What is Google Penguin?

Google Penguin is one of the more important of Google's series of algorithm updates, which was launched in April 2012 and which was followed by several new releases and is now released on a more continuous basis, rather than showing dramatic changes overnight.  It was released across all international versions of Google and impacts on-page SEO in a small way and English or French link building (or multilingual SEO) in a major way.

Google's intention is to penalize sites with 'link spam' and reward sites with a healthy, natural link pattern.

Which websites were penalized?

Google Penguin 1 was released in two stages, both targeting web spam.  Penguin 2 was also released in 2 stages, with the same focus.

  • 19 April 2012 - On-Page SEO Spam Penalty
    This update was an improvement in Google's on-page SEO spam detection.  Webmasters noticing a sudden dropping in traffic or rankings on 19 April will have needed to improve the quality of their content, for example by removing any long lists of keywords or other meaningless content that is there just for search engines and replacing it with some well-written content that will benefit their visitors, with a few keywords naturally included.
  • 24 April 2012 - Penguin Links Spam Penalty
    Matt Cutts, the voice of Google's web spam team stated that this was a penalty against 'over optimized' links.  We explore what this means later on this page.
  • 22 May 2013 - Penguin 2
    This introduced a more stringent variant of Penguin 1, as explored below.
  • 4 October 2013 - Penguin 2.1
    Penguin 2.1 focused more on spam links from forums, particularly with identical keyword rich anchor texts and links from poor quality blogs.  Having many links from the same site with blog signatures is no longer recommended, particularly if you use a keyword, rather than your URL in those signatures.
  • 2015 onwards
    Since 2015 Google rather than releasing major updates, Penguin is being released on an ongoing basis, so that individual webmasters may notice a change, but there are no longer any major changes that all happen simultaneously to the overall results in Google as a whole.

Ongoing updates also mean that having a great variety of links and having links from relevant websites is increasingly important.

What are over-optimized links?

Since SEO first began, it's generally been considered best practice by SEO and link building companies to include keywords in the anchor text (the clickable part of a link).

For example, if we were building links to this page, we might put:

Find the latest information on Google Penguin, Google's latest algorithm update.

Instead of:

For the latest information on the Google Penguin algorithm update click here.

Google's update now penalises sites that have only or a vast majority of keyword rich links going to them (generally 60% or less keyword rich links is fine, with an increased risk of being penalised the closer you get to 100%).

Link Relevancy

The latest update also appears to have penalised websites with very few relevant links going to them.  So long as at least 40% of links are from loosely related sites, this change is unlikely to effect you.

What to do if your site's been penalised

  • First remove any on-page spam from your site.
  • If you have lots of links to your site from the same website and that website is not related to yours, ask the webmaster to remove all the links.
  • Delete links from spam websites, bulk article submissions, forum signatures or other links which make excessive use of keyword rich anchors.
  • If you can edit the anchor text of some of the existing links to your site (or ask other webmasters to edit the links), change some of them to 'click here', the web address (e.g. www.frenchseoteam.com), your company name or other none keyword rich phrases.
  • After you've done as much of the above as possible, register for a 'Webmaster Tools' account with Google and complete a 'Reconsideration Request' form.  Google usually will accept reconsideration requests and process them around 6 weeks after receipt.