Google Breaks Tradition and Rolls Out Penguin Updates During Holiday Season

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At a time when 75% of internet users never scroll past the first page of search results, it’s no wonder that search engine optimizers hang onto Google’s every word. Adapting to the updates put forward by the search engine giant is one of the main ways that online marketers stay relevant.

The holiday season is usually a break for optimizers. After Google’s “Florida” update went live in Nov. 2003, the company generally refrained from updating ranking algorithms during the holidays.

But marketers who thought they could snooze through November and December this year are in for a rude awakening. Despite the fact that Google has claimed several times that it avoids holiday updates, search engine experts are reporting a flood of new updates to the Penguin algorithm.

Google Penguin disrupted SEO practices dramatically when it first hit the web in 2012. Until Google Penguin, techniques that were considered “black hat” in the SEO community, like spamming and link schemes, worked just as well as white hat techniques. Penguin was built to detect and penalize sites using techniques that don’t meet Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

When sites are penalized by Google Penguin, they have to wait until the filter runs again to have those penalties lifted, even if they clean up their spam problems overnight. Publishers who were penalized by Penguin 2 had to wait a year for their penalties to be lifted.

Now, Penguin is pushing through several more updates in the wake of Penguin 3.0, which went live in October. According to Search Engine Land, there have been at least three updates since 3.0, just in time for the Thanksgiving shopping weekend.

According to Google, these updates are part of the ongoing Penguin 3.0 rollout, but they still have experts concerned. Updates usually don’t take this long to launch, and they rarely cause such dramatic changes so late in the process. These signs usually indicate a new update, not the tail end of an old one.

So far, Google has confirmed Penguin 3.0, which impacts about 1% of queries, and Penguin 3.1, which Google considers part of 3.0. Publishers are still waiting for confirmation on what they’re calling Penguin 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4, which seem to have rolled out on Dec. 2, 5 and 6 respectively.