Of all the search engines in the whole world wide web, Google is the most popular when it comes to introducing new search algorithm updates.  After the wrath of their mighty Panda updates, here comes another protagonist from the animal kingdom that is now causing tension and new buzz in the online marketing industry – the Penguin.

The Google Penguin Update

A lot of people find Google’s naming style for their updates cool.  Some, on the other hand, find it a bit irritating as they believe that the naming convention is just Google’s subtle way of hiding “the real” motive behind their updates.  Nevertheless, there are still more people who believe that Google’s intention serves the greater good of humanity, especially their search users.

Hence, another powerful creature has been released lately to correct and punish search engine optimization malpractices and abuses – the Penguin.

The Penguin Update was officially released by Google on the 24th of April.  The major purpose of this search update is to punish over-optimized websites or pages wherein webspam tactics are aggressively implemented.

The following is an excerpt from the Penguin Update announcement post “Another step to reward high-quality sites” published on Inside Search, Google Search’s Official Blog.

 In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

Google emphasized that the Penguin update just like any of their search updates aims at promoting quality content and better user experience.  They also emphasized their preference for the “good guys” over the “bad guys”.

Here’s another excerpt from their blog.

The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded. To that end we’ve launched Panda changes that successfully returned higher-quality sites in search results. And earlier this year we launched a page layout algorithm that reduces rankings for sites that don’t make much content available “above the fold.”

The “good guys” Google referred to are those white hat SEO practitioners while the opposite are the “bad guys” or those black hat SEO practitioners or people who are notorious in doing underhand tactics to game their system.  The Penguin Update severely punishes those webpages maintained by the “bad guys”.

The Google Panda Update

The Panda Update is so far the most talked about algorithm change in the online marketing industry.  This search update was released by Google February 24 of last year and several series of tweaks are still being implemented until today.

See below the complete Google Panda series up to the most recent implementation in chronological order.

  • February 24, 2011 – Panda 1.0 (also known as the Farmer Update)
  • April 11, 2011 – Panda 2.0 (Update only affects all English speaking countries)
  • May 09, 2011 – Panda 2.1
  • June 18, 2011 –  Panda 2.2
  • July 22, 2011 –  Panda 2.3
  • August 2011 – Panda 2.4 (Update already available in all languages)
  • September 28, 2011 – Panda 2.5
  • October 09, 2011 –  Panda 2.5.1
  • October 13, 2011 – Panda 2.5.2
  • October 19/20, 2011 – Panda 2.5.3
  • November 18, 2011 – Panda 3.1
  • January 15, 2012 – Panda 3.2
  • February 26, 2012 – Panda 3.3
  • March 23, 2012 – Panda 3.4
  • April 19, 2012 – Panda 3.5

Same with the newly released Penguin Update, the Panda Update aims at giving Google users better search results by ranking high quality webpages.  The following is an excerpt from Google Search’s blog post related to the Panda Update.

So, we’re very excited about this new ranking improvement because we believe it’s a big step in the right direction of helping people find ever higher quality in our results. We’ve been tackling these issues for more than a year, and working on this specific change for the past few months. And we’re working on many more updates that we believe will substantially improve the quality of the pages in our results.

A closer look at Google’s intentions, we can see one common denominator – Quality of Search Results.


Google Penguin vs. Google Panda

So, what’s the difference between these two search engine heroes?  Which one poses more challenges to Google SEO practitioners?

The real score actually is, there is no such thing as competition between these two updates.  Both of them are great challenges to Search Engine Optimization practitioners.  Google Panda and Google Penguin are two separate programs that work hand in hand to combat webspam and prioritize high quality pages over low quality ones.

The main difference between the two updates is the focus of their functionalities.  Google Panda focuses in penalizing websites with “thin” contents, while Google Penguin focuses on penalizing websites which are over-optimized.

So, what are “thin contents” and “over-optimized” websites? Google Panda penalizes and de-indexes “thin contents” or those websites which have very low content quality.  This specifically refers to duplicate contents published in multiple webpages (for the sole purpose of creating more backlinks), spun articles in private blog networks, and other contents which offer no relevance to users.

“Over-optimized” websites, on the other hand, refer to those webpages wherein webspam tactics are being implemented.  They are heavily optimized with target keywords and their link-building pattern can reveal that they are overly-optimized.  These webpages at first or second glance can’t be easily determined as low quality.  The Penguin Update, according to Google, has the capability to detect over-optimized websites and “penalizes all of them with no mercy”.

Here’s an excerpt from Google’s blog post explaining how Google Penguin affects over-optimized websites.

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings.

Google also announced how much the recent search update affect search queries.

The change will go live for all languages at the same time. For context, the initial Panda change affected about 12% of queries to a significant degree; this algorithm affects about 3.1% of queries in English to a degree that a regular user might notice. The change affects roughly 3% of queries in languages such as German, Chinese, and Arabic, but the impact is higher in more heavily-spammed languages. For example, 5% of Polish queries change to a degree that a regular user might notice.

Google Acknowledges the Importance of SEO amidst Penguin and Panda

With the release of these mighty updates from Google (especially with the over-optimization penalty from Penguin), a lot of talk in the search marketing industry centered at the issue if these updates are signals of the end of SEO.  Google clearly stated in their post the relevance and importance of SEO amidst series of search updates.

Google has said before that search engine optimization, or SEO, can be positive and constructive—and we’re not the only ones. Effective search engine optimization can make a site more crawlable and make individual pages more accessible and easier to find. Search engine optimization includes things as simple as keyword research to ensure that the right words are on the page, not just industry jargon that normal people will never type.

White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media. The net result of making a great site is often greater awareness of that site on the web, which can translate into more people linking to or visiting a site.

These statements from Google assure everyone (especially Google SEO practitioners), that as long as there are search engines, there will always be SEO.

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Photo Credits:

Emperor Penguin under Creative Common License in Wikimedia.org by Postpr.

Panda Gao Gao in San Diego Zoo, USA under Create Common License in Wikimedia.org by Aaron Logan.