Google Penguin Update

What Is Penguin?

The Penguin algorithm was introduced in 2012 as a way for Google to fight against spam and manipulative links – those links that have been built for the sole purpose of impacting organic search rankings.  Before Google introduced Penguin, “bad” links were essentially just devalued.  However, after the release in 2012, they became deadly for a website’s ranking potential and required a full link cleanup in order to recover.

What Has Changed

Google’s Penguin algorithm – its fight against spam and low quality links – has been updated with some significant changes:

  • Penguin is now part of the core algorithm and runs in real time. Previously, the Penguin algorithm ran on its own and was only updated manually by Google.
  • Penguin is also now more “granular”, meaning that individual pages and/or sections of a website can be impacted, as opposed to the previous version, which impacted the entire site.

In the past, if a website was hit with a Penguin penalty, it was at the mercy of Google to update the Penguin algorithm to recover.  Prior to this latest update, the last update to Penguin was over two years ago–meaning some websites have been waiting over 700 days for their websites to recover from a previous Penguin penalty.  That will no longer be the case, as Penguin will be refreshed every time a webpage is crawled and re-indexed.

Because Penguin is now part of the core algorithm, and because Google needs to crawl and re-index each website’s pages and links before the update takes effect, the impact of this latest update will likely not be fully felt for a while.  Unlike past Penguin updates, which were pushed live all at once, this one will roll out slowly, like the last update to the Panda earlier this year when it, too, became real time and part of the core algorithm.

What Has Not Changed

The Penguin update is an algorithmic change and not in any way related to manual actions that have been placed on websites.  Manual actions are triggered by human reviews of a website and communicated to website owners via Google Search Console.  These actions are not impacted by the new Penguin update and still need to be dealt with through link cleanup and reconsideration requests.  With Penguin part of the core algorithm now,  messages will not be sent to website owners with future Penguin penalties via Google Search Console.

Who is Impacted

Any website that was previously hit with Penguin penalties should start to see immediate and steady positive results as their pages are re-crawled and re-indexed by Google.  Previous penalties should no longer impact websites once they are fully re-indexed and all of their inbound links have been re-indexed, as well.  However, even if a website is crawled frequently, it will take time for all of the links pointing to it to be re-crawled and re-evaluted by Google.

Even websites that were not impacted by previous Penguin updates may see shifts in keyword rankings and organic search traffic by competing websites recovering from their own penalties.  In particular, highly competitive industries in which spam is common and rampant, could see shifts in the competitive landscape in the coming weeks with this update.

What You Need to Do

If you were previously impacted by Penguin and have cleaned up your link profile, closely monitor your website’s search performance over the next few weeks to determine which pages/sections have recovered, and which have not, to determine if any further link cleanup is necessary. If Catalyst manages your SEO campaign, your delivery team will monitor this for you and report on its findings during your normal monthly reporting.

If you do not see any significant improvements, and know you were previously impacted by Penguin, a full link audit and cleanup may be necessary. Catalyst’s SEO delivery teams are fully equipped to complete such audits if you do not have anyone managing your SEO efforts today.

Google’s Disavow Tool should still be used for any links that are impacting the search performance of your website, in the event you are unable to completely remove the links.
If you were not previously impacted by Penguin, you should still closely monitor the competitive landscape for the terms you are currently targeting with your SEO campaign for any shifts or changes. If Catalyst currently manages your SEO campaign, your delivery team is already doing this and will report on any changes with your normal monthly reporting.

Point of View

This latest change from Google is a welcome and long-awaited improvement to the core algorithm. Brands that build quality links through sound SEO best practices and content development should continue to build great content as part of their link building efforts and see great results.

Now that Penguin operates in real-time, recovering from penalties from poor links will be quicker and easier. Unfortunately, the real-time aspect of Penguin will also make it more difficult to know for certain if drops in rankings and traffic are related to poor links. In the past, Google publicized Penguin updates, making immediate drop offs in rankings and traffic much easier to diagnose.

Continual monitoring of the links your website generates and full scale regular link audits remain vital to all organic search campaigns. All standard Catalyst SEO campaigns include yearly link audits that leverage various third-party link diagnostic tools to identify links that could pose a risk to your search rankings.

If you have not completed a link audit recently, we highly recommend doing so now to prevent any potential losses in organic search traffic and/or visibility.

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