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What is the Google Penguin update?

June 13, 2012

If Google’s Panda update weeded out the websites with content of poor quality overall, then Penguin – first announced in April 2012 – went a step further, focusing on sites with individual examples of poor-quality content.

That meant it was no longer OK to write a page of decent text, and then litter it with individual keywords and hyperlinks that didn’t make sense in the context in which they were placed.

Google offered some examples on its Official Webmaster Central Blog, ranging from entire pages of keywords simply listed without any context, to individual words entered into sentences where they didn’t belong – such as “Climbing is a terrific way to stay fit while not having to expend every day fast cash loans a health club”.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Content quality is not a new concern for Google, so how does Penguin differ from the previous algorithm changes introduced by the search engine’s technicians?

Well, Panda in particular was an attempt to reward good-quality websites with a higher search ranking, and in order to do that it assessed pages to ensure they contained good grammar and a clear, useful message for visitors.

In contrast, Penguin focused on black-hat webspamming techniques as described above – individual keywords inserted out of context and hyperlinked to a landing page elsewhere on the website or on another site, or entire pages that existed purely for the purpose of listing hyperlinked keywords.

The only major problem with this approach is that it’s not totally foolproof, meaning some spammy sites stayed in the search results, and some legitimate (but not necessarily well-written) sites were punished; Google later created specific feedback forms for webmasters to highlight instances of either issue.

The Fairest of Them All

Google have always said that sensible SEO is not a problem; keyworded content is fine, as long as those keywords are in context.

Similarly, the anchor text you use for a hyperlink is an important way to associate keywords with the destination page – but again, they should be in context, both in terms of the sentence in which the hyperlink appears, and in terms of the destination website.

With this in mind, the definition of a ‘good’ page in Google’s eyes has not really changed in the era of Panda and Penguin.

You still need decent, grammatically correct content, and it’s still a good idea to have at least a couple of hundred words of plain text per page, as images, videos and other multimedia content haven’t quite caught up yet in terms of search visibility.

Rolling Thunder

Like the rumbling of distant thunder, Penguin is still there in the background, with several large algorithm tweaks announced by Google in the months since its initial launch.

With further minor updates rolled out on a daily basis, it’s becoming harder to view SEO as a game to be played and won.

Instead, natural search results are increasingly quality-based, as they were always intended to be – and a front-page ranking on Google is instead becoming more about social factors such as Google+ recommendations.

Find out more about the background to Panda here (from Google).