Penguin 3.0: The UK impact

Penguin 3.0: The UK impact

With Google’s most recent algorithmic update aimed at penalising spamming sites now working its way through the search ecosystem, Darren Sheffield, analyses the impact across the major brands.


Published 14th January 2015

The Google Penguin update launched on April 24 2012, its objective being to punish sites that are spamming Google. Factors that are the most likely causes of being caught are aggressive exact-match anchor text, low-quality article marketing and blog spam, and keyword stuffing in internal links. Penguin 1.0 and 2.0 were run as updates that were processed offline by Google, and then released, causing big fluctuations on the day of the release. Google Webmaster Trends analyst John Mueller has previously confirmed that the only way to recover from Penguin is to fix the problems and then wait for the next refresh. There was a 12-month wait from Penguin 2.1 on October 4, 2013 to Penguin 3.0, meaning a lot of sites have had to wait a long time to recover. For that reason, a lot of recovery strategies have involved switching to a new domain.

Google Penguin 3.0

October 17, 2014 – Penguin 3.0 update confirmed by Google, with it affecting less than 1% of queries globally. The analysis from in Figure 1 backs this up, by showing nothing spectacular happening on the 17th October, with their scale showing more fluctuation in organic rankings the higher the temperature is. In comparison, Penguin 1.0 affected 3.1% of queries and Penguin 2.0 impacted 2.3% of queries. Since the update however, there have been mixed messages from Google on whether it is complete or still rolling out. On October 19, Google stated it was complete, however two days later it was confirmed to be still rolling out and that it would be for the next few weeks. Finally, we get to December 10, and a Google spokesperson now confirms that the Penguin update is now continuous. “That last big update is still rolling out — though really there won’t be a particularly distinct end-point to the activity, since Penguin is shifting to more continuous updates. The idea is to keep optimizing as we go now.” We’ll come back to this point when discussing recovery.

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Impact on the gambling industry

Moving to the gambling industry, what impact have we seen? Below is a comparison of a sample of the leading sites taken from the following sectors - casino, sportsbook,lottery and bingo. This is data from Searchmetrics, who have analysed this data specifically for this article. We’ve looked at three key dates: October 16 - the day before the update, October 23 – six days after the update - and finally December 11, which is a few days after fluctuations in rankings were last seen on December 6. The aggregated results can be seen in Figure 2. This data matches many results from many other industries, in that it’s really not showing us too much, and very hard to draw any real conclusions from. It’s also worth noting that one site’s loss is another’s gain, so aggregated sector data can be flawed if winners and losers offset each other. As this data shows the biggest sites in each sector, a gain would signify organic traffic share going to smaller sites. Interestingly there is no correlation here, and unlike some other Google updates it’s certainly not just rewarding the bigger brands. There were 12 sites across our sample set of 40 that had double digit percentage drops in organic visibility, with five seeing major gains. Bingo overall certainly saw the most overall fluctuation, with Sun Bingo seeing a notable improvement. The casino sector we analysed saw the least fluctuation overall, whilst there was some big gains for Paddy Power and Oddschecker in the sports betting sector. The harder area to analyse is the impact on the affiliate industry, due to the huge number of sites. As an area, it is without doubt home to a higher volume of black hat strategies, especially the churn and burn sites that only exist for short term gains. In the larger black hat communities such as Black Hat World, there is a lot of reported movement and negative impact on rankings. This is to be expected, as this is what Penguin is specifically trying to target, but it’s not an area that’s easy to statistically analyse. Overall, the gambling industry will always get harder hit than many other industries. Previous research we have carried out clearly shows it to be a more spammy SEO industry than many other sectors. It’s certainly not a label we can apply to all sites though, and many other industries such as finance and travel have similar levels of spam.

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Recovery from Google Penguin

Prior to Google Penguin 3.0, recovery was fairly straightforward, frustrating and hard work. Fix the factors that caused the punishment, and then wait for the next refresh to recover. Fairly simple? Unfortunately not, and recovery seems to be somewhat of a rarity. The first step requires correctly matching any drops in traffic and ranking to the dates from a Google Penguin update, and these dates are easily sourced online. There is of course room for error here, as there are several other reasons a site can lose rankings and traffic other than a Google update. However, overall, this step is the easiest one to get right. After correctly assigning problems to a Penguin update, the factors that led to the punishment must be removed. There are thousands of articles that speculate the causes, however it is important to note these only list potential causes, as Google has never officially released a list of factors. They have however released other information that has led to some well-thought-out guides to potential Penguin factors. A key part of most analysis is a very manually intensive review of a site’s link profile, and for a sites with a big link profile this can be massive task. The final and most frustrating stage comes after fixing the problems, which is the wait for the next Penguin update refresh. As discussed earlier, there was an incredible 12-month gap between Google Penguin 2.1 & 3.0!

Recovery from Google Penguin 3.0

If Google Penguin 3.0 is now a continuous update what does that mean for recovery? The continuous update does pose a new problem in that we no longer have an easy way of matching a drop in rankings/ traffic to a date when an update happened. This will lead to even more misdiagnosis and frustration. At this stage, we have no official word from Google on recovery, but the hope is that a continuous update will mean the potential for a far quicker recovery. The recovery approach should not be changed, and fixing the problems is and will always be the answer. We now just have uncertainty over how long we will have to wait. We hope for more word from Google in the coming days and weeks. 

“If Google Penguin 3.0 is now a continuous update, we no longer have an easy way of matching a drop in rankings/traffic to a date when an update happened. This will lead to even more misdiagnosis and frustration.”