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All Penguin, All the Time

Instead of sporadic updates, Google’s Penguin algorithm will now update on a near-continuous basis, according to Search Engine Land. That’s a major change from past practice and it means that Penguin’s impact on search results may be harder to notice and evaluate.


The information was given to Search Engine Land earlier this month and the change seems to affect only the Penguin algorithm; no other Google search-ranking algorithm was mentioned.

Penguin is the game-changing update that Google first released in 2012. As we’ve written about in detail, Penguin was designed to evaluate the quality of links leading to a given website in order to more accurately determine its value and thus ranking in the search results. Since many SEO strategies at that time relied on low quality links, the business world was quite shaken up by the change.

Today, the difference between a high quality link and a low quality one is pretty clear. Low quality links usually fall into one of several categories:

  1. Paid links. Every site wants backlinks, and it may seem like the easiest way to get them is to simply pay for them. Unfortunately, Penguin penalizes paid backlinks because Google wants links to be based on relevance, not budget. Buying links from other sites is no longer effective.
  2. Link farms. Some websites exist solely so that website owners and SEO companies can seed them with backlinks. These are known as link exchange networks or link farms. Sometimes they host thousands of low-quality articles with the backlinks in them, other times they are more skin and bones affairs. Either way, Google considers them garbage (as seen in Poland recently).
  3. Manipulative/overoptimized content. Backlinks don’t just look suspicious if they’re paid or farmed out. Google also looks at the overall link profile and the most common anchor text. As our guide to unnatural linking points out, most link anchor text should just be your company name or phrases like “click here.” If most of it is optimized for keywords, it looks unnatural and manipulative to Google.

Although these broad categories are well understood, the way Google does the calculus and which exact links pass the test changes from time to time. Specifically, Google tends to find newer and better ways to identify unnatural links, so that sites that once squeaked by get penalized in new Penguin updates.

Previously, all these updates were rolled out slowly. Google would apply its new algorithm changes to the data offline, then launch the new data in one big push, causing dramatic but infrequent shifts in the SERPs. Penguin updates were like seasonal storms, and businesses who sailed through them could enjoy a few months of calm seas before the next one.

Now, Google seems to be saying it will make all new adjustments to the live, online data itself, essentially changing the SERPs as often as every few days. The changes will likely be less intense, but more frequent, replacing the storm cycle with an everyday drizzle.

That could have both benefits and challenges to individual businesses:

  • Penalties could be removed faster in response to disavow requests, as Google doesn’t need to wait for the next big update, though this hasn’t been confirmed.
  • Businesses need to monitor their search ranking more closely. Ranking could change from day to day or week to week.
  • As Penguin is now moving faster, it’s more important than ever to run an audit on your website and get rid of any low quality links.

The continuous updates seem to already be in progress. Since 2012, Search Engine Land has tracked ten major changes to Penguin, three of which are from this month. The impact of the frequent, incremental changes will be hard to evaluate, but the importance of valuable content and a clean link profile remain unchanged.

If you want to keep ahead of the new super-Penguin, EverSpark offers a complete technical audit of your website. This audit takes about six hours and identifies dozens of factors affecting your SEO, including any unnatural links or Google penalties. Contact us for a free consultation today.