Google Penguin was a codename for a Google algorithm update that was first announced on April 24, 2012. The update was aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines by using now declared Grey Hat SEM techniques involved in increasing artificially the ranking of a webpage by manipulating the number of links pointing to the page.
Such tactics are commonly described as link schemes. According to Google's John Mueller, as of 2013, Google announced all updates to the Penguin filter to the public.
Confirmed Penguin updates
- Penguin 1 on April 24, 2012 (impacting around 3.1% of queries)
- Penguin 2 on May 26, 2012 (impacting less than 0.1%)
- Penguin 3 on October 5, 2012 (impacting around 0.3% of queries)
- Penguin 4 (also known as Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013 (impacting 2.3% of queries)
- Penguin 5 (also known as Penguin 2.1) on October 4, 2013 (impacting around 1% of queries)
- Penguin 6 (also known as Penguin 3.0) on October 17, 2014 (impacting less than 1% English queries). On December 1, 2014 Google confirmed that the update was still rolling out with webmasters continuing to report significant fluctuations.
- Penguin 7 (also known as Penguin 4.0) on September 23, 2016
Triggers for Penguin
Penguin targeted two specific practices:
Link schemes - The development, 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 into bestowing high rankings. For example, an insurance company in Tampa could fill Internet forums with spam comments linking to itself as “best insurance company in Tampa”, falsely inflating its appearance of relevance with these unnatural links. Or, the same company might pay to have links reading “best insurance company in Tampa” appear on an unrelated third-party article about dog grooming; content that has no relationship to the topic.
Keyword stuffing - Populating a webpage with large numbers of keywords or repetitions of keywords in an attempt to manipulate rank via the appearance of relevance to specific search phrases.
Google Penguin Recovery
The disavow tool has been an asset to SEO practitioners, and this hasn’t changed even now that Penguin exists as part of the core algorithm.
As you would expect, there have been studies and theories published that disavowing links doesn’t, in fact, do anything to help with link-based algorithmic downgrades and manual actions, but this has theory has been shot down by Google representatives publicly.
That being said, Google recommends that the disavow tool should only be used as a last resort when dealing with link spam, as disavowing a link is a lot easier (and a quicker process in terms of its effect) than submitting reconsideration requests for good links.
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