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October 22, 2014

Penguin 3.0 Update is Overwhelmingly Underwhelming

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penguins-800x800For 12-plus months, organic search marketers have been waiting for the Penguin 3.0 update that would allow reformed corner-cutting clients to claim full penalty recovery and regain SERP rank. With six months between updates set as the standard through 2012 and 2013, a full 12-month cycle between updates created quite the build up for Penguin 3.0.

So, when an Penguin 3.0 update was announced by Search Engine Land on October 19, significant SERP rank fluctuation was expected. Instead, what we’ve seen in the six days since the update can only be described as overwhelmingly underwhelming.

Penguin 3.0: What We’ve Seen In the First 6 Days

  • In a post on Google+, Google UK Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far confirmed that the “update” (referred to as a “refresh” twice in the body of the post) started rolling out on Friday, October 17. Wording the change as a “refresh” in the body text gives us the impression that the event we’re witnessing this week is a minor algorithm reiteration more comparable to the quiet release of Penguin 2.1 than the massive release of Penguin 2.0.
  • The Mozcast barometer which monitors fluctuation in Google’s rankings and reports volatile conditions as hot, stormy weather, showed a temperature well over 100 degrees when Penguin 2.0 was launched in October 2013. Currently the Mozcast is showing a comfortable 71 degrees at the time of this posting, and an actual decrease in instability between Friday, October 17 (when the update was announced), and Saturday, October 18.
  • At this point the analysis we’re seeing from our SEOToolSet ranking tool aligns completely with the comfortable, stable Mozcast forecast: we’re seeing very little SERP fluctuation – for better or worse. In general, we have seen neither significant penalty removal or penalty increases. It was thought that sites would show marked recovery for repenting this last year while those continuing their spammy ways would see increases in ranking drops. We have seen neither.

Speculations: Why Release an Update That’s Not Really an Update?

With so much anticipation leading up to the long overdue (in our opinion) release of Penguin 3.0, we can’t help but wonder: after a year, why would Google release a Penguin “update” that is so insignificantly affecting so many?

Here are four speculations we’ve cooked up in our internal discussions:

  • One theory is that the public was getting antsy and Google took this recent action to appease a vocal industry. In this scenario we posit that Google, overwhelmed with millions of disavow requests, has yet to figure out a meaningful way to use the abundance of disavow data. If the elongated lapse in time between 2.0 and 3.0 updates is the driving catalyst for the update we’re seeing this week, then this week’s update may reflect the best they could do to throw us a bone, so to speak.
  • Another speculation shifts the blame toward the upcoming holiday season; reasonably, Google doesn’t want to create mass instability in the SERPs right before Black Friday ushers in the biggest online shopping season of the year. In this case, a bigger shakeup could be coming with a Penguin 3.1 update roll out just after the holiday season.
  • A third speculation takes Google at its word that the update is still rolling out, and the U.S. market will see a bigger impact in the days to come. In the above-mentioned Google+ announcement, Pierre Far says, “It’s a slow worldwide rollout, so you may notice it settling down over the next few weeks” (emphasis ours). Jennifer Slegg reports that the Penguin 3.0 update was rolled out on international Google sites Google.co.uk, Google.de and Google.fr,before roll out on U.S. sites. In other words, there still could be a tiny glimmer of hope that Penguin 3.0 is in fact still rolling out, and will begin to affect U.S. sites with more gusto in coming weeks.
  • The fourth and most pessimistic speculation suggests that this update-slash-refresh may actually be a sign of things to come; what if Google aims to make cheaters pay for their crimes with an unforgettable punishment, as Bruce Clay, Inc. Senior SEO Analyst Robert Ramirez proposed speculatively in an article last month, Does Google Have a Responsibility to Refresh Its Penguin Algorithm? What if this update is a sign that penalties for black hat marketing techniques may be in the initial phase of an exponential increase, evolving into website death sentences with no hope for the penalized to ever fully recover?

What Now? We Wait and See

With a substantial lack of data to show Penguin 3.0 significantly impacting the SERP space, or an at all, really, we can only continue to wait and speculate among ourselves.

penguin-3-underwhelms-3

Photo by Fod Tzellos (CC BY 2.0), modified.

If above-mentioned speculations one, two, or three are true (or near truth), the seismic Penguin update we’ve been holding our collective breath for could still, very well, be on the horizon. This means hope could still be in the cards for former corner-cutters who have been working hard to prune their backlink profiles and waiting patiently for the Penguin update that would result in penalty resolution.

If the more dramatic fourth speculation is closer to true, we’re in for a real game change. In the Search Traffic portion of their Webmaster Tools Help, Google goes to great lengths to teach webmasters how to disavow unnatural links and correct manual link penalties. We like to believe all this training and effort means something and that Google really does want what’s best for your site, and for the greater good. For that reason, we choose not to put too much weight on the Penguin-3.0-as-eternal-death-sentence speculation.

But, still, it all boils down to waiting and seeing.

The bottom line is that something has to give sooner than later.

We’ve been waiting over a year to see Google refresh the algorithmic elements that manage the analysis and judgment of backlink profiles so that reformers can see rank recovery. What we saw this week just wasn’t that update.

Here’s to hoping that update is coming our way…soon.

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17 responses to “Penguin 3.0 Update is Overwhelmingly Underwhelming”

  1. Marie Haynes writes:

    Good article. It’s encouraging in one sense, and also sad in another sense, to see you post that you haven’t seen a massive change across the board in rankings. Perhaps I’m naive, but I am still thinking that we will see more changes in the next few weeks. There are too many sites that I’m seeing that have done incredibly thorough cleanups, have a good base of natural links, and still are ranking beyond page 10 for their main keywords.

    On our front we have seen some nice recoveries of sites jumping back on to page one after being suppressed by Penguin for a very long time. But, we have several cases where I KNOW they have to see improvement and yet they have not.

    So, for those who are waiting…don’t lose hope.

  2. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Thanks for jumping in, Marie! We, too, are still hoping with our toes crossed that we will see more changes and SERP fluctuation happen in the next few weeks. As I noted in the article, this was an international-first rollout, so there is still a glimmer of hope that the best is yet to come.

    Realistically, though… we’re thinking we’ve seen about as much as we’re going to see from Penguin 3.0 and we’re shifting our sites (and optimism) toward a post-holiday season 3.1 refresh that makes more of a splash. Maybe March 2015? March 2015 would make us happy. (No promises, of course!)

    In closing… We (I) feel your pain — and the pain of those sites who have worked hard to reform and are still not seeing any recovery! I think a lot of SEOs are feeling this pain right now, actually. Here’s to flexing our patience muscles and waiting for the big changes that are (theoretically) right around the (theoretical) corner.

  3. Amit Ramani writes:

    Well written article. Please keep us posted when you do discover the full potential of this update/refresh.

  4. Ryan Bozeman writes:

    Hoping that this is the first of several rollouts of the “refresh,” that might be wishful thinking though. All things consider this refresh was not the same shakeup that had been seen with previous updates. Noticed very little changes in my own websites.

  5. andre doshan writes:

    There are an excess of locales that I’m seeing that have done staggeringly careful cleanups, have a great base of regular connections, and still are positioning past page 10 for their principle decisive words.

    On our front we have seen some decent recuperation of destinations hopping again on to page one in the wake of being stifled by Penguin for quite a while. Yet, we have a few situations where I KNOW they need to see change but they have not.

  6. Kiran Chandra writes:

    I Completely disagree with this article , Almost 7 out of 10 client websites ranking dropped on average of 10-15 positions .

    Also few of our pages got dropped as well . I’m better expecting news about SERP Fluctuation from webmasters

  7. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Hi, Kiran!

    We love hearing case studies about how the update has been affecting other SEOs.

    Wow! 70% of your clients dropped 10-15 positions. You’re right; that isn’t underwhelming at all. That’s pretty significant. We’ve been working consistently hard with our clients to make sure their backlink profiles are tidy and white hat, so we didn’t see any drops like this on our end. Our experience, on the other hand, has been more similar to what fellow commenter Andre Doshn is describing.

    Thanks for sharing your experience; it’s always good to hear multiple sides of the story.

  8. Manchun writes:

    nice articles, impact of Google penguin 3.0. my website ranking has been remove from search engine. how can i do to get ranking in search engine.

  9. Al Gomez writes:

    Hi Chelsea,

    Based on our analysis for the latest update, some of our client websites ranking dropped on average of 20-30 positions. And as we checked their impressions during that date, it showed that their was a drastic drop of percentage. But as we checked it again after couple of days, we notice that some of keywords are back on track and can be seen on SERP again.

    I firmly believe that there is a great chance that the refresh is just a preparation of something bigger. They are preparing for changes in their guidelines to become more precise and way stricter that can lead to unforgettable punishment to the sites that cheat their way to be on top. This Google punishment will provide no hope for penalized sites to ever fully recover.

  10. suyanto writes:

    i wonder if someone do the bad practise to harm competitor website or blackmailing any website for some money for not getting harmed by google algorithm. i’m afraid there will be a new kind of business like punishment seo job.

  11. Worli writes:

    In order for our sites to rank well for competitive terms, we need to adapt with Google quality policy changes. But with every update there also lots of confusion and misconception. If you have been badly hit by Google’s Penguin update, its time to revise your on-page optimization practices and correct where you have gone wrong.

  12. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Worli — In addition to revising your on-page optimization, I’d add that it’s critical that you assess and reassess your backlink profiles. Penguin in a linking penalty that penalizes manipulative or otherwise illegitimate inbound linking practices. Know who’s linking to you; never buy links; and use the Disavow tool when necessary and appropriate!

  13. ChrisM writes:

    I am at the same point in Local SEO after a revision of Penguin was done. The first time I got hit by the update.

    Chris
    Owner CEL Financial Services
    Tax Return Preparer

  14. Justin MacDonald writes:

    Couldn’t agree more with this post, we can only speculate what is really coming. I highly doubt that Google is done yet and hope that we see some more action too, also interesting predictions on what could come.

  15. Miraj Gazi writes:

    Good article. I saw some improvements and some drops as well after Penguin 3.0. Please keep us updated when you do discover the full potential of this penguin update.

  16. Chelsea Adams writes:

    Can do, Miraj. Thanks for chiming in!

  17. Swing writes:

    In order for our sites to rank well for competitive terms, we need to adapt with Google quality policy changes. But with every update there also lots of confusion and misconception. If you have been badly hit by Google’s Penguin update, its time to revise your on-page optimization practices where you have gone wrong.



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