In this in-depth analysis we are going to highlight some interesting findings about the Google Penguin 3.0 Update. Although speculations have been on since early summer, it wasn’t until this fall that Google’s representatives said it loud and clear : Penguin 3.0 is rolling out! It’s true that “it’s a slow worldwide rollout, so you may notice it settling down over the next few weeks” and it’s also “ affecting fewer than 1% of queries in US English search results.” as the Google guys announced. As the sixth version of the Google update named after the funny-looking ice-gentleman (admit it, penguins do look like they are wearing tuxedos) is on the roll, our guess is that everyone is trying to understand its impact. This is why we did a bit of research in trying to understand how Penguin 3.0 is working and what we should expect for the next period of time. The unnatural link detection was made using the cognitiveSEO tool which allowed us to clearly see how Google’s new algorithm update is working by now.
What Does Penguin 3.0 Brings New to the Table?
Penguin 3.0 was here! But is it still around?
Traditionally, Penguin has been all about reducing spam and prioritizing high-quality links in ranking sites. This is something the current version does as well, but as Google notes, it is not just a refresh of previous versions, but rather a “major” algorithm change. Since Google algorithms are known to sometimes work in mysterious ways, this means that it might be a while before being able to fully asses the impact of the new Penguin on the SEO world. What is clear so far is that this update is not meant to indiscriminately hurt sites left and right, but rather to refine Google’s ability to discern between the genuine and the artificial, between the natural and unnatural. So the outcomes of 3.0 could possibly be judged not only in terms of who lost, but also, potentially, who won. Below we take a look at sites that suffered significant Penguin 3.0 Penalties in rankings after the update rollout, as well as sites that enjoyed a significant Google Penguin Recovery.
Penguin 3.0 Penalties & Losers
We’ve searched far and wide to see the “ravages” that Penguin 3.0 has made in the world of SEO. We will list for you some examples of sites that lost their ranks as a consequence of the algorithm update but we will focus on a website whose activity we found particulary interesting.
Wedding Dress Trend deals in exactly with what its name indicates: discount wedding dresses and wedding accessories from China. A short look at the linking profile quickly establishes the reason for the penalty. The percentage of unnatural links out of the total number of links is quite staggering: more than two thirds.
This site did not even exist before October 2013 and within less than a year it got to a pretty hefty SEO Visibility. Quite the success story, right? Indeed if you don’t care about lasting success. With three quarters of the links being either unnatural or at the very least suspect, this looks like a linking strategy that was created only for the purpose of quick ascension in the ranking. November 2013 shows an extremely disproportionate relation between the number of links and the number of referring domains, suggesting old-school SEO tricks rather than organic growth.
They cover almost every basis of “unnaturalness”: suspect anchor text, low authority links, thin content, link networks etc. What is even more astounding is that until Penguin 3.0 this site enjoyed a growth in the rankings using this strategy.
Just how shady were the links? They include examples such as anchor texts in blog/forum posts, blog comments with commercial anchor text, anchor text in large link lists and so on. None of these are indicative of an actual SEO strategy, but rather of marketing based on shady techniques and quantity over quality.
Penguin 3.0 caught up on that and the results are showing: over a very short period of time in October the site has dropped by 3 000 visibility points in the rankings. Is this something from which it will be able to recover? Potentially, yes, as we are going to see in the following Penguin Recovery examples. But this largely depends on how much Wedding Dress Trend is willing to invest in organic growth rather than fast-paced winnings.
More Penguin Losers
For a better understanding on what the Google Penguin 3.0 Updates doesn’t really like, we used the SEO visibility chart to find out some other sites that aren’t doing very well for the moment in terms of rankings.
Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a site that claims to have one of the most comprehensive reference work cataloging of all the world’s known living languages. It seems that Penguin 3.0 didn’t really believe this piece of information, or at least, this is what we conclude giving the fact that it penalized this quite hard.
The very translated site Giftsngames ( we thought it ‘s worth mentioning the fact that it is translated in 12 languages; this says a lot about the wide audience they have) got hit really hard by Google’s latest update. Enjoying a high popularity in the past year, the site in question has dramatically lost its rankings.
We don’t know for sure weather the site below entered in a clean up process or not but definitely it is facing some serious problems. Judging by their visibility before the drop, it seems like short-haircuts.com had a huge popularity. Unfortunately for them, their drop is equally huge.
Penguin 3.0 Penalty Recovery Winners
What is interesting to mention here is that we find a quite impressive number of sites (we are going to list just some of them here) that follows the same pattern: penalized on the 6th of October 2013 and recovered one year later. There is no need to think at some paranormal activity or anything like that. All the analyzed sites were pulled out of rankings by Penguin 2.1 and looks like Penguin 3.0 was the knight in shiny armor for them. Let’s take a look at some examples!
First Penguin Recovery – CostumeWorks.com
Costume Works is a very typical example of a winning site. It gathers Halloween costume ideas from users all around, hosting a gallery which serves as inspiration to others, as well as organizing an annual costume contest. More than a year ago, in May 2013, Costume Works suffered a rather severe penalty, most likely at the hands of one of Penguin’s “younger siblings”. A site that had had a visibility score of close to 1 500 at one point suddenly dropped to below 200. It dropped even more after August and for most of the fall and winter of 2013 and spring of 2014 it was almost invisible on the search engine’s radar.
Looking at the linking analysis back then, it was probably well deserved: almost a quarter of the anchor text was commercial. However they became aware of that in the meantime, it worked: they dropped a lot of their links (a lot), but they have a much better outlook now: less than 10% of their links are commercial anchor text.
Pretty much everything about Costume Works looks better now. Their link profile naturalness is excellent, with just 6% of their links looking suspect and none looking unnatural.
This is not simply chance, or luck, but surely the result of intense link building strategy, as evidenced by the link positioning and webpage type analysis. The large majority of their links show up inside blog posts or on forum threads or in the form of short paragraphs of text. Blog comments, which are usually a flag for shady or unnatural links, do not even add up to making 1%, indicating accidents rather than website-endorsed initiatives. Blogs, forums and personal sites represent 90% of the webpage type makeup.
Second Penguin 3.0 Recovery – XtremeDiesel.com
Penguin 3.0 brought good news for XDP (Extreme Diesel Power) a site that commercializes car accessories and gadgets. The same fateful day of October pulled out Xtreme Diesel from Google’s golden list, leaving them to struggle for some rankings for not less than one year.
As sweet as the victory might be, it doesn’t mean much if the reasons of the triumph remains unknown. Tormented by the investigator’s curiosity, we did what we know best and run the analysis to check out their website’s profile. Let’s take a look on what we found.
Before beginning to analyze the links’ profile, the system automatically gives us a helpful hand in understanding how things are standing, generating a message that speaks for itself: this site has a suspect link profile and should be investigated carefully. There is a high chance that this site might be penalized in the future for unnatural links (if it hasn’t been already). We don’t know how this site’s link profile looked like before being penalized but judging by the fact that they recovered and still have some (not many, indeed) shady links, leads us to believe that there was a lot of unnatural activity in the house. The “fishy” links they still have around are low authority with thin content, coming mainly from link network and forums. However, as judging outward appearances is not really our thing, we checked out some of their shady links in order to understand what we are talking about.
All you Star Wars fans, don’t get over excited and let’s figure out why the xtremediesel link on this forum is considered to be unnatural. It looks clearly to us that the profile created on this forum has no other purpose than creating links. It doesn’t seem like bringing added value to the forum nor generating high quality content but just some random thrown links. And Xtreme Diesel seems to have still lots of active links from forum profiles like this one. Yet, they are probably still in the “cleaning session” and whatever they did to make things right, they should be proud as their work paid off.
More Penguin 3.0 Recoveries
Penguin 3.0 brought good news for some other sites previously hit by its younger brother, the Penguin 2.1 Update. Let’s take a look on what we’ve found!
ItsHot is an e-commerce site specialized in jewelry, watches and all sort of accessories. Dropped on the same 6th of October, this site encounters a modest yet notable recovery thanks to the newest Penguin update.
Roundgames (it’s not hard to guess what is their field of activity is) also got hit by Penguin 2.1 but was powered up by Penguin 3.0.
If you are to bring more utilities into your kitchen, shopworldkitchen.com is one of the places to browse. With a spectacular rise this month, it looks like this site is definitely Google’s cup of tea.
Voguewigs, a site specialized in synthetic and human hair wigs had the same faith as its predecessors. Penalized on October 2013, modestly but still going up recovery on October 2014.
It is possible that watchcartoononline.com might not have been on Penguin 2.1’s taste due to some copywriting issues. The good news for them is that they are back on the track and it seems like they are on an ascending trend.
As the algorithm is not rolled out completely, it would be hasty of us to draw some exhaustive conclusions. Yet, from what we’ve seen so far, Penguin 3.0 is more about recoveries and not so much about penalties. However, we cannot forget that Penguin is an algorithm focused on decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using SEO techniques involved in increasing artificially the ranking of a webpage by manipulating the number of links pointing to the page. We don’t know exactly why this algorithm is called “penguin” but it seems to me that it was inspired from one characteristic of the real penguins: camouflage. Penguins’ striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, their black backs blend into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, their white bellies are hidden against the bright surface. This being said, it is better to be safe than sorry so we highly recommend you to closely monitor your sites or your client’s sites in order to prevent any Penguin “attack”.
And don’t forget. It is always easier to prevent & protect your rankings than to recover them.