Although Google hasn’t officially confirmed anything yet, many SEOs and webmasters have reported some serious changes in the SERPs today – too much movement to be dismissed as day-to-day fluctuations. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for most SEOs, since just last month, Google’s John Mueller said that we can expect to see Penguin 3.0 roll out before the end of the year. Although it’s been over a year since the last Penguin update, Google has refined the algorithm and expects to refresh Penguin more regularly. This is great news for sites trying to recover, since most Penguin victims needed to wait a year or more to restore their search engine rankings.
Hope for the Best and Prepare for the Worst
It’s important to remember that this is not just another refresh – this is a major update that will most likely impact a high percentage of search queries (please see update below). Google has incorporated additional signals, so sites with spammy links that were fortunate enough to slip under the radar in previous updates, may not be so lucky this time around. I would recommend keeping a close eye on your backlink profile and either manually remove or disavow any suspicious links that look like they might harm your rankings. Also keep in mind that competing sites that were hit by previous Penguin updates may regain their rankings, which could potentially lower your search visibility. The gains and losses aren’t necessarily a direct result of your site.
Beware of Negative SEO
Also keep in mind that updates like Penguin have also made sites more vulnerable to negative SEO practices. Google even changed their stance on the efficacy negative SEO. Back in 2003, Google changed a page on their site from saying “there is nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking” to there is ALMOST nothing a competitor can do to harm your rankings.” Keep in mind; this was in 2003, when spammy link tactics actually helped improve rankings. Nearly a decade before Penguin was initially rolled out. Whether or not negative SEO is a real threat has been heavily debated over the years. Although plenty of people claim that it’s possible to harm someone’s rankings by sending a ton of spammy, low quality backlinks to their site, we still haven’t seen any real evidence that it actually works. However, given the competitive nature of SEO and online marketing, it’s something to look out for.
A Brief History of the Penguin Update
The Penguin update was first introduced in April of 2012. Penguin targeted site that were using manipulative linking tactics to artificially boost search engine rankings.
Here is a history of confirmed Penguin updates and the estimated impact they had on English search queries:
- Major – Penguin 1.0 released April 24, 2012, impacted approx. 3.1% of search queries
- Minor – May 26, 2012, impacted approx. 0.1% of search queries
- Minor – October 5, 2012 impacted approx. 0.3% of search queries
- Major – Penguin 2.0 released May 22, 2013 impacted approx. 2.3% of search queries
- Major – Penguin 2.1 released Oct. 4, 2013 impacted approx. 1% of search queries
**UPDATE: On Tuesday, October 21, Google’s Pierre Far confirmed that the changes we noticed were in fact due to Penguin. However, Far indicates that this was only a refresh – not the update many of us were waiting for. Far also noted that this refresh impacted an estimated 1 percent of search queries and since it’s a worldwide rollout, it could take several weeks to fully roll out.
Image Credit: Flickr User kbear65