The Penguin update has been making waves for the search engine community since its introduction back in 2012, but the seemingly irregular intervals of updates and data refreshers has a majority of search marketers scratching their heads. Staying apprised of Google’s updates is a necessity in the modern era, as is updating your strategy to adhere to new best practices and stay in Google’s good graces. That process becomes especially difficult when you don’t know what to expect from the search engine giant.
Fortunately, with a bit of analysis, you can determine the average length of time between Penguin updates, and implement a strategy to proactively prepare for a possible hit.
In order to understand the significance behind Penguin update intervals, we must first understand the history of the Penguin update from the beginning. Penguin first debuted on April 24, 2012, under the generic name “the Webspam Update.” Intended as a follow-up to the Panda update, which penalized sites with weak or irrelevant onsite content, the Penguin update focused on black hat offsite practices, such as spamming links or posting links on irrelevant external sites. It was considered a major update, impacting approximately three percent of all search queries.
Google followed up with a new iteration, Penguin 1.1, on May 25, 2012. Rather than a major update (which would have been called Penguin 2.0), this update was considered a “data refresh,” incorporating no significant algorithm changes but instead simply keeping the system up-to-date. The next Penguin update, informally referred to as 1.2, came in October 2012, impacting less than one percent of search queries. It was also suspected to be a data refresh.
The next significant update for Penguin was 2.0, and it was a major algorithm update rather than just another data refresh. Impacting 2.3 percent of search queries, the update was released in May of 2013, marking approximately one year since Penguin 1.0. Another data refresh, affecting about one percent of search queries, was released in October 2013, mirroring Penguin 1.2’s release in October 2012.
Following this pattern, many search experts anticipated a new Penguin algorithm update in the spring of 2014. It wasn’t until October of 2014 that we finally got a new iteration. Referred to as Penguin 3.0, mostly because of the massive length of time since the last Penguin update, the algorithm update was not assigned a version number by Google. It rolled out over the course of a few weeks, rather than the usual day or two, and ultimately affected about one percent of all search queries. There are some reports that suggest this update was not a major algorithm change, and that instead, it is merely a large-scale data refresh.
Average Penguin Update Timing
Looking at the historical timing of Penguin updates and refreshes, we can make a few assumptions about the average update timing. First, major algorithm changes are at least a year apart. It was about a year between Penguin 1.0 and 2.0, and a year and a half between 2.0 and 3.0. If we’re getting technical, if 3.0 isn’t truly a fundamental algorithm change, then the next algorithm update is yet to come.
Looking at the data refreshes, which can shake up the search rankings almost as much as an algorithm change, these seem to come out around October of every year. Excepting the lack of a major algorithm update in May of 2014, Penguin updates have followed a pattern of release in both May and October of each year. While it’s still fairly early in Penguin’s history, this pattern has remained almost unbroken for three consecutive years, and can likely be considered reliable as you plan your strategy.
There is one recent changeup in the pattern that might predict a revolutionary new format of Penguin updates. Penguin 3.0, rather than being released over the course of a few days, was released over the course of a few weeks. Over the course of Thanksgiving, more than six weeks after the first impact of Penguin 3.0, Google acknowledged that ranks were still fluctuating as a result of the refresh.
As these fluctuations are still occurring, Google may have introduced a new, gradual style of updating Penguin. The Panda update, related to Penguin, also featured a recent update that rolled out slowly over the course of a few weeks. This change in approach might be Google’s way of trying to stabilize rankings while they make changes, limiting the tumultuous nature of algorithm updates while simultaneously making the changes it needs to make.
The future of the Penguin update depends on Google’s approach. If they try to take a much more gradual, long-term approach to the update, as possibly indicated by the weeks-long release of Penguin 3.0, the entire Penguin pattern to date could be obsolete at this point. In this case, Google would simply roll out Penguin refreshes on a regular, perhaps monthly basis to keep their algorithm fine-tuned without making waves.
However, it’s more likely that this update pattern will continue, albeit with more gradual rollouts to mitigate the chaos of sudden, major updates. If this is the case, we could potentially expect a significant change to Google’s ranking algorithm in May of 2015 (assuming they don’t skip another year). At the very least, we can expect a data refresh in October of 2015, which will affect up to one percent of all search queries.
If you haven’t already experienced volatility in your ranks as a result of the most recent Penguin 3.0 update, you’re probably in the clear. While there are a few spurts left over from the weeks-long rollout, the majority of the update’s impact has already manifested. If you’ve noticed a sharp ranking drop for any keywords or a sharp drop in your organic search traffic, it could be a result of a Penguin-related penalty.
To determine the root cause of the Penguin-related drop (and correct it as soon as possible), take a look at your backlink profile using an online tool like Moz’sOpen Site Explorer. Here, you’ll be able to browse through your current external links and locate any that appear to be built unnaturally—keep a special eye out for:
While Google’s updates do follow a loose pattern, they are still somewhat unpredictable. Google is known for changing the game, and they like to keep search marketers on their toes. As such, it’s impossible to be fully prepared for everything Google has in store for the future.
Instead of trying to take advantage of the current state of the algorithm or trying to predict what’s in the pipeline, focus on giving your customers and web users the best possible online experience. Build links that are truly valuable to the people encountering them, and build meaningful online relationships with reputable sites. These actions will always be favored by search engines, and you’ll never face a penalty for creating genuinely valuable links or content.