Google’s Matt Cutts: Next Generation Of The Penguin Update “Few Weeks” Away

penguinIn March, Google’s chief web spam fighter Matt Cutts promised that the Penguin Update designed to fight spam would get a big refresh later this year. Today, Cutts gave an update — keep waiting. It’s still a few weeks off. Along the way, there’s some confusion about whether the next Penguin Update will be Penguin 2 or Penguin 4. It’ll be Penguin 4, in how we reckon things. Let’s dive in.

This Week Wasn’t Penguin

Publishers have already been wondering if a change in rankings that many have noticed this week was some type of Google update. Google won’t say what, if anything happened.

However, Cutts has ruled out that it was the significant Penguin Update he warned in March would be coming. He tweeted:

He went on to say that the next Penguin Update is a few weeks out:

Counting The Pandas & Penguins

Note that Cutts refers “Penguin 2.0″ as the coming rollout. How can that be, when we’ve had three confirmed Penguin updates already, with Penguin 3 happening in October?

This all goes back to a different update, the Panda Update, which first launched in February 2011. That was Panda Update 1. Of course, we didn’t call it Panda 1 then, because as the first Panda Update, it was just called “The Panda Update.”

Two months later, Google made a huge change to Panda, so the next version was called Panda 2. But when the third release happened, and people started calling that Panda 3, Google said that because the changes to the filter weren’t so dramatic, it would better be called Panda 2.1.

That left it to Google to call the shots on whether a Panda Update was big enough to go through a full point change or not. And that became ridiculous when we got to something like Panda 3.92, last September. As we explained then, when the updates started going to two decimal places, we felt maybe just a straight Panda 1, 2, 3 and so on number order made sense, no decimals involved.

Renumbering The Pandas

When what would have been Panda Update 3.93 came around, we decided enough was enough. We renumbered all the Panda Updates that had happened, regardless of how big they were, believing that was a clearer way forward.

The number no longer reflects whether there’s been a major “generational” change or not. The number is just a common reference point for everyone to use, not some type of magnitude.

For the record, here’s where we are with Panda. The impact each update had on queries is shown, when provided by Google, after the number:

  1. Panda Update 1, Feb. 24, 2011 (11.8% of queries; announced; English in US only)
  2. Panda Update 2, April 11, 2011 (2% of queries; announced; rolled out in English internationally)
  3. Panda Update 3, May 10, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  4. Panda Update 4, June 16, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  5. Panda Update 5, July 23, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  6. Panda Update 6, Aug. 12, 2011 (6-9% of queries in many non-English languages; announced)
  7. Panda Update 7, Sept. 28, 2011 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  8. Panda Update 8, Oct. 19, 2011 (about 2% of queries; belatedly confirmed)
  9. Panda Update 9, Nov. 18, 2011: (less than 1% of queries; announced)
  10. Panda Update 10, Jan. 18, 2012 (no change given; confirmed, not announced)
  11. Panda Update 11, Feb. 27, 2012 (no change given; announced)
  12. Panda Update 12, March 23, 2012 (about 1.6% of queries impacted; announced)
  13. Panda Update 13, April 19, 2012 (no change given; belatedly revealed)
  14. Panda Update 14, April 27, 2012: (no change given; confirmed; first update within days of another)
  15. Panda Update 15, June 9, 2012: (1% of queries; belatedly announced)
  16. Panda Update 16, June 25, 2012: (about 1% of queries; announced)
  17. Panda Update 17, July 24, 2012:(about 1% of queries; announced)
  18. Panda Update 18, Aug. 20, 2012: (about 1% of queries; belatedly announced)
  19. Panda Update 19, Sept. 18, 2012: (less than 0.7% of queries; announced)
  20. Panda Update 20 , Sept. 27, 2012 (2.4% English queries, impacted, belatedly announced
  21. Panda Update 21, Nov. 5, 2012 (1.1% of English-language queries in US; 0.4% worldwide; confirmed, not announced)
  22. Panda Update 22, Nov. 21, 2012 (0.8% of English queries were affected; confirmed, not announced)
  23. Panda Update 23, Dec. 21, 2012 (1.3% of English queries were affected; confirmed, announced)
  24. Panda Update 24, Jan. 22, 2013 (1.2% of English queries were affected; confirmed, announced)
  25. Panda Update 25, March 15, 2013 (confirmed as coming; not confirmed as having happened)

Panda 25 was the first time Google itself didn’t confirm whether a Panda Update had happened, part of its policy that it wasn’t likely to confirm these going forward, since they rollout over the course of days now. Instead, it was left to third-parties to decide if one had hit.

Did Panda 26 Just Happen?

This also means that the update that’s caused chatter this week might be Panda 26. It might be something else. We don’t feel confident enough to declare it Panda 26 ourselves, which is why our list stops at Panda 25. But with Penguin ruled out, it does suggest that maybe Panda 26 had happened this week.

Or maybe not. Isn’t reading Google tea leaves fun?

Penguin 2.0 Or Penguin 4?

That leads to Penguin. This is how those have gone, so far:

In our numbering system, regardless of how “big” the next Penguin Update is, we’ll still call it Penguin 4.

It will be big. We know that already from what Cutts has said in the past. In fact, it’s so big that internally, Matt said today that Google refers to it as Penguin 2.0.

From what Cutts tweeted to me:

Oh dear, but if this next one is the “true” Penguin 2, are we going to make a mistake calling it Penguin 4? I’ll argue not as big a mistake as if we called it Penguin 2.

Why We’ll Call It Penguin 4

See, let’s go back to Panda. In October 2011, we wrote that Panda 2.5 was live. Google hadn’t said it was a massive new change, so that seemed the right number. But the following month, Google said that Panda 2.5 would have been better described as Panda 3.0. We corrected that after the fact — but it would have been easier if Google had called it that way from the start.

We can’t depend on Google to consistently tell us how massive a particular update is, or even if an update happens at all. Because of this, linking magnitude to some decimal-based numbering system seems a mistake.

We have to use something that isn’t going to change months later on. The new numbering system has worked well with Panda, and we’ll stick with it for Penguin.

Ideally, I’d love to see Google itself simply list any significant change with the date it happens and some common reference name. I think that’s useful for publishers — not spammers, but any publisher — trying to understand if they’ve been impacted by something that they should correct. You can’t fix what’s wrong if you don’t have a good sense of what it was.

Postscript By Barry Schwartz: On Monday, May 13, 2013, Google’s Matt Cutts published a video about the future SEO changes to expect with Google in the next few months. The first point Matt Cutts makes is about this Penguin update and how it will go deeper and impact more SEOs and webmasters than the first generation version. Here is that video:

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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://blog.paulgailey.com/ Paul Gailey

    Maybe it’s time to choose a different mammal.

  • http://kercommunications.com/ Nick Ker

    Ringtail Lemur!

  • Ashley Stanf

    Let’s see how bad they’ll mess this one up. SERPs are already a complete mess with so many low quality results ranking on the 1st page (by low quality I mean 1 page spun web2.0 properties spammed with 1000′s of links). I’m sure with this one more unrelated sites will be pushed up to the 1st page, so user will have no choice but to click on the paid adds. Way to boost your PPC revenue! Google don’t care about the user. It’s not a “search engine” anymore, it’s a business, so it seems like they’ll do anything to boost their ROI.

  • http://twitter.com/stonetemple Eric Enge

    I’d go with the Google numbering. As with traditional software releases, the numbering system designates major releases (left of decimal point change) and minor releases (right of decimal point change), AND it is Google’s system.

    Better that there only be one system out that I think.

  • daveintheuk

    Apple style: “Organic results are 20% thinner” (but not as thin as Google’s “content”!). “This blows the competition out of the water”.

  • Matt McGee

    Eric, the comparison to software doesn’t work. Software publishers are generally eager to let users know when a new version is available and they provide specific details of how significant the software update is.

    Google is almost the complete opposite of that. They’re not eager to reveal every update that’s made (proof: the decision not to confirm Panda updates anymore) and even when they have in the past, they tend to offer very few specifics about how significant the update actually is (which Danny explained well above).

    So, no, we’ll stay consistent and go with our numbering. Google can call it 2.0 if they want, but we all know this is the 4th update.

  • http://jeffdownerbailbonds.com/ Jeff Downer Indianapolis IN

    If using release dates to designate updates would be a good move for Google,why shouldn’t it work for the rest of us? It’s still early with Penguin updates and not too late to implement a date based system starting here.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    We’ve considered that for updates that have no name. For example, whatever happened this week, Google hasn’t called it a Panda Update. It hasn’t confirmed or denied it, at all. We’re likely to refer to it as the May 2013 update rather than try to give it some catchy name, because what if it turns out later to be Panda? Or something else? But if it is confirmed with one of those others, then the numbering system seems to make sense.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    That would be great if we hadn’t already had Google declare several weeks after Panda 2.5 came out that oh, really, that was Panda 3.0. That’s like Apple coming out with iOS 5.5 but then saying you know, actually, that’s iOS 6.

    And it’s not Google’s system. Google is schizophrenic about updates. It sometimes doesn’t give them names initially (Panda was like this, leaving it to everyone initially to make up their own names). It never names some of them (like Top Heavy). Sometimes it gives them numbers, especially for PR purposes (this is Panda 2, look, we’ve really improved), while sometimes it doesn’t give them numbers at all. Sometimes it doesn’t announce them at all.

    If Google would consistently put out a name, a number and/or both, I’m all on board with using what they say. But after a long history of trying to help people figure out what Panda Update has just happened, all I can say is going to a system that produces Penguin 2.45 is dumb.

    I get it’s not going to be fun if Google does decide to call the next one Penguin 2.0 and we’re calling it Penguin 4. But I’m pretty sure that when Google does its version of Penguin 2.1 but some argue whether that’s actually Penguin 3.0, the whole “point” system will again feel as dumb as with Panda.

    I’m hoping that maybe Google will think more about it and refer to this as the fourth release of Penguin, now with major improvements. But we’ll see.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002319774023 Mike Smith

    Cutts should rename “Penguin” to “Auschwitz”…..because he’s coming after your white hat websites!! Shame on you for having an affiliate link or two, or having a “low quality backlink”, you evil, evil, webmaster you!

    Shame on you for not purchasing Google Adwords!

    Looks like in the next week or two, Cutts & Crew are about to start hitching the train cars together to take the next batch of white hat mom-and-pop websites to the Google Concentration Camp!

    Any truth to the rumor that when Matt Cutts was asked “what’s the best way to get out of the Penguin penalty box”, Cutts replied:

    Arbeit Macht Frei

  • Alan

    Consistant? like you were with Panda?

  • http://twitter.com/wahgra Zeshan Noor Wahgra

    My Major blog traffic was like cut down to half.I think its the next generation Panda update that hits me like 2 days back but I am determine to keep on coming back.

  • http://www.seomotionz.com/ Paul

    Google updates are coming and huge changes are going on undercover. I hope that they will be good for all otherwise every webmaster will be running to forums.

  • victortuszing

    Absolutely true, this is exactly what Google does!

  • http://www.marketingquery.com/ Jose Capelo

    We ourselves are creating an atmosphere of scaremongering. If you have done things properly there shouldn’t be any major shocks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Subhadip741201 Subhadip Das

    o_0 sdvhbsaudyfvbaslyuvgblysbvalsyvbausybvabvuyab

  • Linda Smith

    It behooves me how much control Google has over the Internet which they DO NOT OWN!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Subhadip741201 Subhadip Das

    time to curse google….yeah…

  • Juggernart Games

    Agree. What’s the most important thing when an update rolls out? The release date! I don’t need a number, I need the date.

    Penguin_0120424
    Penguin_0120526
    Penguin_0121005
    Penguin_013????

  • http://twitter.com/FrankdeTanke1 FrankdeTanke

    Google doesn’t have any control over the internet. They control a website called Google. Its a search engine, that,s used by a few billion people a year to find things they are looking on the “Internet”. Those who wish to use that service or have their websites listed in their search engine “Website”. Must simply abide by their ever changing ToS.

  • http://www.y8u.org/ Y8

    i’m in agreement with you and that i like your presentation.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Actually, he’s been on the record saying that Google discounts most affiliate links on the record automatically with no penalty http://searchengineland.com/googles-matt-cutts-on-affiliate-links-we-handle-majority-of-them-125859

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    We were consistent with Panda until (1) Google changed a number some weeks after the fact and (2) We had to go into a second decimal place.

  • http://www.y8friv.asia/ Friv 4

    i’m glad. you’ve got given my brain an honest exertion with this text. this can be a literate article. Thank you.

  • Alan

    For the record, I do agree that your numbering system is the way to go. Quite frankly Google may only be selectively telling us when they update Penguin, they may be up to 1.7 (in their numbering system) by now for all we know.

    Your system lets us take a little of the power back. Who knows we may even find ourselves in the position of naming an update penguin even when Google denies it.. Now that would be fun (although possibly even more confusing).

    My comment above was more about the frustration that was felt around the web when the numbering system got changed.It would have been nice if we have have used the current system from the start. Such is life.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    I agree. I wish we’d gone that way with Panda from the start, but it was really one of those things that only made more sense when you looked at it with hindsight. I hated having to renumber, but that’s also why I don’t to go through this again with Penguin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MarkBehnken Mark Behnken

    So true. I’ve had a fairly successful white hat website for years and now out of the blue I’ve lost 50 to 60 percent of my traffic and income. Can’t pay my bills. Before – 150k plus visitors, 400+ content pages (was adding at least 3 new ones per week), averaging 1800+ words per page, uniquely written by professional fitness enthusiasts. 30K+ facebook followers, 13k twitter, etc. etc. Now pages with little or non related content replace top results for queries that I’ve been on 1st or 2nd page for years. This is the most complete screw up in the history of the Internet. This is unacceptable and there is nothing I or you can do except bend over with our pants down. I am beyond lost for words. How can they continue to get away with this. Lies, deceit and crushing livelihoods is what Screwgle does best.

  • Erik

    Let just hope all I learned from last years penguin will help me avoiding the storms this time :)

  • https://twitter.com/RizzoMB RizzoMB

    If Google is calling it Penguin 2.0 it must be pretty big. Has there ever been this much of a tip off of a major algo change?

  • http://steveg.com/ SteveG

    Still not real sure why Google ever counted them to begin with. And why they now demand that they be removed. Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone had Google simply not counted those links in the beginning? Or perhaps, simply not count them now rather than throwing so many small websites under the train?

  • http://twitter.com/preynt Mill Edward

    Hope that will help my sites have a better position on SERP !!!

  • http://www.fri-v.com/ Friv

    The release date! I need the date. Hope that will help my sites have a better position on SERP !!!

  • High Core

    Oke, another few weeks to lieve in fear and chaos, good job google, lets destroy the serp other part too.. whos are recovered or almost recovered from the crazy animals, now been hit again ! Hell yeah !!

  • Pavan Kumar Rodda

    Squirrel update

  • http://twitter.com/Koozai_Emma Emma North

    Well, whatever we call it and whatever Google call it, their intentions are clear; this one will be big.

    I’ve started to look at ways to prepare for the big update in this Health Check Guide: http://www.koozai.com/blog/search-marketing/essential-2013-seo-health-check-guide/

    I think the most important thing we can do for now (besides keep eyes and ears on Google for any clues as to the big date) is get link profiles cleaned as much as possible, whether sites have been hit yet or not. If you know a site has tons of rubbish links, chances are it will be in Google’s crosshairs for the next update. And seeing as we cannot know conclusively at this stage know what the Penguin update will target (social bookmarks, guest blogging, disavowed sites, etc. to name a few possibilities) all we can do is prepare for the worst.

    I also agree with Ashley Stanf; the SERPs really are a mess. So many spammy sites are making their way up the rankings above legitimate and genuinely useful sites. Google will of course know this and try to deal with it but how successful they will be is yet to be seen.

  • http://twitter.com/Koozai_Emma Emma North

    I agree with you here, they have a lot of work to do to clean up the SERPs, but ultimately they will want to do this. Forcing people to click on PPC ads is not a sustainable strategy as searchers will use another search engine if they feel they get nothing but spam from Google.

  • http://twitter.com/BarefootSEO_ piers Ede

    Matt Cutts loves raising up the skipping rope and watching everyone jump. Then he says, ‘ha ha, let’s go again’ and a whole industry tenses with expectation. ‘It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….’

  • http://twitter.com/BarefootSEO_ piers Ede

    Arbeit Macht Frei! Man, it’s good to laugh this hard on a Monday morning….

  • http://twitter.com/Koozai_Ollie Oliver Ewbank

    Looking forward to this update. Lets hope it separates the good from the bad link profiles and leaves sites that deserve to rank.

  • http://www.pimediaservices.com/ Henry Smith

    Confusion surrounding the update….

    I agree with Danny. Google is always schizophrenic about updates. Penguin
    4.0 would be a better name and will drive all that confusion away. Apart from all
    that “name” issue, I am still clueless about the developments that would be
    incorporated in the yet-to-be-rolled out update. Can any of you guys throw some
    light on it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/IvanDragaRussia Georgiy Kharchenko

    I went from $4M to under $500K per year. No reasoning. I am so angry with Google that I am starting different marketing and I just refuse to rely on Google garbage…

  • http://twitter.com/wsolistcom wsolist

    Panda and Penguin coming one after another. There is no other direction I can go except up :) . Bring it on Matt

  • http://twitter.com/Yakezie Yakezie

    Why are so many folks focused on the negatives of the update instead of the positives?

  • http://www.facebook.com/IvanDragaRussia Georgiy Kharchenko

    All it is basically quality links will be a lot harder to get and will be a lot more expensive…

  • http://www.facebook.com/mr.larry.kim Larry Kim

    i’m not understanding all the excitement over updates. hasn’t updating become a constant now?

  • http://twitter.com/justinaldridge Justin Aldridge

    Can’t believe half this article is about what number to give the update. If Matt says it’s 2 then it’s 2…..Jeeez, is it really such a big deal??????????

  • http://twitter.com/RobrickG Robrick Guarin

    Google Orca

  • Peter Watson

    I agree. Intentional or unintentional spamming, simply ignoring these inorganic links would make more sense.

  • David Edwards

    Just refer to it from now on as – Penguin 4: “Penguin 2.0″. After all the fuss people have made over what to call the thing people aren’t likely to forget the name.

  • kingdrac

    The twitter thing is fake. I just went to twitter.com/mattcutts and saw that he did not tweet anything like that

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