Understanding Penguin’s Ongoing Impact on SEO

No, we’re not talking about those cute, flightless birds. Nor are we looking to discuss the famous Batman villain. For digital marketers looking to engage in SEO, Penguin is an integral term that impacts almost all of their decisions. And last summer, it got an upgrade.

You may think that upgrade means Penguin is going away. After all, Google announced that it would be the last update to the long-standing spam reduction machine. But in reality, the opposite is the case.

Google’s Penguin Algorithm

The world’s leading search engine has had a history of giving its algorithms unique names. From Penguin to Panda and Pigeon, it’s efforts to optimize user experience have not always been named but the names that do exist usually denote major updates that have a significant impact for brands looking to optimize their websites for Google.

Take the history of Penguin as an example. First rolled out in 2012, it has effectively ended a formerly common practice known as ‘keyword stuffing.’ Before the Penguin algorithm, simply including a keyword or phrase over and over again in your website content could improve your search rankings. Now, websites engaging in that practice can be severely penalized.

Since 2012, Google has rolled out multiple updates that seek to keep up with continuous efforts by unethical marketers to ‘game the system’. Each is designed to further impede keyword stuffing and ensure that only actual relevant websites and pages appear in response to search engine optimization keywords. That leads us to the fateful summer of 2016.

Understanding Penguin 4.0

Last September, Google shared the details of its newly-released Penguin 4.0 update on its webmaster blog. According to the search engine,

Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google’s algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed.

Translation: Penguin used to be separate from Google’s core search algorithm. Marketers affected by it would have to wait until the folks at Google decided to update or run it manually. Compare that to the search engine’s core algorithm, which runs almost continuously on every website worldwide. Back to the update:

With this change, Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page. It also means we’re not going to comment on future refreshes.

This update, in other words, marks the final step in Penguin’s journey. By taking it real-time and integrating it into its core search algorithm, Google has enabled marketers to fix their mistakes faster and minimize penalties that resulted from simple mistakes.

The Impact of Penguin on Your SEO Strategy

Make no mistake: you should avoid keyword spamming and stuffing at all costs. If you are trying to rank for a specific keyword or phrase, your goal should be to integrate that phrase as naturally as possible into content that your audience actually wants to read. If you don’t, Google’s Penguin will find you, and your search engine rankings will actually decrease.

What this update marks, though, is a step toward easier rectification of honest mistakes. Keyword stuffing can happen accidentally as much as naturally; without knowing it, you may include a desired key phrase in your content more often than Google likes. If that happens, and your search engine rankings suffer, you now have a chance to set the record straight quickly.

That’s because, as Google explains above, Penguin no longer stands on its own. In the past, if your website was caught, you had to wait for a refresh – which could take significant time – to eliminate the rankings penalties. Now, each time Google crawls your page (which occurs every time you post new content), you have the chance of making sure that you don’t engage in accidental or purposeful black-hat keyword stuffing.

Does That Mean Penguin is Gone?

After the update was released last summer, some marketers made the wrong conclusions. More specifically, they took the last Penguin algorithm update to mean that going forward, the algorithm would no longer impact your search engine optimization. Of course, as the months since have shown, that is far from the case.

For one, the updates may not be over. Last month, the SEO community began experiencing changes in SERP rankings that some believe point to a new version of the old algorithm. That’s despite Google’s continued reassurances as late as January 2017 that the days of numbered Penguin updates are numbered.

How Marketers Should Treat Penguin Going Forward

Ultimately, Penguin is just one of more than 200 ranking factors Google uses to determine the validity, relevance, and quality of your website. But because keyword stuffing can quickly happen accidentally, Penguin has long been a core concern for SEO-focused marketers. The new update ensures that while keyword stuffing remains a no-no, you can rest easier knowing that accidents will no longer be unduly punished.

Backlinks have been another long-time target of Penguin updates. Low-quality and spam links to your site can hurt your rankings, which is why disavowing suspicious backlinks frequently is more important than ever. Especially now that we no longer know if and when the algorithm receives an upgrade, keeping your tactics white hat and ensuring that even accidental violations do not occur is becoming more crucial than ever.

Does your website pass the Penguin test? If not, now may be the time for you to optimize it. Given the chance to see the immediate impact of integrating your keywords more naturally, you have a great opportunity to make a big jump in your search engine optimization. For help in achieving just that, contact us.

Matthew Santos

About Matthew Santos

Matthew is one of our SEO leads at Foxtail. He brings the grit that allowed him to play D1 football to the office every day.

Foxtail Marketing is a digital marketing firm that provides content marketing, digital marketing, and lead generation services for small and mid-market companies.

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