Webmasters have been expecting a BIG Penguin update from Google for quite some time, and a couple weeks ago, Google's Matt Cutts promised that one was on the way. Finally, on Wednesday, he announced that Google had not only started the roll-out, but completed it. While it was said to be a big one, it remains to be seen just how big it has been in terms of impacting webmasters.
Have you been impacted by the latest Penguin update? Let us know in the comments.
Just what did Cutts mean by "big" anyway? When discussing the update a couple weeks ago, he said it would be "larger". When it rolled out, he announced that "about 2.3% of English-US queries are affected to the degree that a regular user might notice," and that "the scope of Penguin varies by language, e.g. languages with more webspam will see more impact."
As far as English queries, it would appear that the update is actually smaller. The original Penguin (first called the "Webspam" update) was said to impact about 3.1% of queries in English. So, perhaps this one is significantly larger in terms of other languages.
Cutts has also been tossing around the word "deeper". In the big "What should we expect in the next few months" video released earlier this month, Cutts said this about Penguin 2.0: "So this one is a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0, and we expect it to go a little bit deeper, and have a little bit more of an impact than the original version of Penguin.”
Cutts talked about the update a little more in an interview with Leo Laporte on the day it rolled out, and said, "It is a leap. It’s a brand new generation of algorithms. The previous iteration of Penguin would essentially only look at the homepage of a site. The newer generation of Penguin goes much deeper. It has a really big impact in certain small areas.”
We asked Cutts if he could elaborate on that part about going deeper. He said he didn't have anything to add:
@ccrum237 not much to add for the time being.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) May 23, 2013
The whole thing has caused some confusion in the SEO community. In fact, it's driving Search Engine Roundtable's Barry Schwartz "absolutely crazy." Schwartz wrote a post ranting about this "misconception," saying:
The SEO community is translating "goes deeper" to mean that Penguin 1.0 only impacted the home page of a web site. That is absolutely false. Deeper has nothing to do with that. Those who were hit by Penguin 1.0 know all to well that their whole site suffered, not just their home page.
What Matt meant by "deeper" is that Google is going deeper into their index, link graph and more sites will be impacted by this than the previous Penguin 1.0 update. By deeper, Matt does not mean how it impacts a specific web site architecture but rather how it impacts the web in general.
He later updated the piece after realizing that Cutts said what he said in the video, adding, "Matt must mean Penguin only analyzed the links to the home page. But anyone who had a site impacted by Penguin noticed not just their home page ranking suffer. So I think that is the distinction."
Anyhow, there have still been plenty of people complaining that they were hit by the update, though we're also hearing from a bunch of people that they saw their rankings increase. One reader says this particular update impacted his site negatively, but was not as harsh as the original Penguin. Paul T. writes:
Well, in a way I like this update better than any of the others. It is true I lost about 50% of my traffic on my main site, but the keywords only dropped a spot or two–so far anyway.
The reason I like it is because it is more discriminating. It doesn’t just wipe out your whole site, but it goes page by page.
Some of my smaller sites were untouched. Most of my loss came from hiring people to do automated back-linking. I though I would be safe doing this because I was really careful with anchor text diversity, but it was not to be.
I am going to try to use social signals more to try to bringt back my traffic.
Another reader, Nick Stamoulis, suggests that Google could have taken data from the Link Disavow tool into consideration when putting together Penguin 2.0:
I would guess that the Disavow tool was factored into Penguin 2.0. If thousands of link owners disavowed a particular domain I can’t imagine that is something Google didn’t pick up on. It’s interesting that they are offering site owners the chance to “tell” on spammy sites that Penguin 2.0 might have overlooked.
Cutts has tweeted about the Penguin spam form several times.
With regards to the Link Disavow tool, Google did not rule out the possibility of using it as a ranking signal when quizzed about it in the past. Back in the fall, Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan shared a Q&A with Matt Cutts in which he did not rule out the possibility. Sullivan asked him if “someone decides to disavow link from good sites a perhaps an attempt to send signals to Google these are bad,” is Google mining this data to better understand what bad sites are?
“Right now, we’re using this data in the normal straightforward way, e.g. for reconsideration requests,” Cutts responded. “We haven’t decided whether we’ll look at this data more broadly. Even if we did, we have plenty of other ways of determining bad sites, and we have plenty of other ways of assessing that sites are actually good.”
Searchmetrics released its list of the top losers from the latest Penguin update, which you can see here. It includes some porn, travel, and game sites, as well as a few big brands like Dish and Salvation Army.
What is your opinion of Google's latest Penguin update? It it doing its job? Let us know in the comments.