The Google Penguin Update

While many Internet marketers, SEOs and webmasters grapple with the latest, now infamous, Google Search updated dubbed Penguin, now more than ever, adhering to the Google webmaster guidelines can help businesses avoid lost traffic, sales and profits.

The old adage that the good guys always come in last is often true in the world of Internet marketing where blackhat and greyhat practitioners (those who use techniques in efforts to game the search engine raking algorithms) often soar past the whitehats (try to play by the rules) in the search results.

Google Penguin Impact is Profound and Far Reaching

As of last April 24th, when Google rolled out the much anticipated and highly controversial Penguin update, which according to Google has levelled the playing field a bit in favour of the whitehat Internet marketers who take a long view, using techniques to gain links naturally, which roughly translated, means providing quality content of value that others which naturally link to. To story aof The Tortoise and the Hare shares a theme with Google’s recent Penguin update.

The What

Many Internet marketers, especially those on the front lines, will tell you that the latest Google Search update has many businesses scrambling to find their website in the search results they once dominated. While it came with ample notice, where somewhere between 750K and 1M site owners received unnatural link notices through Google Webmaster Tools, many sites were unable to react in time to save their rankings and were penalized. Many webmasters that have been burned by the wrath of Penguin have complained shouting fowl, with conspiracy theories abounding about how Google is trying to kill off organic search to drive PPC revenue, but that logic just doesn’t hold water and here’s why.

The Why

Theory: Google is motivated by relevant search results not for the sake or intent of killing SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or Organic Search, nor because they are natural search philanthropists, but because they want to drive more ad $.


  1. Google primarily revenue is paid search PPC ads
  2. Google PPC search ad “inventory” is sized based on number of aggregate searches
  3. Google will always include organic search results which for many users are more trusted than PPC ads
  4. If Google discontinues organic results Google will lose market share to Bing, Blekko, DuckDuckGo, others
  5. Google is motivated by ad revenue and maximizing PPC inventory, which is driven by it’s search volume
  6. Google search volume is driven by maintaining market share in fixed (non-mobile)  and mobile search
  7. Relevancy is the single most important factor for search engines to maintain market share with the competition only a click away.
  8. If a search engine can return more relevant results than Google, with the same breadth of knowledge, in a more efficient and better user experience, users will learn about it over time will adopt the better technology, especially since there is not a price premium. I for one have not yet found as extensive an index of the web with comparable performance
  9. Search growth is driven today through mobile search, that is why Android/Motorola shipping with native Google search is so important)
  10. Some say that Google is trying to kill SEO to drive PPC revenue with the implication that Google is cannibalizing its organic results to grow PPC, when in reality, wouldn’t the opposite happen?

Nothing New

Updates to the Google Search algorithm happen all the time with several hundred updates per year, with some estimates at over 500 last year alone, most designed to improve the relevancy of the search results and enhance user experience to enable Google to maintain their 2/3 majority of the Total US Search Market, which in 2011, was estimated to be worth $13.6 Billion in 2011 according to

The experts agree on some of the primary factors used by Google’s Penguin to penalize websites that were “over optimizing” in the recent Penguin update. These factors in Penguin include:

  • Lack of diversity in anchor text (high percentage of links with exact match anchor text which does not generally occur naturally in the work of Internet marketing),
  • Keyword stuffing in both internal and external links,
  • Spammy, ling, exact-match domains
  • Low-quality article marketing where techniques like article spinning are employed,
  • Blog comment spam often done using automated tools

As Internet marketers, and SEOs in particular, we have all seen these techniques propel our competition beyond us and our clients in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), often resulting in questions from clients about why not try these techniques that seem to be working for the competition. The answer: cheaters get caught. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, all cheaters get caught. It’s kind of like marriage. Sure, all married people encounter others they are attracted to, but for many, the thought of being unfaithful, no matter what your morals are, is not worth the risk and impact of getting caught.

All of these factors are associated with Internet marketing short-cuts that are designed to provide fast results in terms of driving traffic from natural/organic (unpaid) search results, while applying the least amount of cost to the site being promoted. The issue is that these techniques violate the Google Terms of Service and can lead to penalties up to and including being purged from the Google index altogether (divorce with a restraining order if we follow the marriage analogy). For sites that depend on Google for a substantial portion of their traffic, the implication is that these kinds of techniques are high risk and for most non-burn-and-churn business models, should be avoided.

The Long View

The answer for Internet marketers in it for the long term is that those crash and burn techniques can work well for a period of time, but given the constant advances that Google implements for the primary purpose of identifying sites that are trying to game the system at the expense of quality, relevancy and user experience, its best to play buy the rules, especially for branded domains. Sure, posts like this pre Penguin would be labeled as “naïve” and “goody two shoes,” but post Penguin rollout … well the smoke hasn’t even begun to clear yet. Yes, it is important to acknowledge that good sites will get hurt by this update and just like war, there are instances of collateral damage. It’s not fair. It just is.

If you think that you can game the Google in the long term, just think about this in terms of computing power of the system you are trying to game. A system that can index trillions of web pages and return detailed, specific search results in sub second response times that rival the power of IBMs might Watson of the infamous Final Jeopardy project. Here is a real world illustration. Within minutes of uploading a live video of Kansas Performing Dust in the Wind at a local, free outdoor concert, YouTube had identified the live performance as copyright protected material. How is that for computing power! That’s what I call pattern-matching on steroids and yes, you can bet that YouTube, owned by Google and the #2 search engine, share technology and human and technology resources with Google.

The Far Reaching Impact

Based on a recent study by, one of thought leaders in the SEO industry and a leading provider of SEO Tools and Knowlege, the most recent Penguin update has effected more search queries than any other Google Algorithm update in recent history (see figure below).

Impact of Google Penguin update relative to other recent search updates

We can see from the data collected by SEOMoz that the impacts of the penguin update effect far more searches/results/sites than did the last major update that received a lot of press, namely Panda, which was aimed at content that was thin and of questionable quality.

What is interesting is the unintended consequences that the Penguin update has had for Internet marketers on the other side of the world (literally). In fact, based on a recent article posted on Affiliate Temple, the Google Penguin Creates Mass Unemployment in India, where unfortunately for some Internet marketing practitioners in India, has caused a huge drop in demand for low cost linking building labor.

Going Forward.

Internet marketing is far from dead but the days of gaming the system just got harder and riskier. Internet marketers, and SEOs in particular, will do well to avoid the primary factors used by Google’s Penguin update. Always remember and know that Google is focused on relevancy in the organic search results. Relevancy drives search market share, which drives search volume, which in turn drives PPC inventory/ad revenue potential. Take away relevancy or worse yet, organic results and create immediate opportunities for Bing, Blekko, DuckDuckGo and others to come in and steal market share.

To date, my experience is that Google has the largest, most comprehensive content index in the world. Get down the long tail and try to find it on Bing, Blekko and DuckDuckGo. Sometimes, maybe. Guess it depends on the knowledge domain your are seeking.

10 Resources that can Help Businesses and their Internet Marketers and SEOs Respond to the Google Penguin Update

  7. (Danny Sullivan)
  8. (Jim Boykin)
  10.  (part of Penguin recovery strategy)

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Rick Noel is an experienced digital marketer enabling businesses and organizations to grow through the Internet, while maximizing marketing ROI (Return On Investment). Rick is the CEO and Co-Founder of eBiz ROI, Inc., a full-service digital marketing agency located in Ballston Lake, NY.

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