What You Need to Know About Google's Penguin 3.0

The latest iteration of Penguin is no earthquake, unless you've been taking shortcuts to build traffic to your site.

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By Pratik Dholakiya


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Every time Google updates its algorithms, there's always a huge buzz in the internet marketing world accompanying it. This last weekend was no different.

In case you missed the big news, Google just rolled out Penguin 3.0, the latest update to its Penguin algorithm. As always, it left SEOs and webmasters scurrying to figure out if their rankings had taken a dive.

Related: How to Recover from a Google Penguin Penalty

If you haven't seen any drastic changes yet, you might need to wait a bit longer. Google's Pierre Far has said that the rollout will be taking place over the next few weeks globally.

The important question, though, isn't when it's going to roll out, but how it might affect your website. Let's have a look at what Penguin is and how it might affect you.

What is Penguin

Google first launched Penguin back in April, 2012. They introduced the algorithm to fight webspam in search results.

The primary function of Penguin is to crack down on sites using spammy or black hat techniques to game the system, like paying for links or keyword stuffing. The algorithm penalizes any practices that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

A whopping ~3.1 percent of all queries were affected when Penguin 1.0 first came rolled out. When you consider the number of search queries Google receives on any given day, that's a huge number.

A year later, in May, 2013, Google released the next generation of the algorithm, Penguin 2.0. They added new signals to this update to combat some of the black hat techniques they hadn't caught in the earlier one. This time, it affected 2.3 percent of all queries.

Now, another year later, we have Penguin 3.0. Many people expected that, because of the long delay, Google would add more new signals to the algorithm. However, from what Far has said, it seems to be only a data refresh. In fact, Penguin 3.0 will affect around 1 percent of all English queries. It's still a big number, but not as big as one would expect after such a long wait.

Related: 3 Ways to Stop Losing Traffic from Google's Penguin Update

The data refresh

The most awaited change is the data refresh that comes with every Penguin update. A Penguin update is more like a spike than an ongoing change. So if the update finds that you've been using black-hat SEO techniques and de-ranks it, you'll have to wait till the next update or refresh to be re-evaluated.

The last refresh came in October 2013, with what was dubbed Penguin 2.1, and it affected roughly 1 percent of all queries. That's millions of pages getting removed from search rankings, potentially crippling the businesses behind them.

Those businesses have been waiting an entire year for this new data refresh. If they've cleaned up their websites, Penguin 3.0 will re-evaluate them and, hopefully, give them a lift in rankings.

If you are one of these businesses, you might see a lift in rankings. You won't see it immediately. This will happen gradually, over time. Keep checking your rankings and search traffic. In a few weeks, you might notice a rise.

However, if you only very recently cleaned up your site, or you still haven't done so, you won't benefit from the data refresh. In fact, if you're still in violation of Google's Guidelines, you'll see your rankings plummet. The thing about Google updates is that punishment can be severe and fast.

The usual suspects

Even though Google hasn't added any new signals to the Penguin update, it's still worth knowing what to look out for so that you stay safe. Here are some general practices that you absolutely have to stay away from:

1. Paid links. Google has been fighting paid links ever since the beginning. Spending money to get other sites to link back to you will quickly get your site removed from search results.

2. Blog networks. Matt Cutts has been extremely harsh on blog networks and over the last few months he's been taking down some big ones like PostJoint. The practice of paying these networks to find "guest blogging' opportunities is almost as good as paying for the link itself.

3. Over-optimized anchors. There was a time when it was considered good practice to match links to keywords. However, it has slowly declined, first to insignificant, and now to bad practice. Simply put, too many occurrences of the same anchor text on your website just looks really spammy. Imagine how bad this blog post would look if every mention of Penguin 3.0 was a link. Google's algorithm knows that.

4. Low-quality backlinks. Just like a back link from a high-quality site is like an up vote, a back link from a low-quality site is a down vote. If spammy sites are linking to you, it signals to Google that your site might be spammy, too.

Use a tool like Moz, Majestic SEO or ahrefs to find out if there are any spammy sites linking to you so that you can remove them.

Related: Penguin 2.0: What to Expect From Google's Next Search Update

How to stay Penguin-proof

Google's main aim with their search engine is to provide users with the best possible results. If Google returned spammy sites in the results, people would stop using it.

The best way to stay protected against future algorithms is to stay away from spammy practices. Don't try to game the system by manufacturing links and over-optimizing your site for keywords.

All you have to do is create quality content that people will love to read. These people will then tell their friends on social networks, and word about your site will spread. Soon, other sites will link to your content and you'll organically build links that way.

Don't try to take shortcuts by bribing other people to link to you. If you want to speed things up, do some friendly blogger and influencer outreach. Just mail people to tell them that you have new content. If they like it, they'll link to it wherever it is relevant.

With amazing content and a scalable outreach process, you'll get to the top of Google and you'll stay there, regardless of any algorithm updates.

Related: What Google's Panda and Penguin Updates Mean for the Future of SEO

Pratik Dholakiya

Founder of Growfusely

Pratik Dholakiya is the founder of Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content and data-driven SEO.

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