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Google Penguin Review

Executive Summary

During the week of April 24th, 2012, Google released an algorithm change: the Penguin Update.  This is the first major update to Google’s ranking algorithm since the Panda Update was released more than a year ago.  Penguin:

  • Reduces the rankings of “web spam” pages, thereby increasing high-quality, relevant web sites
  • Penalizes sites that have engaged in activities that violate Google’s search engine guidelines
  • Incentivizes web sites to provide users with valuable content that will naturally garner links
  • Encourages optimization that benefits users

Overview

Google Penguin was a major update pushed to the Google ranking algorithm during the week of April 24th, 2012.  This update was expected to have impacted 3% of organic search results.  Like most Google updates, the underlying goal of this change was to enhance users’ search experiences by providing them with quality web results.

In a blog post titled “Another Step to Reward High-Quality Sites,” Google endorsed white hat SEO tactics while offering a cautionary warning to sites that use “black hat web spam” to improve their organic rankings.

Penguin should come as welcomed news to most so-called “white-hat” search marketers.  Since this update causes “spammy” sites to rank lower in search engine result pages (SERPs), search marketers are even more incentivized to create quality content and earn strong backlink portfolios so their sites receive greater visibility.  While Penguin benefits authoritative sites that provide relevant information, not all search marketers responded positively to this update.

Impact

In a Search Engine Roundtable survey of over 1,000 search marketers, 65% of responders reported they were negatively affected by Penguin.  Since it is hard to infer the tactics each search marketer used (white hat vs. black hat), determining which sites were rightly or wrongly impacted by Penguin proved difficult.

In order to quantify Penguin’s impact, Rosetta leveraged BrightEdge, an industry-leading enterprise SEO tool, to analyze client data across various industries.1

Site-wide visibility and individual keyword rankings were compared at “pre-Penguin” levels (week of April 22nd) and “post-Penguin levels” (May 6th). Comparing data from these two weeks ensured Google’s algorithm changes had been fully implemented since its release was first announced.

After assessing over 35 client accounts, Rosetta found no clients had been negatively affected by Penguin.  In fact, most clients experienced consistent, week-over-week improvements and their organic visibility either increased slightly or appeared to be unaffected.

Though Penguin appeared to have little initial impact, one particular client experienced a substantial increase in visibility.  This outlier was for a niche topic within the financial services industry and experienced a 33% growth in Page 1 keyword visibility, as displayed in the chart below:

Overall Account Keyword Visibility (Page 1)

  Number of Keywords Ranking on Page 1 WOW ∆ WOW % ∆
22-Apr (Pre) 534 9 -
29-Apr 673 139 +26.03%
6-May (Post) 709 36 +5.40%
Pre vs. Post Totals +175 - +32.77

Witnessing such a dramatic post-Penguin growth prompted further investigation. In order to determine causation for this positive shift, Rosetta leveraged BrightEdge’s “Share of Voice” analysis.2

Further examination showed considerable growth in both the number of keywords and number of pages that were ranking within a keyword subset of the client’s account.  When comparing month-over-month visibility of 20 tracked keywords, the number of keywords ranking grew from 10 to 15 (+50%).  Likewise, the number of ranked pages increased from 5 to 7 (+40%).

As illustrated by the graphs below, this overall growth caused the client’s market share to increase from position #5 (April 2, 2012) to position #2 (May 1, 2012).  This is especially impressive since the keywords within this subset are in a highly competitive niche.

April 2, 2012 May 1, 2012

As a whole, the financial sector is more susceptible to using “spammy” linking tactics to secure highly valuable organic rankings.  Since Penguin’s goal was to eliminate web spam, the large growth of this financial client coupled with the timeliness of its growth, are a good indication that Penguin was directly responsible for much of the client’s increased visibility.

In contrast to the dynamic growth experienced by our client, however, one of its competitors saw a negative fluctuation in market share.  The decreased visibility of this competitor’s keywords and pages caused its market share to fall from position #6 to position #24, month-over-month.  These two notable shifts aside, though, most domains within the keyword subset retained their respective market shares.

While it cannot be said with complete certainty that these losses and gains in market share were a direct result of Google’s latest update, an analysis of the domains’ URL structures and backlink portfolios seem to suggest the changes were a direct result of Penguin.

Case Study: Competitive Analysis

Analyzing the isolated performance of Rosetta's clients provides an incomplete picture.  To truly establish the impact of Penguin, a full competitive analysis was conducted.

Client and competitor data was compared for 7 of Rosetta's clients and 23 of their competitors.  To provide an accurate sample, client data was collected within three industries: Consumer Product & Retail, Business-to-Business, and Financial Services.

Assessing Page 1 pre- and post-Penguin keyword rankings, Rosetta's clients experienced an 11.31% growth in rankings, yet their competitors only saw a 6.61% growth.  While both Rosetta and their competitors benefited from Google's algorithm update, Rosetta's clients had a greater number of keywords ranking on Page 1 of Google post-Penguin.

Rosetta (Overall Visibility)

  Page 1 Page 2 Page 3
22-Apr (Pre) 1,733 29 751 -2 423 21
6-May (Post) 1,929 38 745 22 357 -15
% Change +11.31%   -0.80%   -15.60%  

Competitors (Overall Visibility)

  Page 1 Page 2 Page 3
22-Apr (Pre) 3,086 -18 1,014 23 633 -22
6-May (Post) 3,290 72 1,026 -41 634 -7
% Change +6.61%   +1.18%   +0.16%  

Examining the weekly visibility of keywords ranking on Page 1 provided additional insights into the impact Penguin was having on Rosetta's client and its competitors.

The chart below shows keyword ranking data from the weeks before, during, and after Penguin.   Overall, both Rosetta’s clients and the competitive sets saw above-average growth the week of April 29th.  Rosetta’s clients experienced a 9% increase, while its competitors saw a 4% growth.  When compared against “normal” weekly levels, the higher change in keywords ranking the week of April 29th (when Penguin was released) suggests Google’s Penguin update had a positive impact on site rankings.

Weekly % Change in Keywords on Page 1

  Rosetta Competitors
22-Apr (Pre) 2% -1%
29-Apr 9% 4%
6-May (Post) 2% 2%
Total (Average) 4% 2%

Averaging the weekly growth in rankings across the three weeks, Rosetta and their competitors witnessed an average growth of 4% and 2%, respectively.

Two conclusions can be drawn from comparing the overall visibility of Rosetta and its clients:

Conclusion

From Rosetta’s initial assessment, it appears the Penguin update did not have a large impact on client visibility or organic performance.  Of the domains that were affected, positive changes were consistent with weekly, historic growth.
Due to the newness of this update, it is difficult to quantify the full affects from a limited data set, but Rosetta will continue to monitor performance in the upcoming weeks.  If nothing else, Penguin should serve as a reminder to web marketers that providing relevant, informative content for their users is of utmost importance and can lead to higher organic rankings.

To ensure top visibility, Rosetta recommends continued adherence to SEO best practices:

By following these standards and closely monitoring weekly and monthly changes in organic visibility, web sites can ensure their sites are positively affected by Penguin and any of Google’s future algorithm updates.

Sources

  1. http://www.brightedge.com/
  2. http://www.brightedge.com/solution-seo-experts