Ever since April 2012, the word “Penguin” has taken on a completely new meaning for many Internet Marketers and Webmasters. Whilst it was once only a cute black and white bird from Antarctica, or if you’re from the UK, a very tasty chocolate snack (with bad jokes printed on the wrapper), it’s now a highly common phrase or “buzz word” within the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) world. So, what exactly is this strange thing called the “Google Penguin”?
What Is The Google Penguin?
The Google Penguin update was first announced on April 24th 2012 and was implemented to downgrade the search engine rankings of websites whose operators abused their Webmaster Guidelines. Specific techniques that have been influenced by the Google Penguin update include keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes, duplication content, as well as a number of lesser known techniques.
It is estimated that the Google Penguin update affected approximately 3.1% of search queries using the English language. The update has followed on from the major update of 2011 (first introduced in February) called the Google Panda where the reduction of web spam was Google’s main objective.
The Google Penguin update was programmed to penalise websites undertaking black-hat tactics within the SEO marketplace, and to eradicate low-quality websites from the index. Below is a quote from Google Engineer Matt Cutt’s about the subsequent Google Penguin update:
“In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. …We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”
The differentiation between the Google Panda and the Google Penguin update was that Panda was all about spam, whereas the Penguin update is to clean up the middle ground between spam and high-quality websites undertaking black-hat tactics. The Google Penguin update is not a search engine penalty (as first thought) but is an algorithmic change to the way it presents its search results.
The Google Penguin update is a fairly standard revision that was aimed at reducing the web spam within the Google results. There have however been some highly documented areas that the Google Penguin update specifically addressed. They are:
Google have publically stated that the update was aimed at reducing web spam techniques utilized by many SEO’s. So, what have are the actions to take if you have been affected by the Google Penguin update?
The next section will take a look at each of the specific factors individually, and determine the best and most effective approaches to recovering from the Google Penguin update.
One of the major algorithm changes the Google Penguin update made was a penalty for duplicate content, which involves both internal (duplicating the same pages on your own site many times) and external duplication (copying other website content). To recover from the penalty, you must look to carry out the following:
Use a 301 redirect to the original content, or provide canonicalization links to the main content page.
Remove the content from your website as you are violating copyright law.
Keyword stuffing is an outdated and unethical method of search engine optimisation. The general methods of keyword stuffing are the insertion of a large quantity of keywords solely to increase the keyword density of a page i.e. the repetition of keywords. Since the high-profile case study of BMW, this technique has rarely been used by any legitimate website or SEO agency.
Quite frankly, if you are still using this ancient tactic to manipulate search rankings; you deserve to be penalised. In order to recover from the Google Penguin algorithm, you should remove all keywords on your page that have been implemented solely to trick search engines. In the future, you should aim to only write compelling, unique, and high-quality content for your site.
It is widely thought that one of the most affected by the Google Penguin algorithm were websites which abused link-building strategies as part of their general SEO campaign. The majority of sites that were penalised used unnatural link-building schemes that contained a heavy-bias for exact-match anchor text. There have been studies that have suggested that websites with an unusual anchor-text heavy portfolio (above 60% anchor text heavy) have been specifically penalised by Google.
The unnatural link-building used to be a favourite with SEO agencies and website owners, as Google’s previous algorithms weighed heavily in the subject of “anchor text”. Nowadays however, the search engine giant is specifically looking for a natural external link profile in order to rank high in their search engine. The Google Penguin update can be associated with three main types of un-natural linking:
External Link Quality: make sure that there is an even distribution of link quality. The recent Majestic SEO tool now has a “citation” and “trust” flow to highlight the quality of external links.
Anchor Text Variation- this looks into the specific anchor text variation. The unnatural linking patterns here will show a too-heavy biased towards “exact match” anchor text and a mis-aligned brand Vs non-brand term ratio.
Landing Page Variation- in a very similar fashion to “anchor text variation”, there needs to be a natural linking pattern in relation to landing page. For example, in the majority of websites, the home page will receive the highest number of external links. The Google Penguin update has penalised many websites for a too-heavy emphasis on deep-linking (especially coupled with exact match anchor text.
If you’re looking for a tool to measure and analyse your external linking profile, Majestic SEO is probably your best option.
Cloaking is a SEO technique that is aimed at presenting different content to a search engine crawler/ spider that what is presented to the actual website user. This technique can be carried out in a number of different ways to enable content to be optimised for the search engines, but then users will be directed to a page that is irrelevant to what they were looking for. Again, Google within the Penguin update has penalised websites specifically carrying out this activity.
The easiest technique to recover from the Google Penguin update is to remove all black-hat activity such as cloaking on your website.
A practice that is very closely linked to unnatural external backlinks is “link scheme participation”. Link scheme participation is the building of pages and partnerships with websites exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of links, the sources, and the long-term impact that these links may have on your website. As expected, the participation in these link schemes is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, and can negatively affect your site’s rankings- this is especially true since the Google Penguin update was introduced and the recent de-indexing of “blog networks” such as “Buildmyrank”.
Links intended to manipulate PageRank
Links to web spammers or bad neighbourhoods on the web
Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
There have been many reports of a Google Penguin recover from websites that have removed the links from schemes that they were involved in to manipulate the rankings. An example of such a recovery washighlighted on SEOMoz a couple of months ago.
The short answer to this question is “no”. As mentioned previously, the Google Penguin update was an algorithm change rather than a manually issued penalty. Therefore, this update is only one of over 200 factors in Google’s algorithm, and thus a reconsideration request will not improve your search rankings. Only manual penalties issued by Google have the chance for a reconsideration request.