Understanding Penguin 1.1: Be Safe from Updates in 3 Easy Steps

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So, first things first! What is the difference between PENGUIN and PENGUIN 1.1?

The Penguin update was a change in a module within the search engine algorithm, while Penguin 1.1 is merely a data refresh within that same module. Matt Cutts clearly explained this in his post way back in 2006.

By now, there will be many people out there talking about PENGUIN 1.1 and web spam and how to avoid it, etc., etc., etc. But do we truly know the core of PENGUIN 1.1 and how to tackle it? PENGUIN 1.1 was primarily associated with data refresh, plus a host of other, as usual, “SECRET SIGNALS.”

This data refresh is probably best known to SEO old-timers as the “Google Dance.” A data refresh basically keeps the input (search query) and output (relevant information) of the algorithm on which the data is processed constant and changes the order of data going in and out. In this case, the data is a particular website page and its surrounding value (links, PR, domain authority, relevancy of content, etc.). If this order of data remains constant and the input and output mechanisms change, then it is termed an algorithmic update.  I hope this makes things simple enough to understand.

Next is the topic of WEBSPAM!

Web spam, according to me, is basically a Molotov cocktail with three prime elements:

  1. Excessive use of Keywords within a particular page, article, or content piece, primarily to show importance among others
  2. Over-excitement in optimization
  3. A linking system that clearly shows that it has been purchased

Although there are many more factors that come into play, the most harm is caused by the interaction of these three primary elements. Once this is ignited, it will definitely alert Google’s systems about possible harm that could be caused. The effect is pretty plain and forthcoming: the immediate devaluation of pages, loss of PR, disintegration of rankings overnight, etc.

Remember, most or probably all of this is recorded within Google’s systems, and when the time comes (via an algorithmic update or a data refresh), Google already has bait to target. This data is then collectively used to eradicate rankings, and thus more PENGUINS and PANDAS are born, the latest being PANDA 3.7.

How do I prevent/rectify this?

  • SMARTER LINKS: At the very core of all SEO activities lies a link environment for each website. It is very evident that that link system will go forward and create a niche web within the WWW that any search engine crawler can associate and relate to a particular website. Considering advances in technology, search engine crawlers are now capable of understanding the semantics (meaning of the text) associated with such links. When this profile of links, semantic associations, and website content are fixed into place, search engines are bound to authenticate between real links and paid links.

The best thing to do here would be to take an approach where a consensus is reached on the amount of necessary paid links and workable real links to achieve optimum results without getting falsely caught.

We have seen many cases of blog links and really good directory links that looked very natural and untraceable as paid links. Over time, these niche blogs start to expand their horizons in all directions, and thus get spammed. This is noticeable because of the amount of outgoing links to a particular page from one blog post or from a particular directory. Google WebmasterTools is the easiest way to locate these now defunct links.

The snapshots below show a single page getting nearly 4,000 links from a single domain.

4000 Links



4000 Links 2



So many incoming links are a direct indication of web spam, however unintentional the motive may have been. The best way to rectify this is to remove the source links as soon as possible. Then, at least Google will know you are looking at improvements, and it will then start to reconsider your website.

When creating links in the future, care has to be taken that thorough Quality Checks are done on each of these link avenues. The quality check should include:

  • Domain Value
  • Type of Link Avenue (whether relevant or irrelevant to business/product/service)
  • Pagination Issues on the Domain (VERY IMPORTANT TO CHECK; one link can easily get copied across multiple pages.)
  • IP Address Check (Is IP address of the link avenue the same or different? With IPv6 coming into effect, this might become much easier to locate and deduce.)
  • Caching and Indexing of the Prospective Link Avenue (needs to be checked)

It is completely fine if you get one or two links from any one domain. At least you can be certain that future penalties will not occur.

  • NATURAL OPTIMIZATION: Google always stresses this aspect to all queries thrown against it. Many SEOs have always believed that natural optimization only means not crossing the borderline of keyword stuffing into Title, METAs, content etc. One main thing that is usually forgotten is the match type of the keyword used, which causes unintentional harm in the long run.

Optimizing a website using an SEO-friendly, naturalistic approach is currently the need of the hour. As an example, take any page on a highly optimized website and count the number of exact keyword matches within the following:

  • Navigation Content
  • Footer Content
  • Alternate Text Within Images
  • Main Content
  • Internal Links with Exact Keyword Matches
  • Title Tag
  • META Tags

Count the number of times the same exact keyword is repeated, and then judge whether optimization is indeed truly natural. This optimization, coupled with a link strategy, will ultimately determine the quality factor of a particular website.

I had a website that had two keywords that brought in about 100 visits/month each. Since PENGUIN, traffic from these search queries has dropped to negligible levels. We used the measures above as a mix of natural optimization and removal of now-irrelevant links, and within two weeks of making these changes, the following results were observed for two of our keywords:

Two Keywords






  • VARIATIONS: Variations of keywords and the vocabulary used in articles and other textual pieces both on and off the page have become even more important with PENGUIN 1.1. This is important to such an extent that even matching keyword anchor text is sometimes considered web spam. The best way to avoid this is to create variations.

How do I create variations?

There is a saying, “Fight fire with fire.” Much in the same manner, Google needs to be tackled using Google itself. For example, if the target keywords are “holiday packages,” “cheap tickets,” and “buy prom dresses,” use Google’s Contextual Targeting Tool within the AdWords interface to obtain many different variations that can be used as anchor text, article link holders, etc.


Once you have selected your required variations, check for Search Volumes and Competition, and get your very own variations straight from Google to use on Google.

By keeping these two conditions in mind at all times, there is a very high chance that you might see an improvement in rankings across different mediums and considerably reduce the probability of being penalized by any update in the future. After all this, the aspects of interlinking variations with creating links will only help if they are complemented with the natural feel of on-page optimization.

To conclude, remember that PENGUINs are very fond of phish, and anything phish-y about your website will attract a colony of PENGUINs. SEO works on the fundamentals of growing webs to attract spiders and users, while lowering phishy-ness so as to repulse PENGUINs.



Learn more about Covonix on Facebook, Twitter: @Convonix and Slideshare. Muzzammil Bambot works as an Asst. Project Manager at Convonix, an internet marketing firm from... Read Full Bio
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  • Nick Stamoulis

    It really comes down to getting rid of the games and tricks you may have been using before. Even if they worked for years, Penguin is really enforcing the Google Webmaster Guidelines which means everyone needs to start playing by the rules.

  • Dustin Heap

    Agree with Nick. If SEOs will chase the user/visitor and not the algo many of these problems would be avoided. Build the site for the user and not the bot/engines. Similarly build links with the user in mind (fish where the fish are!) and not solely for the engines. Doing these two things imo would erase many of the headaches SEOs face today when these algo updates are first introduced or updated/refreshed.

    • Muzzammil Bambot

      We agree with you Dustin!

      SEO needs to adapt rather than fight, its the only way out. The search algorithm will just keep getting better and meaner, if you are able to accurately target users/visitors, you are bound to gain good rankings and traffic.

  • James

    This is helpful. Thanks for the tip.

  • Alex

    Thanks for the useful article!

    I’ve a question from newbie point of view.

    The PR and the Panda or Penguin updates are in a sort or relationship or the goes standalone?

    E.g: ive been hit by panda in the april release getting a drop of 50% of my traffic
    This month the google dance raise by 1 point my PR (now is 2)

    Do you think that this improvement of PR could help panda or penguin algos for a quicker re-evaluation of a website?

    Thanks in advance

    • Muzzammil Bambot

      Hi Alex,

      From a theoretical standpoint PR is purely a function of incoming links vs outgoing links.

      Considering the advances in today’s algorithm, traffic is determined by the quality of the website, the number of users linking pages of your website on their website etc.

      So putting all these factors into place, there are small chances that PANDA or PENGUIN be it, will have at least some effect on PR.

      An improvement in PR should always be taken in a positive direction, but ideally speaking you can be competitive and boast of substantial domain authority once PR crosses 3+

  • Shahbaz Khan

    Agreed with Nick, its time to review the basics and the structure of your website, As Google is very much serious about the On-Page factors.

  • John

    Hello all,

    About your point: “The snapshots below show a single page getting nearly 4,000 links from a single domain.”

    This happens for all links that reside on a blogroll and footer links that just appear on every page a website has.

    Should those be removed because Google sees such a link profile spammy?

    What about the web designers links that reside on most websites footer areas?

    These links appear on every page of a website that has been designed but the designers sites have excellent authority stats and rankings.

    Isn’t that considered spam too?

    Thank you so much in advance for your helping hand 🙂


    • Muzzammil Bambot

      Hi John,

      About your point of links getting copied site wide, Google and many other search engine crawlers are smart enough to understand the niche you work in and thus will consider a web designers links legit.

      As far as blog rolls and footer links goes, it matters as to from where these link are originating from. If the web spam team @ Google is/has considering/considered a de-valuation of blog networks or any other paid link network and your originating link happens to be on one of them, then yes it is definitely better to remove those links.


  • RPM

    Hi Guys,

    Please bare with me, as I pretty much and just learning about a lot of these things; doing a lot of research for the company that I currently work for, and had started to notice that the other companies Website had increased in rank at (what seemed to me…) an unusually high pace, and keeps going up! I’ve also recently learned–this has all been a huge crash course for me!–that most of this websites functionality/keywords/anchor text, etc. is all pretty much juice that it is stealing from our website, they’ve taken every word from the domain name, header text, and have used it to look and function very much like our website, so much so that it seems like overnight, they’re suddenly suggested to other users on Google as the site that is “similar” to ours, and in top rankings with us!! both websites are In the same areas on business, travel/wedding, etc. So my boss didn’t have much competition in this particular area of interest–it was so easy for them to pay for a Sh7t load of links, and come right up to a site that has been dominating in google ranking for well over 10 years… I also discovered that they’ve traced all of the main sources of our “organic” links that point to our domain–they’ve planted their own reviews and links in almost every spot that we’re mentioned in, now this is HEAVY advertising that their working with!

    Now, I pretty much know that they can surpass us by much more, because they’re run a very low quality website (it’s like an AD swamp, with links floating around); my main problem is that I believe (almost pretty damn sure, actually) that they’ve some how been “duplicating” our content – the specific anchor text that has been yielding high rankings for our website has been showing up in Google (at first I noticed In Bing and Yahoo!) exactly how it should look for us, BUT, the site that this content is now showing up for is on a Tumblr photo blog (which we aren’t on!!), once you click the link it brings you to the tumblr blog’s profile where you then see (as I suspected all along) the website that has been using spam tactics to “gain in” on the rankings. I’ve managed to find these duplicate headers 4-5 times, and they’re all on a completely different tumblr profiles that falsely display our keywords and products, yet have some sort of tie to the other companies domain(s)! Ok so I’ve managed to explain all of that, kind of, phew… Could any of you please give me some pointers/tips as to what can be done? Can we notify Google of our content being duplicated, without (further) hurting our own natural positioning on their engine — they’re leeching off of us!! Also, since they’re considered to be so “similar” to our site, is it possible that they’re tying themselves to us way more than we realize?

    Thanks to anyone who can give me some advice on how to go about dealing with this, I would really, really appreciate anything!! By the way, I haven’t mentioned the name of our actual website (or the spamming machine), just to be safe; If there is anything that I am missing, please just let me know…



  • Gwiz Web Design

    What I think is annoying and puzzling is the number of websites still ranking in the top three slots despite them having extremely dubious links. I’m talking links from PR6 websites that have no relevance whatsoever to the subject matter. One in particular sticks in mind ( I won’t disclose any URL info here) but it was for a Window Blinds company. They had several high PR links from a well known photo based news site. Further investigation shown that they had left comments on articles about starvation around the world etc and included the sentence “the west is blind to this problem” and the word “blind” was a back link to their website. They had done this on many posts across the site. In addition they had hundreds of links from badly spun articles that had been scattered around indian websites of little relevance and yet they still to this day rank in the top three in the UK. Puzzling?