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Penguin 3.0 Rollout Analysis and How to Understand It
The Penguin Update number 6 – or Google Penguin 3.0 was rolled out in October 2014.
This is an interesting in-depth rollout analysis by Certified LRT Xpert Bartosz Góralewicz who looks into
- Impact of Negative SEO and Google’s success fixing it
- Negative SEO victims he worked with – with detailed examples
- Black Hat Affiliate Sites - including detailed examples
- Penguin 3.0 Recovery Examples
- Nerdy Penguin Update data
- A Geeky Penguin Update Knowledge bonus
- 3 things to look for while diagnosing Penguin 3.0
- The future of Google Penguin updates
- And so much more…
Today I am proud to present a long and detailed case-study that follows our past analysis work of the Penguin Updates, Penalties and SEO Tutorials.
Enjoy & Learn
Christoph C. Cemper
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Table of contents
- Penguin 3.0 Rollout Analysis and How to Understand It
- Why is Penguin 3.0 a disappointment for me?
- A few important facts about Penguin
- The reason behind the delay in launching Penguin 3.0
- Negative SEO
- New Black Hat linking strategies
- How did Google cope with the problems above?
- Why not?
- Penguin 3.0 drops
- Negative SEO victims
- Spammy sites “missed” by Penguin
- Black Hat Sites
- Example Black Hat Affiliate Sites that dropped with Penguin 3.0
- Negative SEO sites dropping
- Rank tracking screenshot
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Link Detox Risk Before the initial link audit
- Link Detox Risk After the initial link audit
- What to do now?
- Negative SEO - Conclusion
- Penguin 3.0 recoveries
- Penguin 3.0 recoveries - examples
- United States
- No. 1 - about.com (not Penguin)
- No. 2 - washingtonpost.com (not Penguin)
- No. 3 - rollingstone.com (not Penguin)
- No. 1 - ebay.com (not Penguin)
- No. 2 - onlymelbourne.com.au (not Penguin)
- No. 3 - kioskea.net
- Recovery - case studies
- Ricochet recoveries
- Orca Technique – follow Up
- Nerdy Penguin Update data
- Geeky Penguin Update Knowledge bonus
- 3 things to look for while diagnosing Penguin 3.0 25
- The future of Google Penguin updates
- High expectations met with poor performance
- SEO is not optional
- What are the options for webmaster’s negatively affected by Penguin 3.0?
- Finishing thoughts?
Penguin 3.0 Rollout Analysis and How to Understand It
On Saturday morning (EU time), we all noticed a lot of SERP movement. It is now confirmed: Penguin 3.0 has rolled out.
Still, even as I write this article, I have the feeling that I’m waiting for something more. I feel like I just unwrapped a huge fancy present only to find a pair of ugly socks in it.
So far, Penguin 3.0 has been a huge disappointment for me and many other webmasters.
Why is Penguin 3.0 a disappointment for me?
To this day I remember Saturday morning on October 5, 2013: the morning of Penguin 2.1. My mobile rang whole day, my inbox was full, and I couldn’t even think about looking at Skype or Facebook. That update was really a game-changer. It was huge. Penguin 2.0 recoveries were gigantic, and spammy sites were dropping like flies.
Now compare that to this past weekend of October 18, 2014, just after the Penguin 3.0 rollout.
! Really I'm just seeing a little more hacking in payday. If this is peng, then peng 1.0 sufferers will continue suffering.
— Christoph C. Cemper (@cemper) October 19, 2014
A few most interesting comments
“Looks like some Panda, some Pirate and an unfinished Penguin at the moment.”
“No major change in our search engine traffic after we were hit by the last penguin update on 4th october 2013 and our traffic dropped instantly.”
“Penguin has not rolled out yet in the U.S.” (written Sunday October 19th)
“No UK result for me.”
And my personal FB status:
Also, Dejan Petrovic wrote an interesting post about his personal feelings about Penguin 3.0. I know he strongly believed Penguin 3.0 would surge SERPs. But after this weekend, he called Penguin 3.0 an underwhelming update.
Even BlackHatWorld.com forum users were surprisingly calm after Penguin 3.0. There were many interesting posts that you didn’t see with Penguin 2.1.
This is my favorite. It shows exactly why so many “white hat” webmasters are not too happy with Penguin 3.0.
A few important facts about Penguin
I’ve described the issues with a rolling new update in my Penguin 3.0 post (Btw, I was the first to blog about Penguin 3.0 in April 2013 :)). Let me quote it here:
- It is not a human-driven algorithm
- It is based on links
- It does not inform website owners about being influenced by Penguin
- It only decreases the rankings of a website (of course, you can go up on the Penguin date, but only if a site above you was affected negatively by the update)
- It is not a penalty, it is an algorithm (according to the Googlers)
- You can’t recover quickly from the ranking decrease (you need to wait for a new Penguin update)
The reason behind the delay in launching Penguin 3.0
It is difficult on the algorithm level to say if a website has a spammy link profile or is a victim of negative SEO. It is no longer a secret that, since Penguin 2.1, many webmasters adopted the technique of building links to their own website and to competitors.
We also have to deal with Kumar’s directories (he adds your website to thousands of SEO directories and asks for $2,000 - $3,000 to remove the links). He is very well known in the SEO community. I work with more than 5 websites that were attacked by those directories.
Google Webmaster Tools - Search Queries
This website was hit due to having almost 100% black hat links (mostly auto generated, spun content, etc.). There’s nothing good to support this website in Google “court.”
Link Detox score for acaiberries.it
As you see, the domain was a perfect Penguin victim candidate.
Google hiding links from webmasters?
This is disturbing. I’ve been seeing this for every website hit by Penguin: links from Google Webmaster Tools are gone!
Is it due to temporary data recalculation? Is it the “new normal”? In either case, it’s not the best solution to hide links from webmasters when they’ve just been hit.
Negative SEO sites dropping
For many (too many) of you, Kumar Vikis is too well known already. This is a scam artist, adding thousands of links to his “SEO” directories. Then he contacts the webmasters asking for money to take the links down.
It’s been going on for too long even though Google was informed about it numerous times. I am confident they didn’t take action yet because every time somebody gets attacked, his rankings spike (yeah, up) to then drop from either a manual penalty or from Penguin.
I won’t share the URL of this website because I don’t want to cause more problems for its owner. However, if any Googler would like to help out with solving this issue, feel free to contact me :).
Now here’s a local business with some links (mostly natural and a few niche related directories):
Rank tracking screenshot
Google Webmaster Tools
Unfortunately, as I write this article, Google Webmaster Tools didn’t refresh this site’s visibility. Again, the links are gone, just like in the previous example.
My team and I audited this website numerous times, and we disavowed thousands of backlinks so far. Still, new ones are showing up on a daily basis.
I’ve worked with them since ~March 2014, and we’ve managed to dodge many bullets since then. Let me show an example of their last Link Detox score (before and after).
Link Detox Risk Before the initial link audit
Keep in mind that the disavow file was already uploaded while running this report.
August 18th, 2014
Link Detox Risk After the initial link audit
September 8th, 2014
Now that looks quite ok. For September 8.
The funny thing is that between August 18th, 2014 and September 8th, 2014 we had some new directory links (the score would be even lower without them) and we assume more links were added later.
What to do now?
Penguin 3.0 hitting this site was partially my fault. I recommended auditing it once every 2 months. Doing it on a weekly/monthly basis seemed like too much for a local business. I heard Googlers say that Google will be able to diagnose Negative SEO attacks. I even heard many webmasters claim, that if it is negative SEO, they won’t be auditing the links and disavowing them since Kumar’s scam is so well known.
Many assumed that Google probably took care of many complaints about it on the Google Webmaster forum and stopped worrying about this scam.
Now the only solution is to audit the links on a weekly basis (this is crazy, isn’t it?) and wait for the next Penguin update (whenever that is).
I will definitely propose that my customer follow my Orca Technique on this website.
Negative SEO - Conclusion
I am sorry to say that negative SEO is still a real issue, regardless of what Googlers will say.
The new Penguin 3.0 was supposed to be the cure, but it turned out to be the poison for many white hat webmasters, too.
Ongoing Link Risk Management on a weekly basis seems mandatory.
Penguin 3.0 recoveries
With Penguin 2.1, recoveries were quite spectacular. This time, it is not the case. Almost all recoveries I see are slow, not the SERP nuke many were hoping for.
Data from Sistrix and SearchMetrics definitely confirms it.
Let’s take a look at Australia (I find it really interesting). There are more Panda recoveries here than Penguin 3.0 recoveries.
Penguin 3.0 recoveries - examples
No. 1 - about.com (not Penguin)
No comment here. The screenshot above explains everything!
This is also not a Penguin 3.0 recovery.
Their biggest visibility jump on October 19th 2014 is still not a Penguin recovery.
As you can see, there are many reasons for webmasters to be disappointed. Other markets looked quite similar….
No. 1 - ebay.com (not Penguin)
EBay.com being no. 1 confirms my theory. EBay is not a Penguin recovery website; they are recovering from Panda 4.0, yet they are no. 1 here.
It is similar with eBay because they are also a Panda 4.0 victim that is now recovering.
This looks like a Penguin recovery.
The third biggest jump in Australia got only 22% more visibility.
I remember Penguin 2.1 and recoveries and drops were far more drastic. With the data above, you can clearly see why so many webmasters remain frustrated after waiting for Penguin 3.0 for more than a year.
Recovery - case studies
So far, every single recovery case I looked at was completely different. I’ve noticed a few interesting factors that are worth mentioning. But before I do that, let me show you a few examples.
I’ve asked Karl - the website owner - to share his story and recovery. This website had a lot of manual work done to recover. The history goes back to Penguin 1.0, which is quite unusual.
A few words from Karl:
“My website was hit on April 24th, 2012. For the first week on, I did not notice there was a traffic drop as I was not keeping track of traffic because we paid an SEO company to work on this. I first noticed sales were poor and then learned that our website was hit by Penguin 1. I researched Penguin and tried to understand it. Link removals started in May 2012 after our site got hit again by Penguin. At the time, GWT was showing 600,000+ links, and it did not take long to work out the problems with over optimised anchor text links.
“One of the worst problems was a Blogspot template using keyword-rich anchor text links in the footer that was bought by our SEO company. I had to buy my website out of the SEO contract, and they never helped me to recover at all.
“By October 2012, link removals had been quite good. Links in GWT were now around 100,000 and the disavow tool was released so I uploaded the full list of our poor links to the file. In January 2013, out of desperation I filed for reconsideration (though I never received a manual action) and was surprised to see my reconsideration request failed because our site had a partial link penalty. After resending link removals and documenting everything, the partial was revoked in March 2013. GWT was now showing 17,130 links as of February 4, 2013 but still no recovery from Penguin.
“In October 2013 our site dropped again on the Penguin 2.1 date. In a Google Hangout with John Mueller, he confirmed that Penguin was having a major affect on my site and advised I clean more links. On his advice I audited 410 all inner pages that had SEO links pointing to them, as well as a fresh link audit which I now do every week. Over the last year this has helped find 200+ extra spam domains pointed to mine. With the help of Bartosz, Scrapebox and some of his scripts, we found a handful of other spam/poor quality links which have been disavowed or removed.
“Over the last 2 years we have managed to gain hundreds of great natural links from sites like the BBC, NBC, AOL News, Yahoo News, and ITV.”
I exchanged many emails with Karl over the last few months and I can say he probably put more work into his Penguin recovery than many professional SEOs.
What did the recovery look like?
Google analytics - Google Organic traffic only.
And to show the traffic spike a little better, look at Google traffic (hourly traffic compared to Saturday the week before).
I saw a few websites where it seems they’ve recovered a little bit, but I don’t think they’ve recovered from Penguin. In some niches there were multiple websites penalized in the top 10, causing some serious SERP shake-ups.
It is still too early to show exact cases because I still see a lot of SERP movement today, with traffic shifting every few hours.
Orca Technique Follow Up
Now this is something that many of you asked me about. For those of you who didn’t read my Orca Method article, it is basically a Penguin Update Recovery Technique I’ve created. It allows you to recover from Penguin quicker with a 301 redirect.
I’ve followed up on ~20 Orca Method websites I know about. After looking into the data, I can definitely say that whether you get hit by Penguin or not depends 100% on the link building strategy you adapt with a new, recovered domain. Four out of 20 domains got badly hit by Penguin. In every case it was caused by going back to old link building habits.
Nerdy Penguin Update data
I am not a big fan of listing exact issues targeted by Penguin like exact match anchor ratio or link types. I believe that since Penguin 2, it is much more complex. Still, for those of you looking for “ready to go” solutions, I can list a few clear patterns that will get you busted with Penguin.
- No traffic links
- SEO directories (I saw websites with only 10-15 directories being hit by Penguin)
- Bookmarking sites
- Article submission sites
- Press Releases
- Paid Guest posts
- Auto generated links (for example xRumer, GSA, etc.)
- Link networks
- Mass comment/forum links (low quality)
Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe that guest posts can be a great base for your content marketing efforts and even link building. Still, 99% of those I see are really easy to spot on the algorithmical level.
All the examples listed above were main reasons from a site I investigated that was hit by Penguin. In my opinion, Penguin 3.0 targeted exactly the same patterns as Penguin 2.1, but it was softer.
Geeky Penguin Update Knowledge bonus
Here’s a quick Penguin knowledge test based on a comment from my own analysis.
If you don’t know why the screenshot above is funny, you will most probably be hit by the next Penguin update.
3 things to look for while diagnosing Penguin 3.0
- Drops in rankings between October 17th and 18th.
- Drops in traffic around October 18th
- Links gone from Google Webmaster Tools (seems to be the pattern with Penguin 3.0)
The future of Google Penguin updates
Before the Penguin 3.0 release, we’ve heard a lot about Penguin being updated on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, today’s hangout with John Mueller didn’t confirm this information.
Later in the discussion, John mentioned that the holiday season is coming, and he is not expecting any major updates during that time.
I believe this statement was made to straighten out John Mueller’s answer from yesterday’s hangout, where he confirmed that Penguin was fully rolled out and he is not expecting it till next year (of course adding “most probably” a lot).
High expectations met with poor performance.
After going through the data above, you can clearly see that Penguin 3.0 is causing disappointment for white hat SEOs and relief for black hat SEOs.
I can see Googlers giving now hundreds of good (and a few great) reasons why it is not in their best interest to roll out a better update.
My point of view is simple
After a year of waiting for the new anti-spam algorithm from the world’s best IT engineers, I expected them to worry a little less about AdWords income, and a little bit more about thousands of businesses going down from Negative SEO. Now we have another year of
white hat SEOs ranking lower than black hat SEOs in the top 10...even after Penguin.
SEO is not optional
A year ago, after Penguin 2.1, there were hundreds of articles about SEO being dead. I never even considered this scenario then. Now I think Google is pushing webmasters to be even more dependent on good SEOs, regular link audits, backlink monitoring, etc.
You can have the best content ever and you can still get easily hit by Penguin or (in more and more cases) Panda as well (technical SEO issues). SEOs are not assisting with ranking the content now; they are protecting the digital assets. My role as SEO changed from promoting the content to protecting the content from Google’s wrath.
What are the options for webmaster’s negatively affected by Penguin 3.0?
If you got hit by Penguin 3.0, you definitely must proceed with a full link audit and ongoing link risk management (on a weekly basis)!
After this is done, you have two options:
- Wait until the next Penguin update for the recovery
- Use the Orca Method to recover quicker with a 301 redirect
Of course, there is always the third option: you can start with a new domain.
I believe this is the first in-detail analysis of Penguin 3.0, and yet I feel like I barely scraped the surface.
With John Mueller claiming that Penguin is fully rolled out on Monday and they are not expecting it till next year, then Pierre Far posting the exact opposite Tuesday morning; we are getting closer to full schizophrenia. Basing your business decisions on it, can become quite
difficult… I honestly think that John Mueller is trying to help, but it seems like he is not really
informed about many things. Meanwhile, he is the only one authorized to speak to webmasters. For those of you taking it all too serious, I can recommend a simple test. I do that sometimes after listening to Googlers too much Good luck!
For those of you taking it all too serious, I can recommend a simple test. I do that sometimes after listening to Googlers too much 🙂
PS: better start your next link audit now!
This case study was written by Bartosz Góralewicz, CEO at Elephate, and proud user of LinkResearchTools and Link Detox.
A word from Christoph C. Cemper
Bartosz once again showed how fast and detailed he can work with us and I am proud to have him among our team of Certified LRT Professionals. Our goal is to provide our user community and clients with quality service and knowledge. Our Certified LRT Professionals and Xperts like Bartosz are key to achieving this goal.
I look forward to Bartosz’s future work, and I personally recommend working with him whenever you get the opportunity.
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