Penguin Update

The Penguin update refers to a set of Google algorithm updates and data refreshes that have been rolled out in the period from 2012 to 2013.


There have been five Penguin updates so far:[1]

  • Penguin 1.0: Algorithm update April 24, 2012
  • Penguin 1.1: Data refresh May 24, 2012
  • Penguin 1.2: Data refresh on October 5, 2012
  • Penguin 2.0: Algorithm update on May 22, 2013
  • Penguin 2.1: Data refresh on October 4, 2013
  • Penguin 3.0: Data refresh on October 17, 2014

The Google Penguin Update 1.0 affected about 3 percent of the searches in Germany.[2] Its successor, Penguin 2.0, was closely behind that at around 2.3 percent of the English results. Matt Cutts talked about the impending effects of the Penguin update 2.0 few hours before its release.

Objectives of Google Penguin updates[edit]

The aim of the Penguin updates was and is to reduce the manipulation of search results. To this end, Google has introduced a whole new algorithm that specifically looks for unnatural page optimization. Which variables are used exactly, is unknown. Therefore, there are predominantly assumptions being in the SEO industry about the background and possible measures. An analysis of websites which were negatively affected by these updates shows clear indicators.

Penalties and devaluations due to the Penguin updates[edit]

Google intends to curb webspam with these updates. This refers to all measures and techniques which are in violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines in the context of search engine optimization in order to obtain a better ranking. Websites that use spam measures for their optimization are penalized by these updates, resulting in noticeable visibility losses or even getting banned completely from the SERPs.

"“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all […]”"(Matt Cutts, 2014) )[3]

The focus was mainly on webspam in connection to backlinks and keyword stuffing.

Purchasing of links[edit]

Link buying is one of the major topics of the Penguin update. By purchasing links, both the buyer and the seller violate the actual principle of a link, namely that it is recommendation. Therefore, Google seeks to combat paid links particularly rigorously. On a larger scale, Google therefore takes action against link networks as part of the update. Moreover, not only the websites that bought the incoming links gets penalized, but also the seller. The algorithm can detect paid links to an extent and must abide by assessable criteria such as link text or content relevance. In addition to the algorithm updates, manual steps have been taken for some time now by Google in order to track down link buyers and sellers.

Link and anchor texts[edit]

Many search engine optimizers have built up tons of links over a long period of time which linked with hard money keywords. Other anchor texts such as brand keywords or non-keywords (such as “More information can be found here”) were put on the backburner or even completely neglected. Such unnatural link profiles with significantly more than 60 percent money keywords are a clear indicator of webspam action for Google Penguin because natural link profiles do not have such a high density of money keywords.

Link building which is too fast[edit]

Before companies engage in link building, the number of links referring to their website tends to grow slow. If sudden and extensive link building measures are taken and the usual three links per month are suddenly up to 50, this is reason enough for Google to take a closer look at where they come from.

Links from an irrelevant environment[edit]

Natural links are usually set by topic-relevant websites. An aquarium lover would generally not report to his readers about the best deposit accounts. In other words, a link suddenly appearing in a text that is totally irrelevant is rather suspicious.

Inferior backlinks[edit]

Inferior backlinks are links from low-quality websites or that were established solely for the purpose of link building. Certain positions of links are also suspicious. Examples include backlinks:

  • from link lists or link farms
  • from article directories and web catalogs
  • from outdated news archives
  • from blog comments
  • from footers
  • from already penalized websites
  • from link networks

It is less a factor here that such links exist. The key point from Google’s perspective is the quality of the backlinks. Low quality is an indicator of webspam.

Keyword stuffing and keyword over-optimization[edit]

Website over-optimization for a single keyword is just as obvious as excessive keyword stuffing. An extremely high keyword density, which is very noticeable particularly in long tail keywords may result in a penalty.


Many of those that were affected by the update felt unfairly treated because they had little evidence about the background of their penalty. This is mainly because Google publishes very little information about the decisive factors influencing the Penguin update. To check if a website is rightfully affected by the Penguin update, a detailed site clinic is recommended (scrutiny and subsequent correction of the website), for example, by Ryte. Especially the link structure and content must be examined in detail. In the event that your website was unjustly penalized by the Penguin update, Google has provided a complaint form online.

Relevance to search engine optimization[edit]

If a website has been subjected to losses in visibility shortly after a new Penguin update was rolled out, those affected should first analyze why. Very often the website operators themselves already know what mistakes they might have made in search engine optimization, for example, in relation to the construction of a unilateral link profile or buying of links.

Otherwise, an investigation of the backlink profile can provide information. Any disclosed spam measures must now be reversed. Specifically, this means the manual removal of “bad” links and the streamlining of the link profile. This can be achieved by the operators of the website in question asking the other site operators to remove the links.

In addition, Google has launched the link disavow tool in October 2012, with which webmasters can have Google check for unnatural or spammy links and devalue them as needed. At the same time, natural looking links can be newly built to strengthen the backlink profile actively.


  1. Penguin 5 along with the Penguin 2.1 spam-filtering algorithm is now live Accessed on 07/19/2014
  2. Another Step to Reward High Quality Googlewebmastercentral. Accessed on 07/19/2014
  3. Another Step to Reward High Quality Googlewebmastercentral. Accessed on 07/19/2014