Penguin 3.0 Update is Overwhelmingly Underwhelming
For 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.
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.