Google Penguin

On April 24th, 2012, Google announced the implementation of Google Penguin, an advanced algorithm system meant to decrease the ranking of websites in violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Violations include “automatically generated content, link schemes, cloaking, sneaky redirects, doorway pages, malicious behavior, hidden text or links, and scraped content.” Since SEO relies heavily on linking to the webpage from other sources, many webpages will try to link from as many sources as possible. SEO best practices recommend that website hosts link from reputable sources. However, until Google Penguin was rolled out, many SEO strategists would excessively link from as many sources as possible, including comments sections, self-made articles, and other easy to access places. However, this is in violation of the Webmaster Guidelines, and it is the type of activity that Google Penguin targets.

What is Google Penguin?

Google Penguin works by performing a one-time, Google-wide sweep that detects any unnatural or offending links. The first round was on the release date of April 24th, 2012. The second Penguin algorithm update occurred on April 24th, 2012. The third followed in October of the same year, and so on. Similar to the Panda algorithm, it runs once and is re-run with each update or refresh. It does not continuously run, allowing webpages that have lost their rankings to clean up their unnatural links between refreshes and updates.

Time Table

  • Penguin #1: April 24th, 2012
  • Penguin #2: May 26th, 2012
  • Penguin #3: October 5th, 2012
  • Penguin #4 AKA Penguin 2.0: May 22nd, 2013
  • Penguin #5 AKA Penguin 2.1: October 4th, 2013
  • Penguin #6 AKA Penguin 3.0: October 17th, 2014
  • Penguin #7 AKA Penguin 4.0: Expected Q1 2016

The Last Great Penguin Refresh

There is an important distinction between a Penguin refresh and a Penguin update. With each Penguin update, there are new and specific changes to the algorithm. With a refresh, the currently existing algorithm is run again, without any changes, to help site owners recover their rankings after a backlink cleanup.

Google Penguin refreshed on October 17th, 2014, likely due to site owners requesting a refresh after they had spent a year cleaning up their bad links. According to Pierre Far, “this refresh helps sites that have already cleaned up the webspam signals discovered in the previous Penguin iteration, and demote sites with newly discovered spam.” Google’s intention with the Penguin rerun was allowing webpages to recover their rankings from the prior Penguin update, and obliterate the rankings of any webpage that had spam-like or unnatural links.

However, with the last Penguin refresh, many arguably reputable websites were unable to recover their rankings due to the thoroughness of Penguin. While the intention of Penguin is to stop sites from cheating the SEO system, it can be difficult for many webpages to understand how the Google Penguin algorithm qualifies a link as “unnatural,” and take the necessary steps to clean up their backlink profile.

“This refresh helps sites that have already cleaned up the webspam signals discovered in the previous Penguin iteration, and demotes sites with newly discovered spam.” – Pierre Far

Google Penguin in the Future

After nearly two years of waiting, Google has announced that the next rollout of a Penguin update will work in “real-time.” “It is a work in progress at the moment,” said the Webmaster Trends Analyst of Google, Zineb Ait, “can’t tell when it will be rolled out. We are aiming at ‘as soon as it is ready.’” The real-time feature will make the effects of the algorithm, like page promotions and the demolition of rankings, to happen at a faster rate than any Penguin update or refresh in the past. With past Penguin updates and refreshes, many site owners saw drastic changes in their rankings, be it for better or worse, and had to wait for months, or even up to a year, for the next Penguin update or refresh to reveal how their activity after the last Penguin update or refresh has affected their page ranking, and wait just as long to see if they qualified for the rankings. With the latest iteration of Penguin, site owners and webpages can see results faster, including their reinstatement back into Google’s “good graces” after their backlink cleanup.

The most recent Panda update was a “Slow Rollout Google Update.” However, Google has announced that Penguin will not follow this guideline. It is anticipated that the next iteration of Penguin will roll out in the first quarter of 2016, or about March.

“It is still work in progress at the moment. I can’t tell when it will be rolled out. We are aiming at: “as soon as it is ready” – Zineb Ait (Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google)


What are your thoughts? Do you think we will end up seeing the Google Penguin 2.0 update in Quarter 1 of 2016, or will Google take more time to build the algorithm and refine its impact? Will the latest version, with its real-time updating feature, be helpful or harmful for small businesses and webpages? Will it be easier for pages to restore their rankings? Will it be harder for webpages to take advantage of Search Engine Optimization? Share your thoughts!

To learn more about Google Penguin, take a look at the full infographic below.

History of Google Penguin Infographic