Google Launches “Penguin Update” Targeting Webspam In Search Results

Google has announced that it is releasing a new search algorithm that it hopes will better catch people who spam its search results or purposely do things to rank better that are against Google’s publishers guidelines. Going live today, Google says the “Penguin Update” will impact about 3% of search queries.

From the company’s posts on the Inside Search and Google Webmaster Central blogs:

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s quality guidelines. This algorithm represents another step in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.

Fighting Web Spam

What’s “webspam,” as Google calls it, or search spam? Pages that try to gain better rankings through things like:

Our search engine spam penalties page explains more about these types of common spam.

Did Google Already Fight Spam? Yes, But…

The web spam techniques above aren’t new. Some of them are more than 10 years old and date back to before Google even operated as a search engine. So why is Google only now going after such methods?

It’s not, even though the blog post might give some newcomers that impression. Google’s warned about and fought against such techniques for ages. Rather, what’s really happening is that Google is rolling out better ways that it hopes to detect such abuses.

Despite warning against such spam techniques, it’s easy to find cases where they still work. It’s enough to make some long-time “white hat” SEOs feel foolish arguing that people should avoid spamming Google when it seems to pay-off, as I wrote about recently.

“We’ve heard a lot of solid feedback from SEOs who are trying to do the right thing and who don’t want to see webspam techniques rewarded, and we feel the same way,” said Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team.

How’s Google improved its spam filters? No surprise here, Google’s not saying.

Targeting Spam, Not “Over-Optimization”

Somewhat related, is this the “over-optimization” penalty that Cutts warned was coming last month? Yes and no. It is the update he was talking about, but Cutts is clarifying that now somewhat infamous over-optimization statement.

“I think ‘over-optimization’ wasn’t the best description, because it blurred the distinction between white hat SEO and webspam. This change is targeted at webspam, not SEO, and we tried to make that fact more clear in the blog post,” Cutts told me.

By the way, if you’re looking for a catchy name for this update as Google has sometimes given other ones like the Panda Update, bad news. Officially, Google is calling it the “webspam algorithm update,” the company told me.

Postscript: Google has now released a name, so we’ve updated the story headline. See our follow-up post, The Penguin Update: Google’s Webspam Algorithm Gets Official Name

SEO Continues To Be Encouraged

Indeed, today’s post makes a point of contrasting “white hat SEO” against “black hat webspam” and encourages people to continue with SEO best practices:

Our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics….

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings….

We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.

3% Of Queries Impacted

Is this update the reason behind ranking drops that many reported last week? Google had already said the cause of that was due to a problem with a parked domains classifier and reconfirms that today’s new spam fighting algorithm update was not part of last week’s changes.

Google says the new update will impact about 3.1% of queries in English; 3% in German, Chinese and Arabic. The percentage might be higher for languages where spam has been slipping through even more, such as in Polish, where 5% of queries are expected to change.

Postscript: See our follow-up stories:

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Penguin Update | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | SEO: Spamming | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.cutey.co.uk/ cutey

    Seeing a huge difference in SERPS, more than 3%

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcusu.radu Marcusu Radu

    Any chances that Google alter the results now or this is it? My sites are upside down. What do you think?

  • jim_tre

    Most searches I have done today have shown very bad results, either wikipedia pages that have little or no relevance to the keyword (although the keyword is usually found somewhere on the page) or spammy web 2 buffer sites. 

  • http://twitter.com/explimo exceptionallimousine

    Saem here in Toronto limousine and now My sites are no where to be seen !!

  • jim_tre

    Don’t anyone search for Viagra today, you will get 2 blank pages and 2 .edu’s! Not a keyword I am interested in.. no really.. I don’t need it.. really!

  • Villette Cottrell

    That exactly seems to be the case dannycoolstar.  Here’s a case study from a guy that offered said negative SEO package.  He even explained the steps in detail.

    http://trafficplanet.com/topic/2372-successful-negative-seo-case-study/

    It seems legit.  Checked the target site’s SERPs in SEMRush.  Although it’s not as bad as this guy describes it (i.e. totally removed from SERPs), it’s still pretty bad.  5363 organic results in May 2011 and down to 1364 results in March 2012 with a continuous trend down.

    It’s starting to look like that Google’s efforts to combat webspam is increasing the possibility of negative SEO.

    Regarding today’s update, I think Google shouldn’t penalize based on negative links.  It should just devalue those negative links to 0, not -1 you know what I’m saying?

  • Will Spencer

     Or it will just drive them to AdWords…

  • Will Spencer

    The only thing that is certain is that change will keep happening.

    Unfortunately, with Google this usually just means that the SERPs will continue to get less usable.

    I am really sick of Yahoo Answers and YouTube spam in my search results.

    Today I am searching for some technical data and all relevant results are COMPLETELY GONE. I am not finding relevant results in the first ten pages of search results.

  • Trương Hạo Dân

    this update was not like google at all, so disappointed …

  • http://www.i95dev.com/ Victor Achilles

    The challenges are getting tougher & tougher. What new responsibilities do we have to look for now?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000348695205 Muhammad Irfan

     i think too you are right, there are mistakes in google, google itself ranks high a website and then same site is deranked, i also became prey of this update, one of my websites was not in my seo focus and it also went down with the optimized website. This update is just to say people, go out of google dependency.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcusu.radu Marcusu Radu

    Thanks for your time Will!

  • Swarna89

    This is really a good news that Google is taking a effective step to stop  spam techniques.Thanks for such a valuable blog.

  • http://twitter.com/giftter giftter

    Well, i replaced my home page with bing.com and removed google.com , i do not like giants..

  • http://vsocio.com Muhammad Usman

    Well thats very good. my site http://vsocio.com never get hit by panda. hope it will not effect this time also. 

  • Shreyas Mulgund

    Site has seen marginal increase for some of the main keywords. Will have to verify whether it is a temporary or a permanent thing.

    I think site rankings for long-tail keywords have been hammered. Also, keywords for which there is no variety in the link profile (read – blog links, article links & forums), have been hit badly.

    It is quite obvious too, if you have created only one type of links then Google will be more likely to perceive it as link spam, and has to naturally take it out in a “Webspam” update.

  • http://profiles.google.com/laurentiukendo Laurentiu Tiron

    2 words : FUCK GOOGLE :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/johannes.baas Johannes Baas

    These are anxious days for companies like ours that rely on Google. 

  • dudley76

    Thanks to Google, my business is ruined…

    I performed all of my own SEO work for my business website.  No paid 3rd party help.  All directory inclusion requests organically accomplished…a little bit at a time.  Weekly blog with fresh content based on the ever changing insurance world (especially with regards to healthcare).  As of last night, my visibility went from 50% to 5%.
    I’m sunk…truly…sunk.

    Guess it’s time to go back to my old 9-5 software QA career.  Hopefully, it’s not too late as I’ve been out of the game now 3 years in lieu of my once “new” self employment endeavor as an insurance broker.

    Thanks Google…way to treat an honest, hard-working American.

    Wait a minute.  I AM an insurance broker right?  I just suffered a loss right?  Hmmmm…maybe it’s time to find out how much personal/advertising injury insurance Google has in force.  How you all choose to use this information, is entirely up to you.

  • susannamiles

    I’ve NEVER paid for a single link. I have no idea what a blog network even is. Sure, I got a little carried away with directory submissions one summer, but that’s it. It seems a little dramatic a drop for 100 crappy directory submissions?! And articles… in the large scheme of things I have nothing. I submitted ONE article to several article sites 5 years ago. Other than that, it was one UNIQUE article per directory.
    And as far as duplicate content is concerned, I’ve never copied a single page. I write it ALL and I update it regularly ALL BY MYSELF! This brings me to My HUGEST pet peeve of ALL TIME >>> Google STILL doesn’t know where content originates but they are continuing to run these algo updates that penalize duplicate content. It’s completely ridiculous and fool hearty.  
    In a lot of cases, it’s not you or your site. I used to think that there WAS an answer to all this. But now, I’m of the opinion that google IS trying to make things better, they just haven’t quite figured out how to do it yet. They’re experimenting with our lives so to speak and until things settle down it’s going to be really tough for us small guys.

    I think that google is doing what alot of companies do. They’re making decisions based PURELY on numbers and not actually talking to REAL people. I think they’ve tried to do this (they said they had real people looking at sites manually) but, obviously there was a flaw in the process. Ehow for example is a much loved site. I know this for a fact because I was recently at an event and the host recommended that people go to ehow for instructions on how to do almost everything. Everyone there was “yaya, I LOOOOVE ehow”. I was like…but wait…Ehow is a bad site, google says so. Lol. Then, I remembered that I actually kinda liked Ehow too…before google told me they were spam. :(So. While it’s infuriating and emotionally traumatizing we shouldn’t really take it personally. Sure, we should sit back and take a good hard look at our sites and figure out how to make it better. We can ALL make our sites better. But, for some reason it feels pointless given googles fool hearty approach.

  • susannamiles

    You know what I wish… I wish that people who weren’t hit or who saw positive change would post in these forums. It ends up looking really hopeless and horrible because it’s only the people who’ve been hurt that bother to do this.

  • susannamiles

    This wouldn’t surprise me. It makes total sense to me. If you ranked a wee higher because of a link from a site and that site has been devalued, then of course your site were follow suit. I feel like google is punishing all the kids in the class because one kid behaved badly. LOL

  • dudley76

    Perhaps it’s because hardly anyone is seeing a positive benefit from the change?

  • susannamiles

    I like yahoo answers. BUT, I don’t think it should be in position 1.

  • http://twitter.com/Chande Chande
  • http://www.facebook.com/sam2san Sameer Ahamed Mulla

    Google has simply become a crying girl.. We know she wants something; but I guess we’d never find out!

  • susannamiles

    When we lose rankings SOMEONE is taking over our spot. Mostly it’s just the big huge sites (at least in my niche…weddings). But every so often I see another site slightly larger than mine jumping up before me. 

    I do get irritated when bad sites rank higher. Like really really irritated. Because I’m certain they’re in that spot because of bad links.

    Google DOES want to penalize duplicate content and spammy’ness. BUT they’re still figuring out how. Experimentation is painful especially since they haven’t even perfected the basics.

    Who is the originator of content.
    If someone changes a url, make sure old links are attributed to it.
    If someone changes a url and has 301 redirects…don’t penalize them.
    ETC ETC ETC ETC.

  • Don Marks

    @ Danny, do you know if google is sending notifications for sites that were dropped due to this “new algo change”, I have seen some sites drop overnight and wondering if I am over reacting by already submitting a request to review or if I should wait a few days to see if there is a bounce back, would be great if Matt would take some time to address some issues real time with this update as clearly many sites were impacted

  • http://twitter.com/johnjmcdonald John McDonald

    Actually.. nope, that doesn’t make me happy at all.

  • http://twitter.com/ViaggiareLowCos ViaggiareLowCost

     No. From the top 5 to….I’d love to know it! Desaparecidos

  • Joan May

    Our visitors increased by 30% (also rankings) with the last month’s panda update. With this update we have dropped a few places with the home page and some sub pages where we use to hold 1-3 places for a few months. So What google gave us last month, took it back and may be  little more!

  • http://twitter.com/coldwarkid coldwarkid

    I noticed a slight drop in one site, and some gains with another. What is disturbing is the sights that are showing up for the main terms for both. Some are irrelevant, some are geo wrong, some have hundreds of links pointing to them from sites that have no detectable relationship to the site they link to whatsoever. I am assuming there will be more adjustments to come.

  • http://www.usbtips.com/ USBtips

    One of our sites is way up, finally beating out the blackhat competitors that have been sitting at the top. It’s a good day at our office.

  • Mushegh

    https://www.google.com/#hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=paypal+france&oq=paypal+france&aq=f&aqi=g4&aql=&gs_nf=1&gs_l=hp.3..0l4.1271.3203.0.3320.13.13.0.0.0.0.234.1957.0j9j3.12.0.AcCzGT-Rfpk&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=8c7646f229469991&biw=1247&bih=584 take a look @ this.. 

  • http://twitter.com/CommercialRisks Insurance Brokers

    The most effective negative SEO i have seen out there is not just buying spammy links, but analysing the competitors campaign and then upping the anti for the same campaign with link building at a rate uncrease until it reaches the tipping point. Over optimisation penalties kick in fast this way.

  • http://twitter.com/khrisreid Christopher Wyatt

    Seriously? Are you even doing SEO? There are white, grey, and black hat ALL being effected. 

    Type in “make money online”:

    makemoneyforbeginners.blogspot.com/ # 1 ?? Seriously? How much relevant content? 0? Yup. Backlink profile from forever ago? Better believe it!!! 

  • http://twitter.com/dancboyle Dan Boyle

    I don’t know if it will help, but my site took a hit. Not complete oblivion but off the front page where it’s been for over two years. 

    Sites that took the spots are Overstock and Bed Bath and Beyond… both of these sites don’t even sell the product that the search query is for. Seriously Google?

    I think it is a penalty of some sort with those blog networks. We participated in one when we first started. Being nieve really sucks… 

    We did take down all the “bad” links from that network at least we hope and filed for a re-inclusion… It make me feel good that Danny recommended to do that. I hope it doesn’t hurt us in some way.

    The next couple weeks and months will be interesting.

  • Seppo Puusa

    If this update was supposed to fight web spam, it’s a complete FAIL. The site that I worked hard to build unique content and actually interact with readers is replaced by utter spam in many SERPs. Looking at the link profiles for those sites and all I see is comment spam and blog network postings. Utter FAIL by Google. I can’t imagine anyone finding these results helpful.

  • http://twitter.com/MaydayPictures Meredith Nunnally

    This is the worst update, to-date. In one of my niches, of course, my site has disappeared. The only folks left ranking ARE the companies who have links schemes, purchase links and have multiple sites in the SERPs that are all the same thing. I imagine I was removed because a former employee has been purchasing tens of thousands of forum links about porn and viagra, etc., and pointing them to my site. You may say Google will devalue those links because they aren’t relevant to my content, but I call BS. I have been fluctuating ever since the first purchase he made back in December and today, I have been completely wiped off. In the past, I have submitted several spam reports on these sites mentioned above as buying links to pass page rank, and I even submitted a 12 page comprehensive report about the link scheme these folks are involved in directly to a member of the webspam team. Where do they rank today? 2nd, 5th, and 10th and several more results on the second and third pages of the SERPs. It is sickening.

  • http://twitter.com/MaydayPictures Meredith Nunnally

    I used to love this industry because if you did good, you did well. I am really starting to loathe Google not holding up to their old school “don’t be evil” statement. Submit a reconsideration request? Yea right, me and 1000s more that the webspam team will simply ignore.

  • http://twitter.com/khrisreid Christopher Wyatt

    This isn’t true. There are white-hatters complaining they are losing rankings as well. 

    Black, grey, or white hat. ALLLLL have been affected in this update. That’s the truth! 

  • mikesbiz1

     Personally, I believe its high time everyone pull together and start an online campaign to NOT use Google and use BING instead every time they need to search something. Google SERP’s are broken. The results are complete garbage now. They are so focused on flexing their muscle that they have completely broken the algo. Go try the same searches in BING for all of the above examples and you will notice how much better the BING results are. If everyone started using BING and left Google behind we would all be in a better place. Heck, even duckduckgo.com provides better results than Google. Bing It!

  • http://twitter.com/MaydayPictures Meredith Nunnally

    I considered this a few years ago, just because their monopoly was getting out of control. Nobody regulates them because they are Google. There are several industries where companies can’t sustain if they aren’t on Google or Google Places. Shouldn’t that call for more regulation and transparency of their guidelines and actions? As SEOs we are all technically professional speculators. Sure, we can implement and measure results, but then that inevitable curve ball gets thrown in there and we are penalized for doing nothing and with no explanation, so it’s back to the speculation board.

  • http://twitter.com/khrisreid Christopher Wyatt

    For those of you who have not seen it yet:

    Completely Bogus Search Results:

    makemoneyonlineforbeginners.blogspot.com

    Keyword                         Google Rank
    make money online              1              
    make money for beginners      1
    grizzly make money online      1
    how to make money online for beginners 1
    make money online for beginners 1
    how to make money online       9
    how to make money          10

    Crazy! Site has 0 Content, Relevance or anything close to “User Experience”

  • Kurt Henninger

    All I can say is that I’m very disappointed with the end result and what I see in the SERPS. 

    You do not have to go far to see absolute junk sites (blank pages, irrelevant EDU pages spammed to death with anchor text) and understand that people will not find what they are looking for when they use Google right now.   Can’t even go over all the examples I’ve seen from universal search.  Their core business is delivering relevant results to users….and all I see are major brands with ecommerce, and irrelevant junk.

  • Mushegh

     6 months already? I have the screenshot of November 2011

  • James Costa

    My site has been plunged by almost 70%, I faithfully load unique content and never scrap anything… I dont know for what reason google is penalizing my website. see this all bullshit results are coming on top 
    https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&site=&source=hp&q=jobs+in+thane+mahanagarpalika&oq=jobs+in+thane+mahanagarpalika&aq=f&aqi=g-j1&aql=&gs_nf=1&gs_l=hp.3..0i18.4790.18381.0.18790.20.20.0.4.4.0.151.1549.10j6.16.0.47b0d8B3lvA

  • youssef93

    Tiny update, 2 of my sites have completely disappeared from the results. An online store was receiving no link is up 3 places in the top 10.

  • http://twitter.com/erocketSEO Dave Fowler

    Danny, in yesterday’s announcement (linked from your post) Google stated that the new anti-webspam algo would launch “in the next few days”. 

    It is surely premature for anyone to make judgements that the spammy results they are seeing in the SERPs on the *same day* as the announcement are the outcome of the new update, and this includes your viagra example. 

    If Matt Cutts’ statement is to be believed then it is more likely that many or most queries are yet to be affected. Do you not think we all need to wait a few days before we can start assessing the impact of the changes?

  • http://www.MyMovingReviews.com/ Martin Panayotov

     Totally agree with you. The update made spam flourish and quality buried for some general terms.

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