Google Penguin – Short Conceptual Explanation

In 2012, the U.S. Internet service provider from Silicon Valley introduced a further quality filter: Google Penguin. The purpose of this significant update is to examine websites closely and determine whether they meet the quality guidelines for webmasters posed by Google and published on the Internet. The focus is mainly on pages that use unfair methods to positively affect their placement in the search results, without providing the user with a corresponding added value. This type of manipulation, unwanted by Google, is also known as Search Engine Spamming or Black Hat SEO.

Pages that are found guilty of these methods are punished in their ranking, or are entirely removed from the search index. Similar algorithm expansions in addition to the Penguin update include Google Panda and Google Hummingbird.

Google Penguin is a spam eater

Because the aggressive deception and manipulation methods used by webmasters and online agencies commissioned to improve the ranking of their Internet page are escalating at great speed, Google felt compelled to rework its search algorithms. The introduction of the Panda update in 2011, which was mainly aimed at the editorial content of web pages, was followed by Google Penguin just a year later. This additional module is also known as Web spam Update because it targets spam methods, whose sole purpose is to position a specific web page in the SERPs (abbreviation for Search Engine Result Pages), i.e. push the search result pages displayed to the highest possible position. However, the top positions they have thereby achieved do not reflect the true significance of the real user behavior – the search results displayed are distorted.

Alignment with Google’s quality guidelines

To provide Internet page operators and programmers with a guideline for professionalism, Google published quality guidelines with general and specific recommendations (see link). Although the exact workings of Google Penguin are kept secret, one can view these recommendations as a blueprint for Penguin’s approach.

The top maxim listed is that a web page must be created for its users and not for a search engine. Furthermore, it explicitly states that one must refrain from using tricks and deceit, which could mislead the user or the search algorithm.

List of disfavored methods

In addition to the general principles, the quality guidelines also list specific methods that are disfavored by Google. It can be assumed that these transgressive methods will lead to a punishment in the ranking if they are identified by the Penguin filter. This applies to the following in particular:

  • Link deceit programs and other links spam to improve the link popularity
  • Keyword stuffing: Placing an excessive number of keywords, which have hardly any relevant connection to the actual content, on one’s own web page.
  • Cloaking: The presentation of a page often differs between real visitors and the search engine, for example in the form of types of media used or keywords.
  • Sneaky redirects: Users are redirected to a page other than the one analyzed by the search bot.
  • Concealed elements: Texts or links remain concealed for the real user (for example, text has the same background color, font size is zero or hidden behind a symbol) – however, they affect the search results.

Checking the link structure

One aspect that Google Penguin has by definition kept a close watch on is the link structure to an Internet page and the backlink profile that belongs to it. Specifically, it searches for unnatural links because they indicate the targeted manipulation of links to improve ranking.
This is easier to understand by dividing links related to a specific web page that is being examined according to three categories:

  • Internal links: These links refer to other elements (images, documents, subpages, etc.) within this web page and are mainly intended for the navigation.
  • Outgoing links: These links guide users away from the web page to other domains.
  • Incoming or backlinks: These links guide users from one place on the Internet to this web page.

In a natural link pattern, the set links of a web page more often consists of internal rather than outgoing links. The link texts are generally neutral, i.e. the use of promotional keywords (“money keywords”) is kept to a minimum and, in terms of content, they generally refer to their own presence.

Temptation to use backlink manipulation

Backlinks (incoming links) have a significant influence on the ranking of a web page because they are an indicator of how often the page is recommended by Internet users or other page operators by means of a link reference. Google Penguin therefore tracks and punishes activities where it is obvious that backlinks have been purchased or have been spread on the Web by other unnatural means. To this end, Google’s guidelines offer numerous recommendations listed under the heading Link Exchange Programs.

Integration of Google Penguin

The Google Penguin module was first released on April 24, 2012. It influenced approximately 3% of all search queries. In addition to smaller adjustments (“Data Refresh”), between 2013 and 2016 three larger algorithm changes were made under the designation Penguin 2.0 to 4.0. Meanwhile Penguin has been integrated into the core algorithm; data adjustments and their impact on the ranking are therefore permanently in real time.