The Penguin Update: Google’s Webspam Algorithm Gets Official Name

Move over Panda, there’s a new Google update in town: Penguin. That’s the official name Google has given to the webspam algorithm that it released on Tuesday.

What’s An Update?

For those unfamiliar with Google updates, I’d recommend reading my Why Google Panda Is More A Ranking Factor Than Algorithm Update post from last year. It explains how Google has a variety of algorithms used to rank pages.

Google periodically changes these algorithms. When this happens, that’s known as an “update,” which in turn has an impact on the search results we get. Sometimes the updates have a big impact; sometimes they’re hardly noticed.

Who Names Updates?

Google also periodically creates new algorithms. When this happens, sometimes they’re given names by Google itself, as with the Vince update in 2009. If Google doesn’t give a name, sometimes others such as Webmaster World may name them, as with the Mayday update in 2010.

With Penguin, history is repeating itself, where Google is belatedly granting a name to an update after-the-fact. The same thing happened with Panda last year.

When the Panda Update was first launched in February 2011, Google didn’t initially release the name it was using internally. I knew it, but I wasn’t allowed say what it was. Without an official name, I gave it an unofficial one of “Farmer,” since one of the reasons behind the update was to combat low-quality content that was often seen associated with content farms.

In the end, I suspect Google didn’t want the update to sound like it was especially aimed at content farms, so it eventually let the “Panda” name go public, in a Steven Levy interview for Wired about the update about a week after it launched. Panda took its name from one of the key engineers involved.

Say Hello To Penguin

Since Panda, Google’s been avoiding names. The new algorithm in January designed to penalize pages with too many ads above the fold was called the “page layout algorithm.” When Penguin rolled out earlier this week, it was called the “webspam algorithm update.”

Without a name for the new webspam algorithm, Search Engine Land was asking people for their own ideas at Google+ and Facebook, with the final vote making “Titanic” the leading candidate. A last check with Google got it to release its own official name of “Penguin.”

Postscript: If you were hit and are trying to figure out what to do next, see our follow-up article, Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Algorithm Updates | Google: Penguin Update | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Top News


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.

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  • Mike Chaleff

    google is commiting suicide… if it doesnt revert back. and not only that, but itll be murdering an insane multitude of sites, businesses, jobs (including mine! – which is why i was and am freaking out), and people’s livelihoods along with it… F*** YOU GOOGLE FOR BEING DUMB PIECES OF S***, AND FOR RUINING SEO AND LEGITIMATE WHITE HAT SITES AND BUSINESSES ON GOOGLE WITH THIS NEW ALGORITHM…. REVERT BACK OR DIE WITH THE REST OF US!!!!… because you will f***ing become obsolete, for the results that you ping back in your top rankings are mostly useless to the user searching with the given keywords now. but yea, F*** YOU for doing this and potentially ruining my life (if you dont revert back)…
    here’s what i was asking my boss about, after discovering this and going through the big discussion of what this meant for us and our business and my job: reading thru the comments and actually seeing google’s search results when used…. wont google HAVE TO revert back from this nightmare of an algorithm update?? because with the results that are popping up, and from the testimony from hundreds of people in the comments section of that link…. how will google have any legitimate search usage anymore whatsoever, if the results that pop up in the top rankings are hardly any content within the pages given (almost no seo, usually one-page/thin-affiliate sites), or webpages that come up that have exact keyword match for the url (ie – best penny stocks keyword matching to a site url that would be, regardless if its even a working site or not)…. i dont even see how google can let this stay as it is with this new algorithm…. it literally makes using google as a search engine almost COMPLETELY useless, and brings up almost no relevent or helpful links at all…. i dont see how they will be able to NOT revert back from this without suiciding its entire brand and reputation as a whole… i mean, what do u think? do u think theyre actually gonna stay with this update? how would it be possible if all of the top ranking results are useless and meaningless for the keyword/s put in and to the user searching? it just doesnt make any fucking sense to me…
    …and to gauge how many other businesses and websites that used white hat seo techniques that are being affected, not too mention the top ranking results that are appearing (the worst ever seen in history)…. i just cant see them logically keeping this update, unless, like i mentioned on facebook when i posted the link, that they are in a sense, commiting suicide, if they dont revert back.
    …it just seems so irresponsible, counter-productive, and just straightup idiotic to not have tested this and everything before initiating it. cause it absolutely doesnt work at all for what they were proposing it for…
    also… theyve pretty much enabled Negative SEO, from what im reading, with this new algorithm… i never knew about negative seo before, but after reading about it, they are basically enabling it to be in full force with this new update…. and if thats the case, then they just failed their initial objective tenfold, and just made it a hundred times worse than before to be able to use black hat techniques, cuz then, ppl will just hire seo ppl to do seo and linking to competitors’ sites so they end up dropping in rank due to this new algorithm, and like one of the commentors said; itll be a new War within the SEO community…. all because of this one google change.
     im just blown away that this is really happening… im just praying they realize what theyve done and rollback the algorithm change for the sake of those whose lives were affected and to keep google alive and relevant, for if it doesn’t, it is going to wither and die extremely fast.
    …and lastly, apparently, theyre sayin that a business owner who was having trouble with his business, was also affected by this new google algorithm change… basically it was the last straw and he committed suicide. this shit is real. this is the biggest fuckup google has ever created in it’s entire history of existence….
    he committed suicide cause his business was already in trouble, and then with the google change, his top-ranked site got deranked completely, and thus lost 100% of all site traffic, leaving him with zero business left. truly a sad day….

  • John Stapleton

    An early headline for google’s new algo update should read….”Google Penguin gets an ice cold reception”…….

  • Tim

    So what’s your opinion on the latest update?

  • Ross Hudgens

    This says it all -

  • Rifat Rashid Adnan

     It has been the saddest day in my online life. One point Google doesn’t understand that If they are making such quick updates regularly with its giant effects then no people will feel secure to invest their money & time for making a brilliant web site to give best possible experience to visitors. ONLY GOOGLE KNOWS WHAT THEY WANT.After this shocking update I believe thousands of web owners will rethink their business. Some may back to web development or web design which is thousand time secure than online entrepreneurship.

    The main problem is that Google is the only big player in the market who can do whatever they want to do. We all need Facebook search engine for a level playing field. Come on Facebook. Come and save us…

  • Daniel Deceuster

    Possible reasons for Google naming this update Penguin:

    1. Penguins are highly adapted for water life. Google has now sunk good content and let garbage float to the top.

    2. Penguins live almost exclusively in Antarctica, a frozen wasteland. Google’s search results will soon become a frozen wasteland.

    3. Penguins are both black and white. Google wanted to nuke people doing SEO, whether black hat or white hat, at random.

    4. Penguins are a flightless bird. Not a reason, just a fact.

    5. There is a huge debate about the origin of the word penguin. Huge debate about how this update works.

    6. Penguins are known for being great divers. Google’s results just took a plunge.

    Any others I might be missing?

  • Mike Chaleff


  • Mike Chaleff

    to know how people really feel about this update and what it has TRULY done, rather than what it was proposed to do, go here to read the ENTIRE comments section… you’ll start to realize how this monstrosity of an update is costing the jobs and lives of hundreds of thousands upon thousands of people across the country and across the world: 

  • Rifat Rashid Adnan

    Dear Danny, is it possible that after having huge volume of complaints from webmasters Google will make another update very soon? If some sites get unnatural link it doesn’t mean that those sites are bad. Simple math is that if you can invest good amount of money for SEO then you can afford to pay writers for good content. So most of the big sites hit hard by this update have some good amount of content. If you put those site far away from visitor then how could google provide best possible search experience? Any news about future update?

  • Mike Chaleff

    …people who have legitimate businesses and been working on and putting their hard earned money for years into their sites and businesses, only using White Hat SEO techniques that Google has encouraged and strives for in sites and has been wanting from top ranked sites for years… basically, this update is monumentally and viciously affecting those who are the people who least of all deserve what’s happened. just a disgrace….

  • Rahul Mehta

    hahaha nice one 

  • Andrew Shotland
  • Brian Cox

    I’m going to start following you.

  • zelda lege

    Excuse me, where did you get the source?

  • Brian Cox

    this penguin update has single-handedly ruined the ranks of my ecommerce site which has been #1 for my main keywords for over 2 years… I am now below the definition of the product I sell on wikipedia, and 2 amazon URLs for my two main terms… and my category pages, which were always in the top 3 for all associated terms, are page 3 or deeper. I’ve only ever done whitehat SEO on the site and only needed a handful of high quality links to rank. 

    I’m wondering if the lack of diverse anchor text (due to the few high quality links I have) is an issue for the category pages. 

  • Viktoria A

    The site I’ve been working on for a year jumped up with this new update to the first or second place. We were around the third result before. So for me, this update has worked. I guess it has worked for many others too, but usually people who are unsatisfied are here screaming. Relying only on organic search is not a good business model, it is never guaranteed.

  • darnupdate
  • Remus Cretu

    What did they penalize ? I was hit pretty hard but i’m not buying links,spamming + did 100% original content and try to stay as white as possible.I even stop doing directory submission 1 year go.

  • Tien V Nguyen

    I was against this algo update until they named it Penguin, I love penguins!

  • techzoomorg

    Penguins live in dark for four months or so! So, looks like Google will put everyone in dark for next four months. Hmmm.

    The Sun goes to the other side :D

  • Amit Sharma

    I can understand the frustration of Google, that some webmasters are trying to bypass/hack their updates, their algorithms and all. 

    But we are innocent, Mishter Google, please spare us. 
    And you should know, Penguins and Panda’s are such a cute animals, please don’t let us hate them. 

    My Predictions>>>

    Google count your days now!!

  • Jose Tinto

    Lol.. Indeed…

  • Jesse Carns

     hey this update enhanced the above the fold update…take a look
    site now ranks for hundreds of keyworld…lol
    Google, what a piece of shit!!

  • benfree7

    My sites had a mixed response to the update. This one lost its page 1 ranking:
    Another site with less articles that I had been neglecting moved up. Having done some brief research comparing Google, Yahoo and Bing, I feel that Yahoo and Bing provide more relevant and better results. 

  • prateek bansal

     Hahaha… I think with these kinds of updates.. we will not see any more Google in the future…!!! Google Days will be over soon…!!!!

  • Jesse Carns    Full explanation!!

  • chapcoolboy

    After these updates people have started hating google.. Its time for yahoo and other search engines to come up and take over..

  • Jayne Grenn

    After the “Penguin Update”, I am now confused.
    If I put a link to my website that has been affected by the penguin update, is this:
    1 Good marketing
    2 White hat SEO
    3 Black hat SEO
    4 Grey?
    5 Webspam.
    6 other
    Will it help my Google ranking or worsen it. 
    Of course the answer does depend on the niche. If my site is about SEO then it is more white than black. If I am selling viagra then it is more black than white.
    Comments and thoughts please. Thank you.
    This is a serious question!

  • PinPoint Local

    This is Adam Kaufman CEO and Founder of If you follow the timeline of our relationship with the World Wildlife Fund and our new program to adopt an endangered species every month, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Tongue in cheek we started adopting a panda as a reference to the “PANDA UPDATE” named after Navneet Panda. Who is the Penguin update named after? Can it be pure coincidence that the day we post about the arrival of our adopted penguin, the algorithm gets named?  Follow our endangered species charity to see what update names might be next, in May we are adopting a Seahorse, don’t be suprised if you hear about the new “Seahorse Update” within the next few weeks!

  • Chris Rempel

     Baaahahaha, oh god that’s funny…

  • Jim Huinink

    I’ve been doing SEO in various forms for about ten years now and survived every dance and damned update but this is the one that has finally affected sites I own. All these sites use whitehat tactics and anticipate Google’s ideal of providing helpful, relevant content. Now they’ve been whacked and replaced in the SERPs by bigger sites that are not always as relevant. Questions:  What about this corrects over-optimization? How does this help the “little mom and pop” websites (the phrase that originally inspired Matt Cutts to disclose this impending update)?

  • Michael Cottam

     And pandas are both black and white…..I think I see a pattern here! :-p

  • Tony N. Wright

    It does seem that Google like animals that are black and white. So look out, the “ORCA” is going to be a killer, a whale of a killer. Perhaps that will be the one in which Google finally “jumps the shark”

  • Joshua Butler
  • hospitalera

     Lol, and you hosted that on Google itself ;-)

  • duravit

    I predicted the name exactly 1 year before. You can check my comments on this page, when google launched the logo of earth day last year

  • Santas Little Helper

     This makes sense.  Google is slowly offering their own content to replace content on the web.  if you notice, their proprietary content magically appears above natural SEO results.

    This update will further push down competitive content.  It’s all part of their march to take over online content.

  • Gene M

     I’ve noticed much of the same, larger brand websites get ranked and smaller ones get pushed down. I think what google wants us to do is create a nationwide brand for every website we make… hahahahaha. Sad.

  • Gene M

     This comment earned you my follow.

  • Ben Spak

    I enjoy the new update, all of my rankings went up :)

  • Zoe Alexander

    It is really worrying what this change is going to mean!  We find it tough enough being a new business, because your ranking and paging position is how your customer perceives your ability to deliver!  I shall be watching closely to see how we are affected.

  • Paweł Rabinek

    I like that name. Penguins are nice animals, but remember – there are always many of them! :)

  • tavoli

    it pleases

  • Roman

    Google PIECES OF S***

  • ALee Boricha

    from now on i f**king hate penguins 

  • Amazonian_Raider

    Panda, Penguin… what’s coming next, Zebra?

    Or maybe they should roll back Penguin and replace it with Killer Whale (also black and white and happen to eat penguins)

  • Jim

    It is all a moot point anyway. Once Facebook gets its search engine going properly, will the masses bother to leave to do a search. I doubt it. Google is walking on shaky ground. No one is to big to fail.

  • Digital Republic

    Isn’t Google biting the hand that feeds it, these SEO people are the same people that back in 2002 told their friends to use Google, now they are telling everyone that Google is crap, people will move to another search engine to find a site that they are looking for. People are well past phase 1, guess and click searching, they know want they are looking for and if they cant find they will look else where, I’ve actually had to use the Yellow Pages to find a local business that I’ve used many times before. Maybe Blekko and Duckduckgo are in line to move up. I’ve always said that when Google forgets it’s a search engine it’s doomed, search is the only product that every worked for them, Google Buzz, Plus + all fails.

    Google has just made thousands of people around the world unemployed, hows that for not being evil.

  • John Smith

    Hey Danny

    Its clear that Matt Cutts, the 3 stooges (Larry, Sergey and Eric) only care about screwing every small business in their search results. Why should they care? As long as the Big Brands continue shoveling huge sums of money, the rest of us will wither away. That is their goal as their organic searches become worse each passing update.  I’ve personally never seen such a screw up in the past 6 years since I’ve been involved in SEO.

    From Traffic Planet – there is a rumor that the Russians are developing a bot that will screw their adwords massively. Meaning, they will mimic human behavior and click bomb links in an organized method. This should result in tens of thousands of businesses leaving Adwords and PPC. Gawd, I hope they do it soon because their is truly only one way you can get back at these bastards – in the pocket books. Nothing else will stop them..

    I would normally never be in favor of something like this, but they have pushed people to the edges and been so damn arrogant about it to.
    For those complaining about Google having market dominance, remember when Microsoft was so big and hubris that nothing could touch them. Look what happened to them over time and their share value….The simple solution is use the alternative search engines like Bing who seem to be doing a better job these days. Nothing will annoy the 3 stooges more than seeing their billions be reduced.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I see small businesses ranking all the time in Google. If small business means sites that generate a ton of content to fill with ads, then spin that content into several other sites, that’s a different story.

    Yes, if AdWords get messed with, and Google loses its money and has a search engine that’s not profitable, why that’ll mean what for all those small businesses who get tons of traffic for free? No traffic?

    I agree. Google’s big, has a dominant space and can have a huge impact on companies that have built their businesses on getting a lot of free Google traffic. The solution is the same as it’s always been, even before Google. You don’t do that. You diversify you traffic stream.

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