search marketing

What is Google’s Penguin?

Written by Kurt Steinbrueck

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penguin-bad-dayLast week a Google engineer said that Google would likely roll out the next Penguin update this week.  With the potential of another Penguin update happening, I thought it would be a good time go over a brief explanation what Google’s Penguin is and how it can affect you.

What is Google’s Penguin?
Penguin is a Google algorithm that they run apart from their normal search ranking algorithm which looks for people trying to manipulate Google’s rankings through links created in ways that are against Google’s guidelines.  Basically, because Google’s rankings are so strongly influenced by links, people started finding various ways to getting inbound links to their sites (inbound links are links on other people’s websites which point to your site).

Over time, people developed numerous ways to automatically or very cheaply create links which allowed poor quality websites to rank very well, which is a problem for Google because they want their search results to rank quality, valuable websites at the top of the results.  So, Google made these link building strategies against their guidelines and then created Penguin to hunt down these links and either devalue the links (not count them) or penalize websites using these link building strategies.

What kind of links is Google penalizing?
Google treats inbound links like votes for your site.  The more links you get, especially from reputable sites related to your niche, the more valuable Google thinks your site is the better you tend to rank.  This, however, doesn’t work so well when the webmaster for the site the inbound link is on isn’t actually one adding the link.

You see, there are lots of ways for people to put links on other people’s websites, like leaving blog comments, posting links in forums, getting directory listings, and so on.  Google realized that if a person could go out and put a bunch of links on other people’s sites, those websites with the inbound links on them aren’t really indicating the site they link to is valuable; rather they are simply a means for the website being linked to to manipulate their rankings.  So, Google has basically made it against their guidelines to create any links on someone else’s site.  They want all links to be put there by the people who own the site and they should only be added because they think the site being linked to is valuable.

Some of the more common links that are currently against Google’s guidelines are:

  • blog comments
  • links in forums
  • low quality directory links
  • links from article syndication sites
  • links in press releases
  • paid links (when you pay the website owner to put a link on their site)
  • private blog network links
  • guest blogging links
  • web 2.0 links (this is when you create a bunch of pages on sites like Squidoo, Tumblr, WordPress, etc. just to put a link back to your site.

Basically, any time you are creating the link pointing back to your own site, it’s probably against Google’s guidelines with a few exceptions.

  • Links in authoritative directories (there are very few of these anymore)
  • Listings on Yellow Page or local review sites like Yelp
  • Links just about anywhere which have the “nofollow” tag applied to them

In addition to looking for links that are against their guidelines, Google also looks for an over-abundance of links with your main keywords in the link text.  This is because when website owners naturally create links themselves to point at another site, they don’t usually use the primary keywords that site is targeting.  So, if 50% of a automotive parts site’s links have the term “auto parts” in in the text, Google figures those links indicate that the site is finding a way to create those links (or buy them) and is trying to manipulate their rankings to rank well for “auto parts”.

Are all links bad?  Should you be link building?
Since Google started going on their rampage against these link building strategies, some people have gotten very nervous about getting links at all.  You shouldn’t be nervous about that, though.  In fact, you should be very happy when someone decides to link to your site.  Links are still extremely important to how Google ranks websites and Google isn’t against links, Google is against people trying to create unnatural links to manipulate their rankings.

So, yes, you should still be trying to build links.  However, instead of finding some cheap or automated way to build thousands of links, you should be building the links naturally, by doing a great job with your website and providing great content on your website.  Make your website valuable to others so they naturally decide to link to your website themselves.  Those kinds of links Google loves.

What happens if you get penalized?  What should you do?
I actually wrote about this a few months ago in the article, How to Recover from Penguin 2.0.  If you have been using some of these link building strategies or think you might have been penalized, check out that article and fix the issue.  If you need more help than just information about how to fix the issue, feel free to ask questions in the comments below or contact me through the OurChurch.Com help desk.

Tell us what you think:

  • What other link building strategies do you think need to be avoided?
  • Have you had to deal with a Penguin penalty?
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About the author

Kurt Steinbrueck

Kurt Steinbrueck is the Director of Marketing Services with OurChurch.Com. He also serves on the leadership of Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Tampa, FL. You can find him on Google+ as .


  • Update: Penguin 3.0 started rolling from 24th of October and it is currently in progress, and is expected to run for some more time. Now I will say SEO community needs to carve their links on relevant resources in a way that they are useful to end user.

    I have also shared a post on penguin update on my blog with details like when it was released and the effects it made on web spam.

  • There's a lot you can do with building links that points to your site, or what they say as backlinks. With the continuous updates in Google, not to mention the recent release of the penguin update, it has been a bit tricky to build backlinks. You have to ensure that you are not spamming. There's no way of telling if Google would punish you or your site, but if you have been staying away from black hat optimization, you've got a better chance of not getting hit.

  • You completed a number of nice points there. I did a search on the issue and found nearly all people will have the same opinion with your blog. Thanks
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  • Google had another major core ranking algorithm update January this year. There was no name for the update, but it seemed more Panda-related, not Penguin.

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