Last week, Google rolled out the third update to its Penguin algorithm. The algorithm has started to affect web queries but will require several weeks to run. As we’ve discussed before, Penguin targets spam websites that attempt to gain relevance by buying backlinks. By demoting websites that are using these discouraged tactics, Google aims to level the playing field and ensure that quality content is more discoverable in SERPs. Penguin was last updated over a year ago. As Penguin rolls out, let’s explore some of its potential impacts.
Penguin 3.0 – What it Will and Won’t Accomplish
Penguin specifically checks external web links. If web sites are found to be linking to relevant, authoritative websites, they receive a boost in SERPs. If websites are using poor link practices, and building links chiefly to increase the search engine rankings of another site, the guilty website will see a decline in search engine rankings. Along with it, the website will see a decrease in organic web traffic and searches.
Those who expected 3.0 to bring a complete refresh of the Penguin algorithm will be disappointed to learn that it is only being rerun. There are no new signals which means that the algorithm will only catch new websites that are using tactics known to be discouraged by Google. Websites that were using these tactics and have altered their link profiles will have any SERP penalties removed as the algorithm is re-run. The weeks’-long time frame for this rollout makes it clear that Google needs to reconfigure the algorithm to make it faster to run.
A major update to Penguin would alter the algorithm in a way that more spammy sites would be targeted. Critics feel that, by simply rerunning the algorithm without any changes, Google is really missing an opportunity to improve the web user experience and increase the authority and relevance of websites.
All told, an estimated 1 percent of web searches will be affected by Penguin 3.0. Twitter chatter seems to confirm this, as industry heads from Moz and other players have reported that they are not seeing much of an effect across SEO reporting stations. They speculate that only a small percentage of sites will feel Penguin 3.0, but that the impact can be major.
How to Tell if Your Website Was Affected
Naturally, website administrators will want to determine whether their site was affected by the Penguin rollout. It is important to note that the algorithm is still running, so changes may not be felt immediately.
Generally speaking, if websites notice a sharp decline in organic search traffic since last week, and continue to see less traffic over the next couple of weeks, there’s a good chance that the site was penalized by Penguin. On the other hand, if the site is receiving more traffic than in the recent past, it could have recovered from a previous penalty, or simply be performing better if competitors were penalized for employing spammy tactics. This could be a major boon for sites who play “by the rules” and have been overshadowed by spammy competitors.
The bottom line for website developers is simple: Spammy tactics may pay off in the short run, but Google will find out and penalize web traffic accordingly. Rebuilding a site that was penalized by the Penguin 3.0 algorithm will take time, but starting now is the best way to fix the site before the algorithm runs again.