Penguin 3.0: The Rumors & Realty of What Google is Targeting

Penguin 3.0: The Rumors & Realty of What Google is Targeting


It’s been a wild month in the world of SEO.  With the release of the Panda 4.1 update which drew more strict boundaries for on-page content, to the long anticipated Penguin 3.0 update, SEOs everywhere have been scrambling trying to figure out what new trends can be identified, and how their client’s rankings have faired.

I’ll be honest, although I’m completely confident in our SEO methodologies, my stomach drops each time I hear of a new Google update.  I got the update on my phone late on October 17th and immediately went to my computer to check all our client’s rankings.  I was relieved and excited to find that there were no areas of concern, however, I know that sometimes these updates take several days to fully roll out.

Over the past week and a half, we have been monitoring our client’s rankings closely, and I’m pleased to say that 100% of our clients have moved UP in the search results.  Literally every single keyword we’re tracking has had upward movement over the past 30 days.  Our client’s have seen increases of 15-30% in their rankings across the board.

That’s extremely unusual even for a non-eventful month. Most of the time we see what we refer to as the “Google Dance” where keyword rankings move up and down a few spots with the overall trend moving north.  So when I say that every single keyword we’re tracking for our clients has moved up this month, it’s a real shock.

We (and our clients) love this for obvious reasons.  However, I’m not content with simply seeing the green arrows pointing upwards.  I want to know what made us so successful when so many of our colleagues in the business are experiencing the exact opposite.  There are lots of rumors out there about what Google is targeting with the Penguin 3.0 Update, so we’ve been taking time over the past week or so trying to sort through what’s legitimate and what’s hype.


Here are some of the rumors we’ve encountered so far.


Penguin 3.0 targets widely used WordPress themes.

So far, there is no evidence to support this claim.  We’re continuing to monitor this, but as of now, there is no correlation between a popular WordPress Theme and a drop in rankings.

Penguin 3.0 targets traditional blog commenting.

Commenting on blogs is a normal course of activity on the web, and it can be a great way of driving traffic to your website if done correctly.  Evidence also shows that unique comments on blogs related to your industry can have a positive effect on your rankings if done in moderation.  However, if this is your only strategy, or if your comments are being submitted by “black-hat” Software on irrelevant or low-quality websites, you probably got nailed with a penalty.  If you’re going to do this, you need to acquire 5-7 other types of links to every one blog comment.  Again, don’t copy/paste your comments. Make them relevant to the post your commenting on and do this primarily to engage with the audience on that blog – rather than focusing on any SEO benefits.

Penguin 3.0 only targeted specific industries.

We’re not seeing anything that would lead us to believe only certain industries were targeted with this update.  In the past we’ve seen google target certain verticals such as “Pay Day Loans,” but at this point we don’t see any early indicators that this is the case with Penguin 3.0.  If you want to read more about this, MOZ has a fairly in-depth examination of this topic in their post “How Big Was Penguin 3.0.”

There are many more rumors surrounding this update, but rather than dispelling all of them, I think it would be more valuable to discuss what Penguin 3.0 did target, what you can do to recover if you’ve been hit, and how you can safeguard your website from future penalties with the next round of updates.


What did Penguin 3.0 Target?


Simply put, Penguin 3.0 targeted sites with spammy backlink profiles.  So what are “spammy backlinks?” Without boring you with too many details, spammy backlinks would include any of the following:

Paid Backlinks

If you’ve shopped around for SEO at all, you’ve no doubt seen ads for “200+ PR 8 Backlinks for Only $99!” Run for the hills.  This practice involves placing a link to your site on a website that is often totally irrelevant to yours, with content that has nothing to do with your industry, in exchange for money.  This is easy to spot, and if you have engaged previously in this strategy, you’ve no doubt experienced the penguin smack down.

Link Exchanges

Many websites will exchange links with another as a normal course of doing business. For example, if you have a website about healthy dog grooming practices, it would be natural to link to a website that researches dangerous chemicals used in dog grooming.  However, if this appears unnatural (your dog grooming site is exchanging links with a pediatrician) you’re in trouble. Again, this is easily identifiable, and Google’s algorithm will pick up on it.

Link Building Tools

There is plenty of software on the market that promises tens of thousands of links with a few clicks of a button.  It’s surprising that this kind of software still exists, but then again, there are always new business owners who want to “dominate” the search rankings and are more willing to spend a couple hundred dollars for software than actually investing in the long-term success of the business.

Common sense should be your judge on this.  If you found the software, Google has as well, and has likely used its algorithms to send off red flags within theirs.  This is a sure fire way of receiving a penalty or being banned from Google altogether. Stay away!

Links with Keyword Specific Anchor Text.

What is Anchor Text?  It’s another way of saying “hyperlink.”  In other words, it’s the words in an article that link to a website.  Websites that have a link profile with a large percentage of exact-match keyword anchor text are seen as unnatural, and are targeted by the Penguin algorithm.  To be safe, for every keyword rich anchor text, you should have 3-4 that use branded anchor text.  Using your brand name or even a naked URL is much more natural, and won’t land you in the penalty box.

Links from Low-Quality Directories

Listing your website in low quality web directories carries little real value.  Since these sites won’t be generating traffic to your site via that link, what’s the purpose?  Google feels the same way, so don’t waste your time.

To be clear, however, this is not inclusive of trustworthy directories such as or the like.  Acquiring a listing on these sites is known as a citation, and is valuable because it shows Google that you’re a legitimate business.  When your NAP (Name, Address and Phone Number) is consistent across multiple citations, it allows Google to display your information with confidence that they’re showing correct information to their users.  There is still significant value in acquiring citations, although this should not be your only strategy.


The name of the game is high-quality link diversity.  Engaging in the outdated strategies listed above will train-wreck your hopes of ever achieving your goal of high rankings in the search results.  Not only will your link profile be disproportioned, and easily be seen as unnatural, cleaning up the mess can take a lot of time & resources to do correctly.  If you’re a new website with a clean profile, do it right from the beginning.  It’s a long-term strategy to be sure, but if you take this seriously, and make the investment, you can have an extremely lucrative business for years to come.


What do I do if I’ve Been Hit With a Penguin Penalty?


Let’s start with the good news first.  By rolling up your sleeves and cleaning up your backlink profile, and thus removing any questionable links that are associated with your domain, you can position yourself for a full or near full recovery when the algorithm refreshes.  Now for the bad news.  It could be a while before the algorithm refreshes.  In fact, this last Penguin update came after more than a year since the last one, which meant that businesses who cleaned up their act after Penguin 2 had to wait 17 months for the refresh. However, today, many of those who took appropriate action are thrilled to see their rankings restored and traffic to their website’s has significantly improved over the past week and a half.  Their competitors who did nothing, however, have completely fallen off the radar.

If you’re in need Penguin 3.0 recovery, we offer Link Clean Up services that will get you back on the right track. Paired with our Proven SEO Methodology, your website can be released from the penalty box to win again.

If you’re interested in any of our SEO services, or would just like to discuss your options, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today. We’re always here to point you in the right direction, and support you in your vision of building a successful business via digital marketing.


Jeff Bickley

Over the past decade, Jeff has worked with numerous Fortune 100 and Start-Up companies to establish, reinvent, and re-enforce their brand. A serial entrepreneur at heart, Jeff has a passion for leveraging his vast experience to provide solid and timely advice to business leaders at all levels.

  • avatar
    Posted at 03:50h, 04 December

    I’ve heard rumors that the Penguin 3.0 is still rolling out. Is that true? Any idea how long it will take until the algorithm update is complete?

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 17:28h, 11 December

      Hi Ivan,

      Great question. Actually, Google just announced yesterday that this will be a continuous update, meaning that they will update Penguin as they go from now on. You can read the full story over at We’ll write a post on this in January after the dust has settled a bit, and more information is available.

  • avatar
    Posted at 05:21h, 03 December

    Is it always a bad thing to have exact match anchor text? Or is this just something that should be done in moderation?

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 17:31h, 11 December

      Hi Jerry,

      Moderation is key. You want to have the majority of your anchor text to be associated with your brand name, or even just a naked URL. However, as long as it’s not seen as unnatural, exact match anchor text is still effective.

  • avatar
    Tonya Jackson
    Posted at 10:25h, 30 November

    Based on what you’re saying, if a website was hit with a penguin penalty, and we started getting things cleaned up today, it could take a full year, or at least until the next update, until we’re able to fully recover our rankings. Am I understanding this correctly?

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 17:37h, 11 December

      Hi Tonya,

      Interesting question! Historically this has been the case. After Penguin 2.0 hit in early/mid 2013, many businesses got to work cleaning up their backlink profile so that it adhered to Google Webmaster Guidelines. However, it wasn’t until the release of Penguin 3.0 in October when those efforts were rewarded when the algorithm refreshed. However, Google just announced that from now on Penguin will refresh continuously. This leads us to believe that if you get your site cleaned up today, you could be back in Google’s good graces in a much shorter period of time.

  • avatar
    Alex P.
    Posted at 03:12h, 30 November

    In light of Googles constant changes, do you guys plan to change up your methodologies for 2015?

    • avatar
      Jeff Bickley
      Posted at 17:46h, 11 December

      Hi Alex,

      That’s a great question! First, Google hasn’t really “changed” anything, instead they’re just enforcing their established guidelines more strictly. However, to answer your question about updating our SEO methodologies for 2015, the answer is yes and no. Let me start by saying that both the Penguin and Panda algorithms have proven our methodologies. We (along with our clients!) are thrilled with the results we’ve seen this year. However, we’re always growing and adapting our methodologies to more efficiently increase our clients rankings. We’ve noticed that there are some things that although are “good” they might not be optimal. Rather than spending client dollars on good pursuits, we’re tweaking our SEO packages so that each component provides the optimal effect on rankings. So yes, we’re making some changes in 2015, but at the core our methodologies are in tact as they were created with Google Webmaster Guidelines as a blue print.