Google’s Penguin Webspam Algorithm Update

UPDATE: The ‘Webspam Algorithm Update’ has now been given the much catchier title of ‘Penguin Update’. Interesting second use of a black & white animal for an update that penalises black hat SEO Google!


There was a lot of backlash to the update, so Google have now set up a Penguin recovery form to contact them if you think your site has been penalised unfairly by the update.

Back to the original post…

Yesterday (24th April 2012), Google released its new search algorithm designed to stop people using spam techniques that are against Google’s publisher guidelines. They say that only 3% of search queries will be affected – but, judging by the comments already flying in on articles such as SearchEngineLand, lots of businesses have woken up today to find their sites have dropped significantly – and they don’t know why.

Matt Cutts Google anti-webspam algorithm change

With a report entitled ‘Another step to reward high-quality sites’, Google once again defines what it sees as the definition of “optimisation” (steps taken to make a site easily found by natural search terms and to make the site easily crawl-able).

Incidentally, Matt Cutts backtracked on his use of the word “over-optimisation” when talking about the algorithm changes in recent weeks, and seemed to regret how the term had drawn SEO into the mix. Instead, the catchy name for yesterday’s update is the ‘webspam algorithm update’.

What is Webspam?

Google see “black hat webspam” as any links or site changes that are there purely to make sites rank higher than they ‘deserve’ to be ranked – changes that have no benefit or are of detriment to the user experience.

Most importantly, they identified some of the factors that they see as examples of ‘webspam’ and which will now cause penalisation.

Our SEO training focuses on white-hat techniques that don’t compromise the user experience – exactly the sort of thing Google rewards. The importance of social media and quality content are increasingly important for SEO, so you can benefit from our Social Media Training and Content Marketing course.

Why did my Google ranking drop today?

If your rankings have dropped this week, here are some possible reasons why:

Keyword stuffing

Do your pages include keywords that you put there just to increase SEO – that don’t add any value for the reader? Whilst, of course, you need keywords on the page to tell the search engines what you offer, you need to make sure they are used in a natural way. Don’t forget to check title tags, meta keywords and hidden text.

Rethink your incoming links

Google knows (well, thinks it knows) which links are built with the pure intention of increasing your page rank. Get rid of these links if you can. If you contact webmasters and get no reply, contact them again. Document your communications and send them to Google as proof that you’ve addressed the issue.

Hidden redirects

Essentially, any code or action taken by SEOs to deceive the Googlebots is action that may have lead to penalisation. If you have any hidden code, or pages that appear different to the user than to the search engine, Google is on to you. If you have to hide it, it means you are ashamed of it.


Even if you haven’t done any of the above, your rankings may have dropped because Google’s new algorithm prefers another site to yours. Look very closely at the sites of anyone who’s overtaken you – what about their site makes Google think it’s compelling and deserved of its rank?

What to do about the Algorithm Update?

Once you’ve considered all the factors above, and taken any necessary action, the next best thing to do is to take a step back. Google aren’t going to tire of saying that they want us to create quality websites that rank for the keywords the user is looking for, and which the user is glad to find. Make sure you are giving your (potential) customers what they want – and you’ll naturally be giving Google what it wants.

Better in Theory than in Practice?

It all sounds great for the search engine user. In theory, they should now be presented with the sites that give clear and concise information, that allow easy navigation and which, ultimately, they are compelled to stay on and share once there. In practice, however, it seems that people are finding some anomalies in search results today.

The comment thread on Matt Cutts’s blog post cites the fact that the 4th result for ‘make money online’ is an empty WordPress site with a URL of just those three keywords. If Google is supposed to be rewarding quality content on sites where users stay once landed, why does this continue to rank?

It’s clear that Google is trying very hard to achieve the perfect ranking algorithm to give users what they want and ensure the right webmasters and SEOs are rewarded for their efforts. It won’t stop here, so all SEOs can do is keep trying to keep the users happy – and Google will eventually follow.

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Aaron Charlie

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