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It’s official. The latest iteration of Google’s Penguin algorithm rolled out on October 5th, 2012 affecting a surprisingly small number of SERPs. In fact, according to Google voice Matt Cutts (in his characteristic “weather report” style update on Twitter), the update represented a data refresh (rather than an actual algorithm change) and affected only 0.3% of English language queries:
So why all the surprise that this latest Penguin update wasn’t larger? Plenty of industry experts have been pointing at quotes made by Cutts himself at SES SF, stating:
“[I] wasn't saying that people needed to overly stress out about the next Penguin update, but I'm happy to give more details. I was giving context on the fact that lots of people were asking me when the next Penguin update would happen, as if they expected Penguin updates to happen on a monthly basis and as if Penguin would only involve data refreshes.
If you remember, in the early days of Panda, it took several months for us to iterate on the algorithm, and the Panda impact tended to be somewhat larger (e.g. the April 2011 update incorporated new signals like sites that users block). Later on, the Panda updates had less impact over time as we stabilized the signals/algorithm and Panda moved closer to near-monthly updates. Likewise, we're still in the early stages of Penguin where the engineers are incorporating new signals and iterating to improve the algorithm. Because of that, expect that the next few Penguin updates will take longer, incorporate additional signals, and as a result will have more noticeable impact. It's not the case that people should just expect data refreshes for Penguin quite yet.”
So much for a “noticeable impact!”
Beyond Cutts’ perhaps premature statements, many webmasters were surprised that this Penguin update wasn’t larger, given the amount of flux seen in many more search queries than would seem possible with only a 0.3% impact.
However, some of this confusion likely occurred due to the number of different updates that Google has rolled out recently. Penguin is by no means the only update happening recently, and it’s possible that any changes seen in website traffic around this time could have been attributed to the Exact Match Domain (EMD) update on September 28th, the Google Image update on September 29th, or the most recent Panda rollout, which has been ongoing from September 27th through October 6th.
To determine whether your site was impacted by the most recent Penguin data refresh specifically, compare your traffic results from Saturday, October 6th to other Saturdays both before and after this Penguin update. Because the data refresh was announced and rolled out within a single day, any changes – whether positive or negative – should have been immediately apparent (just be sure not to compare your Saturday traffic numbers to your Friday or Sunday statistics, as most websites tend to experience natural declines in visitors over the weekend).
If you experienced a decline in traffic, it’s possible that you were among the sites affected by this most recent update (though if the decrease wasn’t significant, you’ll want to monitor your analytics to determine whether your drop was a fluke or something that can be tied to this recent Penguin refresh). If this is the case, stick with the Penguin Recovery Plan we’ve already outlined here on the Single Grain blog, as there’s no indication that the underlying mechanism or priorities of the Penguin update have changed.
On the other hand, you may have also seen an improvement in your traffic stats as the result of consistent “clean-up” efforts after having suffered Penguin penalties in the past. Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Round Table has identified at least one instance of a webmaster claiming a Penguin recovery following this most recent data refresh, so it’s possible that your site could have improved in traffic for the same reason.
But whether or not your site was affected, stay on your toes. If Cutts’ comments above are any indication, we could be in for a bumpy ride as Google continues to expand the reach of the web spam-targeting Penguin update. Check back here for more updates as we hear about them!