SEO 101 series: Google Penguin

Continuing with my SEO101Hydra series sharing SEO fundamentals as I learn them, this post will concentrate on Penguin, one of Google’s topic classifier algorithms. I’ll be discussing what Penguin is, its history and what to watch out for (including being Penguin slapped).

What is Penguin?

The Penguin algorithm is Google’s most advanced attempt at understanding sites trying to manipulate search results through links, which they deem to be unnatural.

Google Penguin

Penguin looks for sites that appear to be spamming Google’s search results, but are somehow still ranking well. It is designed to filter out the following type of links:

  • Paid links – buying or selling a link which passes page rank
  • Reciprocal links – 2 websites mutually linking to each other to increase rankings
  • Links from poor quality websites
  • Keyword rich links – links containing your target keywords within the link text
  • Links where anchor text is overly optimised –  such as repetition

Penguin, much like Panda, has been described as a ‘document classifier’ which means it periodically runs to score each page in Googles index. This score is then used as part of their overall algorithm to affect site rankings in search results.

Having a good link profile is an important ranking factor within Google however the above techniques can be frowned upon and can lead to being “Penguin slapped”, or in other words, a reduction in rankings.


Penguin was released on February 23, 2011. Since then the following updates have occurred:

  • 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 (AKA Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013 (impacting 2.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 5 (AKA Penguin 2.1) on October 4, 2013 (impacting around 1% of queries)

Bearing in mind there are an estimated 3.5bn searches per day in Google’s search engine, these percentages seem relatively small, but effect a very large number of queries!

Is Penguin solely about Links?

Links are a fundamental factor of the Penguin algorithm, but are not the be all and end all. Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, tweeted that links are “a primary area to monitor” when a site has been affected by the Penguin algorithm. However it is believed that Penguin also looks at where these links appear and the content surrounding it. Keyword stuffing (excessively repeating of keywords, normally in a block of text) and thin content (a webpage with very little or irrelevant content) as well as a range of webspam issues are also thought to be part of the Penguin algorithm. Webspam issues are believed to include:

  • Automatically generated contentContent that’s been generated programmatically
  • CloakingContent which is presented differently to a search engine spider than the users browser – this could be through a doorway page or a sneaky redirect
  • Hidden text or linksFor example hiding text or links in white so users can’t see it
  • Scraped content participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Creating pages with malicious behaviour, such as phishing, trojans or viruses Abusing rich snippets markup Misleading or false information in your rich snippet mark up

Google released Webmaster Guidelines, which included the above list and recommended webmasters avoid using these techniques or face manual penalties.

Did my Website get Slapped by a Human or a Penguin?

There seems to be some confusion between getting hit by Penguin and receiving an unnatural links penalty. Penguin is algorithmic and an unnatural links penalty is manual, which has to be implemented by a human. Most SEO’s believe a manual penalty comes from someone filing a spam report against a site which leads to a member of the Google team implementing one manually. A reconsideration request can be filed through webmaster tools which can solve issues with manual penalties once action has been taken to remove “bad” links. However when a website has been “Panda slapped” automatically by the algorithm, until a refresh happens then the site won’t recover. Since there hasn’t been an update in over 10 months, there are a lot of frustrations here from webmasters who are praying for the chance to repent their sins.

Points to Remember

If you receive a reduction in ranks because of Penguin, who knows when the next update will be. The following points are essential to ensuring you don’t feel the full wrath of the Penguin algorithm again, or if you have never received one, to make sure you never do!

  • Create pages for users and not search engines. Obviously there is a need to keep in mind what the search engines want, but be clever about it, not sneaky.
  • Don’t deceive users – Google will probably find out and Penguin will penalise you for it.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve rankings. Ask yourself what would a Google employee say to your methods?
  • Create a ‘natural’ link building profile through uniqueness, fresh content and quality. After all, this should be enough to gain valuable links in itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *

Ready to start delighting more customers and growing revenue?

Get in touch now