The May 2013 Google Penguin Update

The Penguin algorithm, introduced to combat poor quality sites, has had many websites bracing themselves for ranking changes since its release in April of 2012. So it stood to reason that a release dubbed ‘Penguin 2.0’ would have as many, if not more, significant changes than any of the previous releases.

However, despite Matt Cutts’ (head of Google Search) cryptic warning that the update would be deeper and bigger than previous iterations, said to noticeably affect as many as 2.3% of search queries, large scale ranking changes, something that dogged previous updates, haven’t been complaint of the day.

Deeper Impact

There has been speculation that Penguin 2.0 affected foreign language websites on a larger scale than English-US websites. The reason for this may be that more foreign language websites practice black-hat SEO or have low quality sites or that Google is simply paying more attention to how it indexes these sites now.

Matt Cutts’ comment on the depth of the changes created its own confusion. He defined
‘deeper’ as Penguin analysing not only homepages but every page on a site. However, many industry experts contended that the previous Penguin updates had affected more than just the homepage anyway.

A possible interpretation of his comment could be that previously, Penguin’s link analysis algorithm elements only extended to the homepage but that it could be widening its perspective to the whole site from now on.

Possible New Ranking Signals

The impact of the update may have been less than was originally anticipated but an impact was nonetheless felt. As evidenced by the long list of webmasters who hit the Google Search Forums to give their feedback and express astonishment at their rankings drop.

Some asked if the data from Google’s recent introduction of the Link Disavow was perhaps being used a ranking factor. After all, even accounting for the effect of negative SEO on this data, it would surely be one of the most humanly intelligent link and site analysis tools at their disposal.

However, while Matt Cutts has stated while there’s certainly a possibility that that kind of data could be applied more broadly in the future, at the moment it’s just being used for its stated purpose. Although given how secretive Google tend to be about the content of their algorithm, it’s really anyone’s guess what they’re up to.