Penguin: Google’s Punitive Algorithm – And A Call To Google To Fix It

For many years, a staple of my discussions with people who had been penalized by Google was the following advice: “Don’t worry — at Google, there is a culture of letting you repent of your sins and then be forgiven.”

Even if you had made some bad choices, if you started doing the right things, you could prosper once again in the search results.

Google's Penguin Devastates Many

Boy, that has changed, and in a big way. Penguin is Google’s algorithm for punishing bad SEO link building — and not letting you get back up.

I am not sure what changed internally at Google, but it sure feels like something has. I say this all with a very heavy heart, because I really love what Google has done over the years in many ways, but I don’t love their Penguin. To explain why I say that, let’s look at the facts.

History Of Penguin

The first release of Penguin took place on April 24, 2012, and it landed on the industry like a ton of bricks. From my perspective, everything seemed normal when Penguin 1.1 landed on May 25, 2012.

Things were looking like Panda, that we might expect regular updates, and webmasters who had been gobbled up by Penguin had a reasonable way to recover if they cleaned up their acts and started doing what Google wanted. But then the updates became rare. Here is the entire update history:

  1. Penguin #1 (1.0): April 24, 2012
  2. Penguin #2: May 25, 2012
  3. Penguin #3: October 5, 2012
  4. Penguin #4 (2.0): May 22, 2013
  5. Penguin #5: October 4, 2013
  6. And then, nothing!

We had five updates in just over two years, and now none in almost 10 months. [Editor's Note: Google's Matt Cutts said in June at SMX Advanced that "it's probably about time" for an update; over a month later, that has yet to happen].

When you get hit by a Penguin, you are done. Toast. Not only that, if you go through a link cleanup project to try and position for yourself for recovering in the next release, and you miss it, when will you get another chance?

Penguin Seems Merciless to Many Publishers

The Counterpoint

Why is Google handling Penguin this way? I can think of only three possible answers:

  1. Doing data refreshes of the algorithm is incredibly hard. I only list this one for completeness, because I don’t believe it to be true.
  2. They believe that frequent data refreshes would make it too easy for churn and burn spammers. This one is a real possibility.
  3. They are frustrated and angry after a long war against a tide of spammers that never stop. Just like the Roman army trying to hold back the barbarians.

Could it be that the third reason explains why Penguin almost never updates? All I can say to that is, I hope not.


For me, the sad part is that penguins are one of my favorite animals, and one of my youngest son’s as well. But this is an evil Penguin with no heart. Lots of webmasters have these links built for them by bad SEO agencies, and they have no idea what’s OK and what’s not.

Google, I get the part about you having to protect the quality of your service. That’s why you are forced to have a webspam team. I get manual penalties, I get Panda, I get thin content penalties, I get that people abuse the environment you have set up. I even get the part of your having to act on the quality of your results on a global basis, sometimes impacting people who don’t really deserve it.

But, I don’t get Penguin.

So here it is, for whatever it’s worth — Google, it’s time to lose the draconian aspects of your evil waterfowl. I have been a passionate champion of all the things you do for a long time, but that faith has been challenged by this bird. It’s time to fix this. If a monthly refresh is not harsh enough for you, make it bi-monthly, or quarterly. Let people who have blown it have a chance to rebuild their business.

But I have one more reason for you, Google. Having a culture of forgiveness is essential to the health of your organization and its very soul. You can fix the data refresh problem with Penguin to help the undeserving victims, or those who need a second chance, but honestly, I think you should do it for yourself.

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