On Friday Google’s Gary Illyes announced Penguin 4.0 was now live.
Key points highlighted in their post are:
- Penguin is a part of their core ranking algorithm
- Penguin is now real-time, rather than something which periodically refreshes
- Penguin has shifted from being a sitewide negative ranking factor to a more granular factor
Things not mentioned in the post
- if it has been tested extensively over the past month
- if the algorithm is just now rolling out or if it is already done rolling out
- if the launch of a new version of Penguin rolled into the core ranking algorithm means old sites hit by the older versions of Penguin have recovered or will recover anytime soon
Since the update was announced, the search results have become more stable.
No signs of major SERP movement yesterday – the two days since Penguin started rolling out have been quieter than most of September.— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) September 24, 2016
They still may be testing out fine tuning the filters a bit…
Fyi they’re still split testing at least 3 different sets of results. I assume they’re trying to determine how tight to set the filters.— SEOwner (@tehseowner) September 24, 2016
…but what exists now is likely to be what sticks for an extended period of time.
Penguin Algorithm Update History
- Penguin 1: April 24, 2012
- Penguin 2: May 26, 2012
- Penguin 3: October 5, 2012
- Penguin 4: May 22, 2013 (AKA: Penguin 2.0)
- Penguin 5: October 4, 2013 (AKA Penguin 2.1)
- Penguin 6: rolling update which began on October 17, 2014 (AKA Penguin 3.0)
- Penguin 7: September 23, 2016 (AKA Penguin 4.0)
Now that Penguin is baked into Google’s core ranking algorithms, no more Penguin updates will be announced. Panda updates stopped being announced last year. Instead we now get unnamed “quality” updates.
Volatility Over the Long Holiday Weekend
Earlier in the month many SEOs saw significant volatility in the search results, beginning ahead of Labor Day weekend with a local search update. The algorithm update observations were dismissed as normal fluctuations in spite of the search results being more volatile than they have been in over 4 years.
There are many reasons for search engineers to want to roll out algorithm updates (or at least test new algorithms) before a long holiday weekend:
- no media coverage: few journalists on the job & a lack of expectation that the PR team will answer any questions. no official word beyond rumors from self-promotional marketers = no story
- many SEOs outside of work: few are watching as the algorithms tip their cards.
- declining search volumes: long holiday weekends generally have less search volume associated with them. Thus anyone who is aggressively investing in SEO may wonder if their site was hit, even if it wasn’t.
The communications conflicts this causes between in-house SEOs and their bosses, as well as between SEO companies and their clients both makes the job of the SEO more miserable and makes the client more likely to pull back on investment, while ensuring the SEO has family issues back home as work ruins their vacation.
- fresh users: as people travel their search usage changes, thus they have fresh sets of eyes & are doing somewhat different types of searches. This in turn makes their search usage data more dynamic and useful as a feedback mechanism on any changes made to the underlying search relevancy algorithm or search result interface.
Algo Flux Testing Tools
Just about any of the algorithm volatility tools showed far more significant shift earlier in this month than over the past few days.
One issue with looking at any of the indexes is the rank shifts tend to be far more dramatic as you move away from the top 3 or 4 search results, so the algorithm volatility scores are much higher than the actual shifts in search traffic (the least volatile rankings are also the ones with the most usage data & ranking signals associated with them, so the top results for those terms tend to be quite stable outside of verticals like news).
You can use AWR’s flux tracker to see how volatility is higher across the top 20 or top 50 results than it is across the top 10 results.
Example Ranking Shifts
I shut down our membership site in April & spend most of my time reading books & news to figure out what’s next after search, but a couple legacy clients I am winding down working with still have me tracking a few keywords & one of the terms saw a lot of smaller sites (in terms of brand awareness) repeatedly slide and recover over the past month.
Notice how a number of sites would spike down on the same day & then back up. And then the pattern would repeat.
As a comparison, here is that chart over the past 3 months.
Notice the big ranking moves which became common over the past month were not common the 2 months prior.
Negative SEO Was Real
There is a weird sect of alleged SEOs which believes Google is omniscient, algorithmic false positives are largely a myth, AND negative SEO was never a real thing.
As it turns out, negative SEO was real, which likely played a part in Google taking years to roll out this Penguin update AND changing how they process Penguin from a sitewide negative factor to something more granular.
Update != Penalty Recovery
Part of the reason many people think there was no Penguin update or responded to the update with “that’s it?” is because few sites which were hit in the past recovered relative to the number of sites which ranked well until recently just got clipped by this algorithm update.
When Google updates algorithms or refreshes data it does not mean sites which were previously penalized will immediately rank again.
Some penalties (absent direct Google investment or nasty public relations blowback for Google) require a set amount of time to pass before recovery is even possible.
Google has no incentive to allow a broad-based set of penalty recoveries on the same day they announce a new “better than ever” spam fighting algorithm.
They’ll let some time base before the penalized sites can recover.
Further, many of the sites which were hit years ago & remain penalized have been so defunded for so long that they’ve accumulated other penalties due to things like tightening anchor text filters, poor user experience metrics, ad heavy layouts, link rot & neglect.
What to do?
So here are some of the obvious algorithmic holes left by the new Penguin approach…
- only kidding
- not sure that would even be a valid mindset in the current market
- hell, the whole ecosystem is built on quicksand
The trite advice is to make quality content, focus on the user, and build a strong brand.
But you can do all of those well enough that you change the political landscape yet still lose money.
“Mother Jones published groundbreaking story on prisons that contributed to change in govt policy. Cost $350k & generated $5k in ad revenue”— SEA☔☔LE SEO (@searchsleuth998) August 22, 2016
Google & Facebook are in a cold war, competing to see who can kill the open web faster, using each other as justification for their own predation.
And that is without getting hit by a penalty.
It is getting harder to win in search period.
And it is getting almost impossible to win in search by focusing on search as an isolated channel.
I never understood mentality behind Penguin “recovery” people. The spam links ranked you, why do you expect to recover once they’re removed?— SEOwner (@tehseowner) September 25, 2016
Efforts and investments in chasing the algorithms in isolation are getting less viable by the day.
Obviously removing them may get you out of algorithm, but then you’ll only have enough power to rank where you started before spam links.— SEOwner (@tehseowner) September 25, 2016
Anyone operating at scale chasing SEO with automation is likely to step into a trap.
When it happens, that player better have some serious savings or some non-Google revenues, because even with “instant” algorithm updates you can go months or years on reduced revenues waiting for an update.
And if the bulk of your marketing spend while penalized is spent on undoing past marketing spend (rather than building awareness in other channels outside of search) you can almost guarantee that business is dead.
“If you want to stop spam, the most straight forward way to do it is to deny people money because they care about the money and that should be their end goal. But if you really want to stop spam, it is a little bit mean, but what you want to do, is break their spirits.” – Matt Cutts
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Google recently made it much harder to receive accurate keyword data from the AdWords keyword tool.
They have not only grouped similar terms, but then they broadened out the data ranges to absurdly wide ranges like 10,000 to 100,000 searches a month. Only active AdWords advertisers receive (somewhat?) decent keyword data. And even with that, there are limitations. Try to view too many terms and you get:
“You’ve reached the maximum number of page views for this day. This page now shows ranges for search volumes. For a more detailed view, check back in 24 hours.”
Jennifer Slegg shared a quote from an AdWords advertiser who spoke with a representative:
“I have just spoken to a customer service manger from the Australia support help desk. They have advised me that there must be continuous activity in your google ad-words campaign (clicks and campaigns running) for a minimum of 3-4 months continuous in order to gain focused keyword results. If you are seeing a range 10-100 or 100-1k or 1k -10k its likely your adwords account does not have an active campaign or has not had continuous campaigns or clicks.”
So you not only need to be an advertiser, but you need to stay active for a quarter-year to a third of a year to get decent data.
Part of the sales pitch of AdWords/PPC was that you can see performance data right away, whereas SEO investments can take months or years to back out.
But with Google outright hiding keyword data even from active advertisers, it is probably easier and more productive for those advertisers to start elsewhere.
There are many other keyword data providers (Wordtracker, SEMrush, Wordze, Spyfu, KeywordSpy, Keyword Discovery, Moz, Compete.com, SimilarWeb, Xedant, Ubersuggest, KeywordTool.io, etc.) And there are newer entrants like the Keyword Keg Firefox extension & the brilliantly named KeywordShitter).
In light of Google’s push to help make the web more closed-off & further tilt the web away from the interests of searchers toward the interest of big advertisers*, we decided to do the opposite & recently upgraded our keyword tool to add the following features…
- expanded the results per search to 500
- we added negative match and modified broad match to the keyword export spreadsheet (along with already having phrase, broad & exact match)
Our keyword tool lists estimated search volumes, bid prices, cross links to SERPs, etc. Using it does require free account registration to use, but it is a one-time registration and the tool is free. And we don’t collect phone numbers, hard sell over the phone, etc. We even shut down our paid members area, so you are not likely to receive any marketing messages from us anytime soon.
Export is lightning quick AND, more importantly, we have a panda in our logo!
Here is what the web interface looks like
And here is an screenshot of data in Excel with the various keyword match types
If the tool looks like it is getting decent usage, we may upgrade it further to refresh the data more frequently, consider adding more languages, add a few more reference links to related niche sites in the footer cross-reference section, and maybe add a few other features.
“Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them.” — Ha-Joon Chang
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