Now our site is nowhere to be found, and competitors (who are no doubt paying link companies to take down certain competitors thanks to the algorithms changes) have won! Well done Google… You took a true public benefit site out of the rankings (one with a database of treatment centers more complete than the U.S. government’s), and replaced it with referral sites (of course, the exact-keyword match .com) and individual treatment centers that charge people in dire need of help (and usually broke) scores of thousands of dollars for treatment, because they can afford to bring down the real good-guys that have been helping people for years by pointing links at them. Well done Google.
One can help feeling that with all these changes in the serps over the last few years, that Google is at war with certain smaller sites (especially affiliates) that try to make a living in Google natural listings and that Google’s main aim is to force more people into using Google Adwords (where Google makes all it’s profit). Google would say different, of course.
Saying that – Google seems to have been a little softer on small businesses this time around, and a little harsher, relatively on black hats – at least with this algorithmic change.
I think we’ll hear more from the losers as the week goes on……