On Friday, October 4, 2013, Google released the fifth edition of its Penguin update. If this latest version of Google’s web spam hunting algorithm has you concerned, you’re not alone.
What is Google Penguin?
Penguin’s job, in the most basic sense, is to devalue manipulative links. It does this to penalize websites that use one or more of the following tactics that Google has stated are against the Webmaster Guidelines.
Examples of Penguin bait include:
- paid backlinks
- low quality backlinks (typically generated using automated tools)
- large numbers of links with optimized anchor text
- excessive link exchanges
- text advertisements that pass PageRank
- other types of links listed on the link schemes webpage
Over time, since the initial launch of the Penguin algorithm in April 2012, Penguin has been improved. This is the fifth update, which Google calls Penguin 2.1. This is a minor release after the major Penguin 2.0 update that launched in May 2013.
A Summary of Penguin Releases
- Penguin 1.0: April 24, 2012 (impacted around 3.1% of queries)
- Penguin 1.2: May 26, 2012 (impacted less than 0.1%)
- Penguin 1.3: Oct. 5, 2012 (impacted around 0.3% of queries)
- Penguin 2.0: May 22, 2013 (impacted 2.3% of queries)
- Penguin 2.1: Oct. 4, 2013 (impacted around 1% of queries)
A Brief Overview of Penguin 2.0
Google said Penguin 2.0 was a “next-generation change” in its Penguin algorithm. At the time, Penguin 2.0 was said to affect roughly 2.3% of web queries, which had the biggest impact since the initial Penguin hit on April 24, 2012.
After releasing Penguin 2.0, Matt Cutts, head of the Google web spam team stated, “So this one [2.0] is a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0, and we expect it to go a little bit deeper, and have a little bit more of an impact than the original version of Penguin.”
From Penguin 1.0 to Penguin 2.0, the main change was the depth of the algorithm. Whereas Penguin 1.0 only looked at homepages of offending sites, Penguin 2.0 introduced the ability to crawl internal pages and identify manipulative links and on-page spam.
After announcing Google Penguin 2.1 on Friday, Matt Cutts stated that the new version of Penguin should affect roughly 1% of searches “to a noticeable degree”. While the latest release may not have as big of an effect as the 2.0 release, it still has a significantly larger impact than the previous minor refreshes.
So, what changed? While it’s still too early to tell definitively what changed, Glenn Gabe has posted an analysis that details some of his findings. My conclusion from reading his article is that Penguin 2.1 still targets all the same types of links that previous iterations have targeted.
The likely difference between Penguin 2.0 and Penguin 2.1 is simply a deeper level of analysis; the ability to crawl and analyze even deeper-level pages to identify spam activities happening at a deeper page-level. Glenn Gabe’s recommendations for recovery remain unchanged since Penguin 1.0, as do mine.
How Does Google Hummingbird Fit In?
Many folks who follow Google know they recently released Google Hummingbird. Does Hummingbird replace Google’s Penguin and Panda? The short answer is no.
Hummingbird replaced Google’s old search engine algorithm. The new Hummingbird is designed to improve Google’s search algorithm so it can handle more complex queries in a conversational manner (think voice requests from a mobile device). Google Penguin is being incorporated as part of Hummingbird but does not replace it. Google Penguin will continue to be updated to augment Hummingbird as they enhance the algorithm.
Has My Website Been Hit by Penguin 2.1?
I recommend that you monitor your organic search engine traffic for at least two weeks after a Penguin update. If your traffic dramatically drops during this time, it’s likely due to a Penguin update. I recommend Google Analytics for monitoring your organic search engine traffic.
Also, be sure to check your Google Webmaster Tools notifications to see if you have any manual penalties applied to your website.
How to Recover from Penguin 2.1
Step 1) Identify the offending backlinks
If you think your website has been hit by Penguin, the first step is to identify inbound links which may have been targeted by Penguin. I wrote an article here on how to do that, but this process is for advanced webmasters only, and is quite time-consuming.
If you’d rather have a professional audit your inbound link profile and identify bad inbound links for you, look into a professional link profile audit.
Step 2) Remove as many of the offending links as possible
Once these bad inbound links have been identified, you will then need to remove as many of them as possible. If you have access to any of the sites on which they reside, log in and remove them.
For most of the links, you’ll likely need to contact each website owner and ask them to remove the links from their sites. I’ve found that a typical success rate is between 5-20% for link removal requests. Google is looking to see that you’ve made an effort to remove as many links as you can, so this step is necessary.
Step 3) Disavow the remaining links
After you’ve removed as many bad links as possible, disavow the remaining ones using Google’s disavow tool. Here’s an overview on how to do that.
Step 4) File a reconsideration request
If you have a manual penalty, it should show up in your Google Webmaster Tools account. In this case, a reconsideration request will be necessary. However, if you have only an algorithmic penalty, then this step won’t help you.
Step 5) Execute a quality, strategic content marketing campaign
Some website owners, after being hit by Google Penguin and losing most (if not all) of their website traffic, tend to shy away from link building campaigns. Once you start removing large numbers of links, Google is going to notice. The trick is not to abandon link building; inbound links are still the most important piece of the ranking algorithm. Instead, you must replace them with high-quality, authoritative links that you earn.
One of the best ways to build these backlinks is through guest blogging. I’ve written an in-depth guide on how to execute a guest blogging campaign here: “The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.”
In addition to building links through guest blogging, you’re going to need a quality on-site content strategy. Your goal should be to fulfill the 3 Pillars of SEO: Content, Links and Social Media.
Social media sends a great sign to Google that your business and website is legitimate. Becoming active on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google plus, LinkedIn, and others will show Google that your website has a broad audience.
Having your website penalized by Google’s Penguin algorithm can devastating. It can take your website’s traffic and revenue and make it disappear overnight. One thing for certain is that Google will continue updating its Penguin algorithm as it attempts to identify and remove webspam.
The sites that have the right types of inbound links will win out in the long run, while avoiding penalization. Make sure you have a long-term plan that includes periodically auditing your links along with executing a high-quality content marketing strategy to build relevant links which will support your website in the rankings. Most importantly, stay away from low-quality link building tactics that do nothing more than create spam.