Google’s Penguin Goes Real Time

Last month Google hit us with two pretty major changes to the search algorithm.

The first was a straightforward update in early September. When this hit, we saw most programs take a slight dip and then recover after about a week. But, then Google announced that they will incorporate Penguin into the core algorithm as well, applying it to every query. This caused a lot of consternation as things fluctuated wildly for a couple of weeks.

If you are not familiar with Penguin, it is the part of Google’s system that looks at the quality of backlinks – those links to your site from other websites. Until September of this year, Google would run Penguin periodically, assess the quality of the backlinks and then stick you with a score that stays with you for months until the new update is run.

Now, every search has a real time backlink quality assessment. What this means for your SEO:

  1. If your category in search is very active in SEO / link building, you will see more volatility. As site managers expand their linking partners, the impact will be seen more quickly
  2. There is still NO quick fix to link building, or quick kills. When new links are created, Google still needs to crawl and index pages. Additionally, even with on page changes, we see a lag time between changes and Google’s (apparent) incorporation in search rankings. I suspect the same will be true with backlinks.
  3. Your competitors’ moves will be more quickly felt. This means that your rankings may go up or down based not on what you do, but what a competitor has done. While this has always been true, this change means we will see that impact more quickly and more often relative to what we’ve seen in the past.
  4. For categories in which there is little activity on link building, this is an opportunity to get ahead by moving aggressively into a quality link building program.


Over the years, since Google has removed visibility into organic keywords to a large extent, I have encouraged clients to view rankings as a lesser metric and focus on organic site traffic and quality. Keyword rankings can fluctuate quite a bit day-to-day and the incorporation of Penguin into the real time ranking will exacerbate this. Looking long term, improving visibility is the upstream indicator to growth in site traffic. While we keep an eye on the rankings /  visibility, the our purpose should be to find early indications of problems and not create an environment of knee-jerk reactions to rank changes.
Bottom line, if you’ve had a good SEO program going, this change by Google should not lead to substantive changes in what you do. But, if you’ve not focused on SEO, your site may have trouble ahead.

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