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Clayton Wood

Brace Yourselves: The Penguin Refresh is Coming

Clayton Wood

Much like its counterparts in the animal kingdom, Google Penguin is getting webmasters excited.

It’s been more than a year since the release of the current Penguin 2.1 update, which came out on October 4, 2013. Waiting over a year for the refresh can be agonizing for websites that have been hit by the punitive algorithm. Webmasters have likely cleaned up their links and changed their strategies to adhere to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. They, however, are still sitting and hoping their efforts have paid off.

Well, the waiting game might have an end in sight.

Penguin Update Rollout

In a Google+ Hangout streamed live on September 12, Google’s John Mueller said the much-awaited update to the Penguin algorithm will likely come out during the last quarter of 2014. The current algorithm is the Penguin 5, codenamed Penguin 2.1.

John Mueller 

One Google+ user asked the Google Webmaster Trends analyst if the Penguin 3.0 update will launch in 2014. Mueller replied, ”My guess is, 'Yes.'"

Mueller, however, clarified that exact plans for the update were not yet completely laid out. “As always, there are things that can happen in between," he said. “I’m pretty confident we’ll have something in the reasonable future, but not today. So we’ll definitely let you know when things are happening.”

Mueller’s answer all but confirmed the speculations of many that a Penguin refresh is nearing. In an earlier Google+ Hangout streamed on September 8, Mueller fueled the fire by saying an update is in the works. “We are working on a Penguin update, so I think saying that there’s no refresh coming would be false.”

The analyst added they do not like to give a specific timeline “because sometimes things can still change.”

Quicker Refreshes

Mueller said the team is working on making the refresh process faster, which should be good news to many webmasters and SEOs. In theory, a quicker refresh means websites previously penalized by Penguin should be able to see improvements sooner, provided they changed their strategies to align with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

“I know the team is working on this and trying to find a solution that generally refreshes a little bit faster,” Mueller added.

Asked if Penguin refreshes would be more frequent, similar to Panda, Mueller said, “We’ll see what we can do there.”

“That’s something where we’re trying to kind of speed things up because we see that this is a bit of a problem when webmasters want to fix their problems. They actually go and fix these issues but our algorithms don’t reflect that in a reasonable time," he replied. "So that’s something where it makes sense to try to improve the speed of our algorithms overall.”

Possible Impact of Penguin Update

One user asked if the upcoming refresh will make a huge impact on websites. Mueller said, “That’s always hard to say.”

He added the impact depends on several factors, including your particular website, and whether or not it’s been affected.

“If it’s your website, the impact is always big, right? We’re trying to find the right balance there to make sure we’re doing the right things, but sometimes it doesn’t go as quickly as we’d all like.”

Recovering from Penguin

Following the September 8 Google+ Hangout, Mueller replied to a post on the Google Webmaster Central Help Forum about Penguin recovery. He said that a Penguin refresh is required for sites to recover from Penguin, but it’s not the only way.

“In theory, if a site is affected by any specific algorithm or its data, and it fixes the issue that led to that situation, then the algorithm and/or its data must be refreshed in order to see those changes. Sometimes those changes aren't immediately visible even after a refresh. That's normal, too.”

He also clarified that webmasters can still improve their website rankings without the algorithm update.

“One part that helps to keep in mind here is that you shouldn’t be focusing on individual factors of individual algorithms. It makes much more sense to focus on your site overall — cleaning up individual issues, but not assuming that these are the only aspects worth working on,” explained Mueller.

The refresh cycle of Penguin, or lack there of, is a problem for many webmasters; they don’t immediately see if their efforts are paying off. Mueller reassured everyone the team at Google was working on it.

“I know it can be frustrating to not see changes after spending a lot of time to improve things. In the meantime, I’d really recommend not focusing on any specific aspect of an algorithm, and instead making sure that your site is (or becomes) the absolute best of its kind by far.”

The Long Road to Penguin 3.0

three penguinsThe Penguin 3.0 update is taking a rather long road to fruition, mainly because there are a lot of challenges to be addressed. In a Google+ Hangout streamed live on August 11, Mueller explained part of the Penguin refresh could not be released because it needed a "complete data refresh," rather than a small adjustment.

“Essentially, what that would need is a complete data refresh. So, it’s not something that is just a tweak. It would essentially need to have everything rerun completely, so, that’s not something where we’d probably just do that randomly one afternoon and just push that out," he said.

He added the algorithm was taking longer because they wanted to make sure the data was right.

“I think one of the reasons also why this is taking a little bit longer is because we just want to make sure that the next data that we push is actually the right kind of data that we’d like to have reflected in search results. So, it’s not something where we’d kind of just re-run a part of the algorithm and push that data. We’d really need to update that data completely.”

Timeline of Penguin Updates

Here’s a look at the Penguin updates so far, as listed by Moz:

  • Penguin 1.0 (Penguin 1): Released April 24, 2012. Impacted 3.1% of English search queries. This web spam update adjusted a number of spam factors, including keyword stuffing. It was designed to lower the rankings of sites that breached Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
  • Penguin 1.1 (Penguin 2): Released May 25, 2012. Impacted less than 0.1% of English queries. The update confirmed that Penguin data was being processed outside of the main search index, similar to the processing of Panda data.
  • Penguin 1.2 (Penguin 3): Released October 5, 2012. Impacted about 0.3% of English queries. This release was a minor Penguin data update that preceded a major update, Penguin 2.0.
  • Penguin 2.0 (Penguin 4): Released May 22, 2013. Impacted 2.3% of English search queries. The update rolled out with only moderate impact. Its exact nature was unclear, but evidence suggests this release was more finely targeted to the page level.
  • Penguin 2.1 (Penguin 5): Released October 4, 2013. Impacted around 1% of queries. This was more likely a data update rather than a major algorithm update. The overall impact was generally moderate, although some webmasters reported being hit hard.

As soon as the next release becomes official, we can expect it to be the talk of the SEO town. In the meantime, it’s best to make sure you’re preparing for the upcoming Penguin update. And welcoming it with open arms, if possible.

What are your thoughts on the impending Penguin update?

Image credit: DeviantART

Clayton Wood is the marketing director at SEOReseller.com. He has spoken at several online marketing conventions, and is passionate about helping companies and entrepreneurs keep up with the latest best practices in digital marketing and SEO. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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