A year since the last Google Penguin update, it was confirmed this week that Penguin 3.0 has been (and as far as we know, is still being) rolled out.

Over the weekend and at the beginning of the week, there was a lot of professional opinion – and, it’s fair to say, scepticism – about the effect it could have.

It’s likely that any negative feeling is down to the repercussions of last year – the release of Penguin 2.0 (and previously Penguin 1.0) did more than ruffle a few feathers… it changed the landscape of SEO.

And not just for smaller inexperienced SMEs, but big companies like icelolly.com were hit by an unprecedented fall in visibility:

icelolly.com, Search Metrics Jan - Oct 2013

icelolly.com, Search Metrics Jan – Oct 2013

Although with a view to improving things, there were inevitably some innocent casualties with unexpected penalties, and some have taken a while to recover.

Since then, SEO has been a lot cleaner, and better for the consumer by driving better value content, and reducing the ability to find ‘spammy’ or irrelevant links.  Sites set up purely to farm links, or companies hosting large quantities of poor quality links were seriously damaged, in some cases wiped out.

The 3.0 update, so far, has been less dramatic.  In temperament, it appears to be a little more like the steady treading Panda!

Despite the scepticism and mild sense of panic in forums following the launch, since the official announcement from Google it seems Penguin is a friend to those executing healthy SEO.

There has been a ‘crack down’ on sites developed for link building, but this is predominantly what Penguin 3.0 is set to go after.  The algorithm is, as expected, only targeting those websites that have acquired loads of links un-organically,  (i.e. if they have paid for links to commercial pages or have obviously irrelevant links on a guest blog.)

Un-natural optimisation really is too good to be true.

Admittedly, without the official report, or ‘update on the update’ from Google themselves, we aren’t clear on how many stages or version there will be, nor when they will hit down.

Using trust-flow tools like Majestic to health check your site, links and back-links is really important to help you understand how you and your SEO work is ranking.  Cross-referencing this with social engagement metrics will help you solve your Penguin issues (even if you don’t have them… yet).

One of the things that is different with Penguin 3.0 is the recovery.  Again, we still don’t know the full extent of the roll out, but we can see that reconsideration requests aren’t the way to overcome a penalty any more.

Comparethemarket.com suffered in the Penguin 1.0 update.  But recovered performance within a few weeks.  They were impacted by 2.0, but not to the same extent.    SearchMetrics, Jan 2012 - June 2012

Comparethemarket.com suffered in the Penguin 1.0 update. But recovered performance within a few weeks. They were impacted by 2.0, but not to the same extent. SearchMetrics, Jan 2012 – June 2012

 

To the delight of SEO spammers everywhere (I jest…), and even the odd genuine mistake or back history, links must be manually pulled from the likes of Majestic, Webmaster Tools, Bing, and then all sites manually checked.

This takes significantly more time but in theory, recovery should be simpler,  as you then add the identified offending links into your Disavow file and wait for the update to run again.

Whenever that might be.

Half the problem is Google’s communication.   It affects SEO, but for how long is up for debate.  And how will it change next time?  We’ve been told it’ is a “slow, worldwide rollout over a few weeks”.  A tad vague.

Currently, it’s reported to be affecting 1% of English search queries.  There’s some debate on who these 1% may be – some offering suggestions it’s more targeted to sector, or small businesses – but it’s collective forum feedback, not Google confirmed.

Reading the mood of the digital nation, the Penguin plight is affecting small businesses.  The fever eloquently expressed in reaction to various blog posts (see Search Engine Round Table)  is from SMEs who claim not to have actively put bulk or spam links in place.  Instead, references are made to their ‘quality’ links not being seen as so by Google.

However, there are also SMEs rejoicing in their improved rankings following what seems like little or no additional work.  More like a rebate for their year of ‘good’ SEO.

It will be interesting to see the updated list of winners and losers once the rollout is complete to see if the emerging trends are representative.

‘The Losers’ from Penguin 2.0, E-Consultancy, 2013

‘The Losers’ from Penguin 2.0, E-Consultancy, 2013

Unfortunately, when it comes to what is or is not a quality link – that is their prerogative.  We are at the mercy of Google’s definition.

Irritating as it is for SMEs and others targeted for what they deem as out of their control, the ambition to eradicate spammy SEO-ers and make the internet inevitably better for the end consumer, can’t be knocked.  Paving the way for better SEO, and genuinely skilled optimisation experts in the future is positive.  But we won’t argue that communication shouldn’t be improved…

The clear focus for Penguin 3.0 from analysing the definitions, are: guest posting, anchor links and excessive or large scale ‘link exchanges’ and ‘article marketing’.  So we can assume from that, this is where the algorithm really gets into it’s own.

There is also the mention of removal of human intervention.  That is, even when you take action, it’s down to the algorithm to approve.  So links need to be bot-proof.

Not only are outbound links at risk, but inbound too – as some SMEs have found.  It is hard to determine exactly what constitutes a great ‘link’ in the eyes of Google.  But relevance appears to be key – even more so now.

Google doesn’t, and hasn’t, penalised genuine and useful content.  If users are looking for it and sharing it organically because it’s important and relevant to them, you’re winning.

This isn’t new news.  But it is something that inexperienced marketers or small businesses can struggle with.  There has for some time been a view that the right content for the end consumer is lacking inspiration.  Maybe the creative process, that some sources argue has been lost, needs to be addressed to improve relevance to the customer mindset.  At the moment, a lot of ideology starts with the business plan.

Engaging, unique content can lend competitive edge, consumer / market credibility and brand awareness – as well as healthy and functional SEO.  Tuning in to your customer through focus groups or major scale insight research to deliver truly innovative content has never been more crucial.

So while content masters appear to be reaping the rewards of Penguin 3.0, or at least not being penalised, it’s still hard to form solid conclusions.  All the information available is coming from business reactions, professional opinion and expert speculation.  Google are yet to publish a release on the activity, extent of changes to be expected, and timescales.  They have acknowledged and confirmed this is the anticipated Penguin 3.0, but without knowing the details, we could still see further impact and changes.

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