Google’s Penguin updates have been the harbingers of doom for SEO and Internet marketers since 2012, when link penalties for sites were as unfamiliar as a foreign language that we all had to learn quickly — navigational vs. transactional anchor text, unnatural backlink profiles, link pruning and disavow files. Now considered part of the modern SEO lexicon, these are things that weren’t even considered five years ago.
With much derision, a number of different industries became familiar with Penguin, and overnight, due in part to the ferocity by which it was released, and the devastating effect it had on sites that fell into a trap no one knew Google was setting. The post-Penguin cliff in analytics is still something that makes me shiver. But as they say in a court of law, ignorance is no excuse. Of course, if you’ve avoided penalty because your backlink profile is squeaky clean — no small task, mind you — then you may move on to some other article — nothing to see here. But for those whose ears perk and eyes bulge at the faintest whisper of a Penguin update (SEO nerds, I’m talking to you), keep reading.
Penguin Goes Real-Time
At SMX East, Gary Illyes announced Google would release a new Penguin update. This is something the search industry has been expecting since July, when it was “months” away, but it’s the end of November and no Penguin yet. The fact that we don’t have Penguin 3.0 yet is not nearly as significant as the reported changes Google is making to the algorithm itself. The next version of Penguin will be real-time. This is huge news for a few different reasons:
- No Way Out – Once Google penalized a site by virtue of the Penguin algorithm, there was no coming back from it until the next update. This sounds good and fine until many of us found out the hard way that Google only updated its Penguin algorithm once a year. Seriously, they were few and far between, as is evidenced here. Note the last two updates were separated by a year. If a site was penalized, by the time another update was released, the damage had already been done.
- No More Waiting – With the addition of real-time capabilities, Google should hypothetically ease a Penguin penalty on a site as it sloughs off bad links. The old methods are still valid, tried and true — soliciting sites for manual removal, submitting disavow files, etc. Now, it appears that the algorithm would be more responsive to sites and their administrators taking out the digital garbage.
- No More Hiding – If Google can quickly alleviate a Penguin penalty, then the inverse could also be true. Google may become faster at assessing penalties in real-time to sites that violate quality guidelines. Think about it: as soon as nefarious links are discovered by the algorithm, Google could potentially penalize. This could be either a blessing or a curse, depending on what set of rules you do SEO by (hopefully, it’s the set of rules that keep you penalty-free). Either way, the new Penguin provides a large disincentive to not break them.
A New Precedent for Other Google Updates?
With this announcement comes the prospect of a huge precedent for the other major penalty algorithm — I’m thinking specifically of Panda. Panda assesses, more than anything else, the quality of content on a site. It’s important to note that Google updates Panda far more often than Penguin (for a complete update history see Moz’s algorithm change timeline), but I suspect that’s because creating quality content has replaced link building as being the most ubiquitous thing in contemporary SEO. Nevertheless, it’s plausible to assume that if this is the direction Google has taken Penguin, Panda may follow — which means Google will be able to assess content quality as soon as it’s indexed.
Regardless if Penguin, or other animal-named updates go real time, Google’s motives do not change — to deliver the most relevant results to each and every person who uses the search engine. In order to ensure SEOs and marketers play by the rules, Google has instituted severe repercussions, including real-time penalization.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of Penguin, there is a process to get rid of it — emphasis on process. This includes link pruning, which involves cataloging all the links in a site’s backlink profile, determining if the links are relevant and of quality, and soliciting other sites to remove bad links. Glamorous, I know, but it has to be done. At the end of all this, submitting a disavow file to Google is critical, especially if a site has a manual penalty.
The speed and efficiency of penalty removal has not changed in a couple years, nor has the process; that is to say it’s been extremely slow up until this point, with little to show for it. However, it seems Google is taking steps to correct that, and for the better.