The Penguin Tracker - Ranking for Wriggly Wingflots

What did Penguin do, and when did it do it?  We can tell by watching rankings for wriggly wingflots. Photo courtesy Christopher Michel on Flickr.

Original launch of Penguin

Google's Penguin algo update was announced on April 24, 2012, with the goal of penalizing websites who had been using black-hat techniques to manipulate search engine rankings. Unlike Panda, Penguin is purely based on link spam: site-wide links, over-optimized anchor text, and links from link farms, networks, and generally crappy, toxic domains.

Unlike sites receiving a manual penalty, sites penalized by Penguin do not see a warning or notification in Webmaster Tools. When a site is penalized, the site's ranking is dramatically affected--a site might move from page 1 to page 5 or 10 in the search results for any given term. Penguin penalties can be sitewide (if the toxic backlinks are perceived to affect the entire site's rankings), or keyword-specific, i.e. where Google sees that far too many links exist with that keyword as the anchor text. Focusing on links with anchor text for terms you wish to rank for is still an effective technique in Google--but you need to be careful not to go overboard. The number of links needed to get a keyword-specific penalty seems to vary based on the overall backlink profile of the site: we've seen sites penalized for only dozens of links with a "money" term as anchor text, and others (to very strong sites) don't get penalized even when several hundred links with the same anchor text (even from horribly spammy, nasty sites) exist.

To get out of a Penguin penalty, you have to:
  1. remove or disavow the offending links (or at least a decent percentage of them),
  2. wait for Penguin to recalculate metrics based on your updated and/or disavowed backlink profile (which means wait for a Penguin data refresh)

Penguin 2

This update, which came on May 25, 2012, was a data update, where backlink and anchor text metrics were re-evaluated, new penalties applied, and others (where there had been cleanup) revoked. No changes to the algorithm were made with this update.

Penguin 3

October 5, 2012 brought what was apparently a minor Penguin update--Google stated it impacted 0.3% of queries. This again was a basic data update, according to Matt Cutts.

Penguin 4

On May 22, 2013, Penguin received an algorithmic update, with Google referring to it as "Penguin 2.0 technology". 2.3% of English queries were apparently impacted, making it the biggest update since the initial launch.

Penguin 5

October 4, 2013 brought the fifth update. It wasn't clear from Google's communications whether this was algorithmic or data only, but speculation was that it wasn't a major change if any to the algorithm.

Penguin 6

Roughly a year later, on October 17, 2014, Google announced what they called Penguin 3.0, although it was the 6th update. Again, this update appeared to be a data update only. Google claimed that the update actually took several weeks to roll out, and impacted about 1% of queries.

Continuous Updates

In December 2014, Google said that Penguin was shifting to continuous updates, and away from the batch data-push approach. However, in the spring of 2015, John Mueller mentioned in a Google Hangout that neither Penguin nor Panda is updating on a regular or automatic basis. And at SMX Advanced in Seattle in June 2015, Gary Illyes from Google confirmed that that was the case. Gary noted that Penguin was going to move to the continuous update model, but that it was still probably 3-4 months away. He also mentioned that a similar move for Panda was not likely in the forseeable future.

Tracking Penguin Data Updates

Probably the best way currently to know when there's been a Penguin data update (since they aren't generally announced by Google) is to watch these three sites:

Other Penguin Tracking & Analysis Resources