Google Penguin is considered one of the two most significant Google algorithm updates, the other being Google Panda. We published Part I of this series last week explaining that Google Panda updates focus on eliminating websites with poor content from page one of search results. Google Penguin, on the other hand, puts a focus on spam (which we’ll get to in a bit).

As a quick recap, Google algorithm updates happen hundreds of times per year, but there are only a few that really make a difference for Webmasters in terms of best practices and understanding how the web works. These updates are almost always given animal names that are often coined by Search Engine Land. Google generally will confirm if an update has happened, which is important to Webmasters because it could mean their website gained or lost a spot in the SERP rankings. If you find your website dropping, then understand the algorithm update’s focus is going to be what helps you regain your spot and of course your traffic.

Google Penguin Overview

How the Algorithm Updates Work

The main focus of a Penguin update is to catch sites that are trying to spam Google’s search results. Typically websites will do this by buying and selling links, which generally also encompasses trying to build links through link networks that serve no purpose other than to boost a Google ranking. In other words, these websites are not interested in offering valuable information to Google users—they’re simply concerned with rankings.

While Google Penguin is a very well received update due to the fact that it focuses on removing spam, many Webmasters get hit with this update without realizing why. The truth is that you may have links pointing back to your website from spammy websites without even realizing it. This could be due to negative SEO or a misanalysis on the part of the Webmaster. Regardless of the reason, it is important to always look at your link profile and Google your website to make sure that you know all of the links you have out there. If you see something you don’t like, remove it before a Penguin update hits (more on this in the last section).

Past Penguin Updates

There aren’t nearly as many Penguin updates as there have been Panda, but as you can see they are steadily starting to affect more and more queries. These updates also started a year later than Panda, so we’re expecting to see more in the coming years:

  • Penguin 1.0 on April 24, 2012. Impacting ~3.1% of queries.
  • Penguin 1.1 on May 26, 2012. Impacting less than 0.1%.
  • Penguin 1.2 on October 5, 2012. Impacting ~0.3% of queries.
  • Penguin 2.0 on May 22, 2013. Impacting 2.3% of queries.
  • Penguin 2.1 on Oct. 4, 2013. Impacting around 1% of queries.
  • Penguin 3.0 on October 17, 2014. Impacting around 1% of queries.

The information above was gathered from a great resource called the Google Algorithm Change Chart from Moz, which we also mentioned in last weeks article. I highly recommend taking a look at all of the updates we’ve seen from Google, not just Panda and Penguin, to get a feel for the changes Google has made over the years.

How to Recover from Penguin Updates

Once again, you do have the opportunity to work on your link profile and regain your standings in Google, but with Penguin, you have to wait until the next update occurs to see if the changes you made were good enough. Unfortunately, this past update came after nearly one year since the previous update. As discussed above, this can also be tough if you haven’t been paying attention to your link profile and are unaware of the poor links pointing back to your website.

Fortunately, there are quite a few different ways you can take action to remove bad links or remove spam. When trying to remove links, you should follow the steps below in order:

  • Use a tool like Open Site Explorer to see what links are pointing back to your website. Analyze these links for anything that looks suspicious or spammy.
  • Create a list of all of the links you want removed and then reach out to the editors to try and remove the links on your own.
  • Use the Google Disavow Links Tool to upload a file to Google telling them what you want removed. Always do this after trying to remove the links on your own.
  • Start the process over and keep records so that you can stay on top of your link profile in the future. This is essentially called a link audit.

A link or SEO audit should be performed regularly so that a Penguin update doesn’t surprise you. There are many different tools you can use to help you perform a link audit and stay organized, which you can learn more about here.

Do you have any questions about Google Penguin updates? Any personal stories? Feel free to let us know in the comment section below.