Google update: Real time Penguin? Or something else?

We’re currently seeing one of the biggest and most dramatic changes in Google rankings we’ve seen in the last few years. At first we were guessing it’s the promised real time Google Penguin roll out, but all the reports seem to say that it’s multi-faceted and not really tied purely to links, so we’re not 100% sure. In this post I’ll explain what we know right now and what we think about that.

real time penguin penalizes bad link building

Why everybody thinks it’s Google Penguin

There’s a simple reason why everyone thinks this is a Google Penguin roll out: Google has been talking about an upcoming real time Google Penguin update for months and has said, through several people, that it’d come early this year.

There’s another reason: there are few types of algorithm updates that can have such a dramatic impact on rankings. There are 200+ ranking factors in play (some even say thousands but whatever). When you tweak one of those ranking factors, not all that much is bound to change. Unless the factor you’re tweaking is one of the factors that the original algorithm was built on. That’s exactly what Google Penguin does: it changes how links are evaluated.

Reports from around the web

We’re seeing quite a few reports from around the web saying things are in turmoil. Let me link a few:

Read those and you’ll see that none of them really know what’s happening yet. One of the things I would guess, based on looking at the data, is that a couple of other signals have been factored in.

It’s absolutely not certain yet that this is truly Google Penguin.

One post that came in while I was writing this is this one by Bartosz Góralewicz. He shows some interesting data from the spammier side of the net, but isn’t ready to draw conclusions yet.

In the Netherlands we’ve also seen some changes coming in on Friday / Saturday and the search results looking the same as early last week again today. I’m waiting for the SearchMetrics reports to come in to see whether we can truly establish a trend.

What a real time Google Penguin could do

While looking at what this could be, I was thinking about what the impact of a “real time Google Penguin” would be. Links are the very essence of how Google started making the web searchable. Its link based Pagerank algorithm was what made it so good when it first started. Links have (largely because they were so important) become the Achilles heel of every search engine that followed that method. We’ve been writing about link building a bit recently, mostly because a lot of people seem to be doing it wrong.

Google Penguin, when it first came out, aimed to make links usable again as a metric, by punishing bad actors so severely that people were scared away from trying to game Google. It only rolled out every 8 to 12 months, so you could be punished for quite a while before your site started to properly rank again.

A real time Google Penguin, which would update constantly instead of every once in a while could, in my eyes, therefore have quite the opposite effect of what Google wants it to do. If people can start testing with what works and what doesn’t work, and can get “out of jail” pretty easily, this might actually lead to more link spamming, instead of less. Time will tell.