Looking back to the Penguin Algorithm Update

Google releases changes to its algorithm almost every day. Sometimes these are minor, tiny tweaks which go unnoticed. At other times, updates can really shake up the SERPs (search engine ranking positions). One such update was the Penguin update released in April 2012. Now we know what you’re thinking, this was 7 years ago, why are we talking about it now? Well, Thursday 25th April 2019 marks #WorldPenguinDay so to celebrate, we thought we’d add our own digital spin on the day by taking you on a major #throwback.

What Happened?

Out of the blue and without warning, as is Google’s usual style, the Penguin update was released on April 24, 2012. The aim of the Penguin update was to down-rank sites which had acquired links which were deemed to be manipulative. Such links were usually obtained through link networks. Link quantities played a large part in influencing a websites ranking when crawled and indexed by Google. This often meant that low quality pieces of content appeared high in organic search results, leaving many searchers with unanswered queries and a poor search experience overall.

In a bid to gain more control over the quality of the results returned, Google released the Penguin algorithm update to reduce the effectiveness of spammy inbound link tactics. Instead of rewarding sites with large quantities of backlinks, Google switched to rewarding sites with natural, relevant and authoritative.

What are link networks?

Backlinks are hugely important for rankings. Generally it’s accepted today that the more relevant and trustworthy backlinks a site has, the more trustworthy and relevant the site appears to Google. It’s also accepted that earning true high-quality backlinks can take a lot of time and effort. Before Penguin hit however, and believe us it hit many sites very hard indeed with more than 3 percent of English search results being affected according to Google, many business owners and webmasters were tempted to take shortcuts to gain those all important links in a bid to improve their rankings. Cue the link networks.

Link networks provided business owners and Webmasters with the option to purchase large quantities of artificial links quickly. The link network would generally comprise of a large number of websites which are controlled by one administrator or group. Still on the scene today, the sites often offer little to no value for users and plain and simply, they can look very spammy.

In a nutshell, link networks were used to manipulate the search results but it wasn’t long before Google clocked onto this.

How did the online community respond?

As the update rolled out, many webmasters and business owners started to see damaging decreases in their organic rankings and consequently, their CTR.

Responding to the roll out, they strived to clean up their back link profiles quick time, disavowing any truly damaging backlinks and focusing their efforts on employing a natural link building strategy, putting quality over quantity. Some site owners also opted to change their domain, redirecting their old one to a new one but research shows that the impacts of Penguin can be passed on between domains, causing more problems in the future… Some might compare the scramble to action to the sight of a group of penguins quickly diving into the sea…

It’s important to note, that whilst the disavow tool was used in worst case scenarios, today Google recommends that the disavow tool should only be used a last resort and by experienced users. Links which could look spammy may not be that problematic and today, Google has evolved and developed enough to understand what truly poses as a threat. It’s completely natural to gain some unusual backlinks over time – that’s just the way the big world wide web works! Generally, Google assesses the percentage of quality inbound links compared to spammy links. Logic states that rather than spending hours disavowing individual links, webmasters and site owners should focus their efforts more on earning real high-quality links.

Recovering from the Penguin update

Since 2012, Google has actually released 5 “official” updates to the Penguin algorithm update and there may have been many others which have gone unnoticed. The Penguin update is definitely around to stay as it is now part of Googles core algorithm. With that said, the majority of site owners and webmasters have put black hat techniques well behind them, working instead towards natural growth and success online.

If you are however worried that you may have been hit by the Penguin update or you’ve simply experienced concerning drops in the SERPs, drop us a line today to see how we can help. With an in-house team of SEO gurus, we can provide with expert advice and support when you need it most. Together we can work towards getting your business back on track.