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Aug 16, 2012 at 2:32pm ET by Danny Sullivan
Fasten your seat belt, if you’ve been spamming Google. The anti-spam “Penguin Update” will have more jolts in the coming months, as Google continues to adjust it. In contrast, updates to the Panda algorithm aimed at low-quality pages are now so minor as not to be noticed, when they roll out monthly.
Speaking yesterday at the SES San Francisco conference, the head of Google’s spam fighting team Matt Cutts talked about how Google is still adjusting the Penguin Update algorithm that’s designed to penalize sites that spam Google.
Technically, Google’s saying that Penguin isn’t a penalty but rather an “adjustment” that simply doesn’t let sites get rewarded for spam as much as in the past. In particular, some linking activities that generated credit in the past seem to have been taken out.
Last year, Google rolled out its Panda Update designed to penalize (or adjust) pages that had poor quality content. Each further update produced changes in the search results, creating “winners and losers” that were felt across a wide-range of publishers.
But kind of like an major earthquake, each Panda update was more like an aftershock to the main quake, where the effects were less dramatic. Now Panda’s updated on a roughly monthly basis, Cutts said, and the changes are so subtle that few notice.
Indeed, Google itself hasn’t announced any major changes to get us from Panda 3.0 to Panda 4.0 and beyond. The latest, in late July, we dubbed Panda 3.9. It seems likely we’re going to have Panda 3.91 follow, rather than going to Panda 4.0.
Penguin is different. Cutts said that because the Penguin algorithm is newer, it will face bigger adjustments and thus be more “jolting” for people it hits, until it smooths out over time similar to Panda. He also just added more to his statement yesterday in a comment at Search Engine Roundtable:
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 far, Google’s only announced one further change to Penguin, which we dubbed Penguin 1.1. That came last May, about a month after the initial Penguin Update. We made it Penguin 1.1 rather than Penguin 2.0 because, as Google said it impacted less than 0.1% of all search results, it seemed a minor change.
Will the next update be Penguin 1.2 or Penguin 2.0, and will it be soon? Certainly, it feels overdue, and given what Cutts said, it seems likely to be a major revision. Keep in mind, however, that for all the “losers” in any update that will scream, there will be winners — perhaps even some of the sites that lost initially.