What is Google Penguin Update?

Google Penguin was released on the 24th of April 2012. Following on the heels of Panda, the Penguin update was announced by Google as a new effort to reward high-quality websites and diminish the search engine results page presence of websites that engaged in manipulative link schemes and keyword stuffing.

The initial rollout of Penguin impacted 3.1% of English language search engine queries between 2012 and 2016. The filter went through 10 documented updates evolving over time and influencing the SEO community’s understanding of the problematic practices Penguin sought to address. As of early 2017, Penguin is now part of Google’s core algorithm.

How does Google Penguin impact SEO?

Penguin targeted two specific practices. The first is link schemes, which is basically the acquisition or purchase of backlinks from low-quality or unrelated websites, creating an artificial picture of popularity and relevance in an attempt to manipulate Google and give the site higher rankings. For example, an insurance company in London could fill the internet forums with spam comments linking to itself as the best insurance company in London. 

Falsely inflating its appearance or relevance with these unnatural links. Or the same company might pay to have links reading, “Best insurance company in London”, appear on unrelated third party articles about dog grooming, content that has no relation to the topic whatsoever.

The second thing Penguin addressed was keyword stuffing, which is populating a webpage with a large number of keywords and constantly repeating that keyword in their content in an attempt to manipulate the rankings for that webpage. 

For example, if you own an insurance company in London, what people used to do back in the day was literally put the keyword on the page a hundred times, so insurance company, London, insurance company, London. 

As a result, the content never read naturally at all. However, the webpage ended up ranking really highly as Google thought this page was the most relevant to this keyword, as this website mentioned that keyword the most times.

Target Areas of Penguin

Penguin appears to focus on a more limited set of link types. These are:

Article directories 

From the very first release of Penguin, Google targeted sites that obtained links from article directories. While these links may not always reflect manipulative intent by the publisher, Google found that people who leveraged article directories tended to operate lower-quality sites.

Cheap directories 

These were also targeted in the very first release of Penguin. There are a few directories that are genuinely high quality, such as the Yahoo! Directory, DMOZ, Business.com, Best of the Web, and perhaps a few others specific to your industry vertical. Stay away from the rest.

Excessive rich anchor text 

Excessive use of rich anchor text was also a part of the initial release of Penguin. Specifically, Penguin targeted too many instances of the same anchor text pointing to any of the URLs on your site. Google does not expect, or want, all links to say, “click here,” but it sees it as a signal of spammy behavior when the exact same keyword-rich anchor text is used repeatedly.

Low-relevance international links 

While it is not confirmed that this target area is a part of any Penguin release, anecdotal evidence suggests it might be. Consider any links from countries where you don’t sell your products or services as a potential problem unless they come from truly high-quality sites.

Comment spam 

Excessively implementing links in comments on other people’s blog posts and forums is also a problem for Penguin.

How to recover from the Google Penguin penalty?

The first step on the road to recovery from a Penguin hit is to realize that Penguin releases are rare. As they happen roughly twice per year, you don’t want to get cute and try to save some of your questionable links. 

Be aggressive and clean up every possible problem. Certainly, address the types of links listed in “Target Areas of Penguin”, but you should also seriously consider dealing with all of the links with problems.

Even though there is still disagreement about spam sites’ ability to lower your quality rating, it is possible. You can disavow these links by using Google’s disavow tool so you do not incur any penalties.

Do not file a reconsideration request, as it is a waste of time. In fact, you can’t file one unless you have a manual penalty on your site. Google does not have the mechanisms in place to adjust how the Penguin algorithm impacts you. 

After you have addressed the bad links to your site, you must wait. Once the next Penguin release arrives, you will know whether you have done enough. If you are not successful in recovering during that release, you have no choice but to figure out which links you failed to clean up and try again for the next release.

The following is a brief summary of how to avoid a Google Penguin update penalty:

  • Delete any backlinks you have bought or otherwise obtained illicitly
  • Create high-quality content and distribute it to attract the desired backlinks
  • Monitor your backlink profile regularly to identify undesirable links
  • Protect your site’s reputation by disavowing poor-quality links

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