The Penguin 3.0 Pattern: Losers Will Keep Losing, Winners Will Win Again

penguin updates

Google seems to be giving the gift that keeps on giving this year with a new form of “continually optimized” Penguin update. In the past, Google worked on Penguin algorithms offline and then published the updated data live on a specific date. This would cause a change in search results, so it was pretty clear when it happened.


Not anymore, according to what we can gather from Google. Now they’ll be regularly rolling out live updates of the algorithm – including during the holidays – which they previously said they wouldn’t do.


So how can you tell if your site will be affected by the updates – and what do you do if it has (besides running screaming for the hills)?


Here’s a hint: sites that were hit by Penguin 3.0 and suffered a penalty will continue paying for their sins with a steady decrease in traffic; the opposite will happen for sites that weathered the Penguin pattern without any negative problems. For those site operators who have nothing but natural link pies, traffic will continue to rise.


In the past we delved into Panda 4.1, now its Penguin’s turn. SimilarWeb took a look at some of the sites that were hit by this versatile new Penguin in order to help you safeguard against Penguin or Panda ‘attacks’ in the future. Of course, giving a play-by-play of Penguin’s effect on site traffic is only part of the solution. That’s why we’ve whipped up a 5 step Penguin recovery guide. So If you’re worried that your site may suffer a penalty, check back tomorrow for our post on how to recover from these updates.


A Little Background on the Animal


Penguin is Google’s spam-fighting filter that goes above and beyond its run-of-the-mill spam detector. Sites that are hit by Penguin suffer a massive penalty until they fix their spam and unnatural link pie. But the penalty doesn’t just end once spam has been cleaned up.  Sites are forced to wait until the next Penguin update in order to see if Google approves. That could take weeks or even months.


The latest edition of Penguin (3.0) has been repeatedly updated (or “optimized,” as Google puts it) from October 17th. 1% of queries were affected in this update, which isn’t bad compared to the last Penguin update in May, where 2.3% of queries felt an impact.


A more recent version of Penguin was published just a month ago on November 27 – Thanksgiving Day – but Google maintains that this “Thanksgiving Penguin” is actually still part of Penguin 3.0.


Google says it tries to avoid publishing updates over the holidays. So what happened this time, you ask? According to Google, these Penguin updates were just part of the Penguin 3.0 rollout. Yet as others have pointed out, updates don’t usually take so long, nor do they cause such notable variations at the end.  And the updates didn’t end there.

Searchenginland claims that three later versions (3.2, 3.3, 3.4) were published December 2, 5, and 6 respectively, although this has not been confirmed by Google.


What we can gather from this is that the new and improved Penguin is a continually evolving algorithm. This seems to be Google’s recent take on ‘optimizing’ our newly dynamic pal Penguin.


But don’t let this sweetly-named algorithm fool you, folks. This penguin bites. Specifically, Penguin 3.0 is on the lookout for:


  • Low-quality directory and bookmarked sites
  • Unnatural exact-match anchor text
  • Large-scale articles or links posted by guests/commenters
  • Hidden links
  • Paid links

Ouch! Sites that Were ‘Bitten’ by Penguin 3.0


Here are some examples of sites that were hit by Penguin 3.0 (or its slightly newer versions). Not all sites were affected negatively, but let’s focus on those that took a hit first:


Here we have, a discounted online wedding dress retailer in the US. Before the Penguin update, the site had an average of 40,000 organic monthly visits. After Penguin 3.0, traffic decreased sharply to just 9,000 monthly visits. That’s a 75% drop in site traffic. According to Similarweb’s global ranking from September 2014, placed at 295,040. But this rank fell considerably after the Penguin update, with the retailer coming in at 873,742 in November. traffic search


Next up is, a gaming site where players can win prizes. had 300,00 organic visits in September, and decreased to 91,000 in November. That’s more than a 300% drop in their site traffic. Their global rank also took a huge hit – in September, ranked in at 49,902; after the Penguin update the site fell to place in at 188,387. traffic search

Nice Penguin: Sites that Benefited from the Bird


Not every website suffers from the new Penguin  updates. Some sites are unaffected by the change, while others actually benefit from it. If a site has mostly nautural incoming links, Penguin will play nice, as you can see in the following examples.


Auto supply site is one such Penguin-approved site. The site went from 39,500 organic monthly visits in September to 66,000 monthly organic visits for November, which is a 70% increase in their site traffic. also got a boost in rank – for September the site came in at 295,040; by November it had jumped ahead to rank 111,822. traffic search


Another Penguin winner was  This online gaming site didn’t suffer much from Penguin – it appears to be a site that benefited from the latest round of updates as its rank increased. In September the site had a global rank of 74,171; by November moved up to 68,624 in global rank. traffic search


The message here is pretty clear: as our title tells it, sites with poor quality link pies will continue to suffer penalties from this continually optimized Penguin 3.0. Websites with natural links will either come away unscathed or see a boost in traffic. Using unnatural links may help draw traffic to your site initially, but as we’ll explore in tomorrow’s post, now is not the time for shortcuts!


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About the Author -

A pioneer in the field of SEO from a young age, Roy Hinkis currently serves as the Head of SEO & Digital Marketing Evangelist for SimilarWeb. He has over 10 years of experience in online marketing, with specific expertise in affiliate marketing, social media, and of course, SEO.

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