Google Penguin: What it Is and What it Did

The Google Penguin Update, similar to Google’s Panda update last year, was a Google algorithm update with the primary objective of cracking down on those websites that were not playing by Google’s rules. The official date for this role out was April 25, 2012. There has been a great deal of speculation on how Penguin works with other Google signals and what is does.

Google is not sharing the exact specifications of the signals used in Penguin. Distinguished Engineer and Google’s web spam chief, Matt Cutts, said in the announcement, Another step to reward high-quality sites:

“While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.”

Matt Cutts also said, “The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines.”

Basically, the Penguin update focused on practices that Google frowns on. It put stiffer guidelines on website optimization factors and adjusted a number of spam factors which include:

  • Keyword stuffing – The practice of loading a web page with keywords.
  • Cloaking – The practice of presenting different content to search engines than you display to users,
  • Unnatural links – The practice of participating in link schemes with the sole purpose of increasing a site’s search engine ranking. Examples include paid text links and links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods”.
  • Content spinning – The technique of selecting an article, making minor edits by changing a few words and posting it on a blog or website. This is not rewriting. Crafting an article takes time. Spinning an article takes a minimum amount of time.

Sites fell into three groups according to Razvan Gavrilas, Search Engine Watch:

Positive Impact

  • Those who played by Google’s rules and rankings increased.
  • Those who did some shady link building and got away with it.

Negative Impact

  • Those who played by Google rules and got hit … “collateral damage”.
  • Those who did some shady link building.
  • Those who had no idea what link building strategies were used because they outsourced it.
  • Those who were confused by how Google might treat SEO or you might have received bad advice and thought they were playing by Google’s rules … but weren’t.

No Impact

  • Those whose rankings weren’t affected.

How to tell if Google Penguin Affected Your Site

To determine if Google’s Penguin update has affected your site, analyze your site’s organic traffic in Google Analytics. Run a report for organic searches 30 days prior to April 25, 2012. Run a second report for organic searches for 30 days after April 24, 2012. This way, you will be able to compare your site’s actual number of organic searches before and after Google Penguin’s update.

Google’s Ultimate Goal

Google’s ultimate goal is to serve high quality sites in their search results. They want to make the Internet a better place by releasing a number of algorithm updates and tweaks and will reward those who who wear the white hat and do the right things. Matt Cutts said that Panda affects only 3.1% of U.S.-based Google search queries. He also stated:

“The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded.”

For the Google’s best practices to help Google find, crawl, and index your site, see: Webmaster Guidelines

For the full list of Google’s updates, see: Google Algorithm Change History


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Fascinated with the growing potential and power of the Internet, Robin founded R & R Web Design LLC in the Chicago area in 2000. As creative director, she is passionate about helping others reach their Internet objectives through a strategic online presence with results driven custom web design, ethical SEO, and social media marketing.