The Epic Fail of Google’s Penguin Update

For those of us who work in online marketing, or even online reputation management, it’s important to remember where our bread is buttered. The tools we use to become successful, and ultimately to make money, are the very same tools that the average online user implements to obtain day-to-day information in a word, search engines. Without them, we’d all be out of work.

That is why it’s so important for us to remember that Google is not the enemy. The most successful members of the online marketing or reputation management communities are those who treat the search engine as an ally, not a foe to be overcome.

With that said, it is important to acknowledge when Google crashes and burns. And their recent Penguin update is nothing if not an epic failure.

What is Penguin?

There is already been much ink spilled on the topic of Penguin, but here is what it means in a nutshell. Google, as we all know, is constantly tinkering with its own search algorithms, seeking to get the most accurate and relevant results possible (whatever that even means). For some reason, they have a thing for naming their most significant algorithmic updates after black-and-white animals first the ongoing series of Panda updates, and now Penguin.

But with Penguin, Google’s quest for search engine relevance has gone too far. The update is said to target spam, but, as many owners of online real estate have already learned, Penguin’s evaluation of what is and is not spam leaves something to be desired.

Penguin Fail

Only Google knows for sure how Penguin works on a technical level, but the evidence we’ve seen, along with Google’s comments, make it clear that Penguin is aggressively targeting (read: de-indexing) online content that’s overstuffed with keywords and links. And according to the Google pros themselves, the update has been nothing but a major success.

Many of us online marketing and reputation management pros feel differently.

And you don’t have to work in online search to know that Penguin has failed pretty spectacularly. There have been a few well-documented cases of this, starting with the fact that the main page for Viagra was de-indexed while phony/hacker sites have ranked well. Apparently Penguin thinks the official Viagra site is spam, but it has no problem with, well, actual spam sites.

And the list of epic Penguin fails goes on from there; there are many reports of completely empty websites ranking extremely well. (Having no content at all is one way of avoiding keyword stuffing.)

Bouncing Back from a Penguin Attack

If you work in a field where online content is key and online marketing, affiliate marketing, and reputation management all fit the bill then there’s a decent chance you’ve been affected by Penguin. (Around 3 percent of all search queries have been hit, Google reports.) Don’t let Google’s epic fail keep you down, though; there are certainly measures you can take to get back up and running.

Some of these measures, of course, are pretty obvious: If you actually have been guilty of spammy content, of illicit link exchanges, and so on, it’s in your own best interest to remove this content as soon as possible. Google’s campaign against irrelevant, spam-laden content is not going to stop any time soon, with further Panda and Penguin updates all but guaranteed.

It might also be helpful to revise all of your content. Here it’s important to remember exactly what Google is attempting to do. The purpose of the Penguin update is, basically, to give priority to content that is helpful and relevant for users and not just built to appeal to search engines.

So the best way to ensure your content is Penguin-proof is, in effect, to write it as though you’re simply seeking to appeal to human readers. If you’re writing content designed to be relevant and interesting to human readers, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Penguin’s unlikely to hit content like that, and you also won’t have to worry about getting links through less-than-legitimate means. If the content is good, you’ll get natural links and organic traffic without having to stoop to gimmicks.

None of that changes the fact that Penguin is a failure of epic proportions. Given Google’s enthusiasm over the algorithmic update, though, there’s unlikely to be any change in their ongoing crusade to ensure relevant content. So you don’t have to like the Penguin patch, but there’s no use in fighting it. Search engine success is as ever dependent on your willingness to learn, adapt, and play by Google’s rules.

About Rich Gorman

Rich Gorman is a veteran of the direct response marketing industry and an expert in reputation management and direct response marketing for companies large and small. Rich also operates the official blog for the Direct Response industry where he shares his thoughts on Direct Response Marketing.

8 Responses to The Epic Fail of Google’s Penguin Update

  1. Jim Kukral says:

    Building a business on the whim of a search engine is a bad business model.

    • Rich Gorman says:

      Jim – couldn’t agree more.  I’ve read countless stories about companies that have seen their revenues shrink over 30% just because of an update to Google’s search engine.

      It’s key to diversify your marketing strategies and not rely solely on organic traffic. 

  2. Rudolf Shu 244 says:

    As annoying as a de-ranking may be for a business, I figure there’s probably a valid reason why it happens. Google’s engineers are among the best in the world, so what they’re trying to do — help ensure only the most relevant content ranks — will definitely work itself out. These problems are just a few growing pains along the way.

  3. fish person says:

    While I totally agree with Jim
    Kukral’s comment; it still does change the fact that the Penguin update is an
    epic fail with consequences beyond ecommerce.


    In my field of expertise for
    more than 3 decades (aquarium and pond keeping), this new update along with to
    a lesser extent the Panda update has driven “Cut and Paste” websites such as eHow
    to the top of searches for keywords such as “Aquarium Planaria”

    This has yielded information
    that not only is dead wrong, it also persons now taking actions detrimental to
    their aquarium’s health and well being (based on my email and forum


    Other product searches such
    as “Wonder Shells” and “UV Bulbs” as given new life to poor content ecommerce
    and mis-information websites.


    Personally, I believe Google
    knows full well what they are doing since this drives more to Adwords and the
    fact that they no longer even reply to my DMCA complaints for plagiarism of my
    many aquarium and pond article stolen solely for Adsense. This also goes hand
    in hand with known stealing WiFi information via Google Street View.


    Frankly the evidence is in
    that Google is far from the “nice” and honest company many in the news media
    and elsewhere pretend that Google is.

  4. I’ve noticed the big brands are ranking near the top of the searches in many industries. The problem is that there are many very relevent results from smaller online companies and they no longer rank on the first page of the results after this update. many of these companies advertise with adwords and without the natural listings they won’t be able to compete with the larger brand websites. This will make them stop spending money on adwords as they can’t afford it anymore. Large brands will advertise with Google whether they’re #1 or #101 on the results and I think it’s only a matter of time before Google realizes that many of the smaller companies will cut their advertising budget with Google costing them precious revenue. I know I’ve cut out over 25% of the money I was spending with them because my revenue has gone down since the update due to lower organic rankings. Google is in business to make money off their advertising and to cut out the small guy is not a smart thing to do as I believe more and more companies like me will be doing the same thing. We just cannot compete with the large brands and it is making us rethink where we put our advertising dollars.

  5. The Google updates are reminders of what’s important, which is your actual target audience members.  Creating content just to attract the search engines is the wrong approach.  It’s important to include some keywords, but only where it is a natural fit.  

  6. Hello,

    This statement….

     “Search engine success is—as ever—dependent on your willingness to learn, adapt, and play by Google’s rules.”

    ….is exactly the “mind control” propaganda Google wants everyone to have.


    Is internet business success dependent on Google?

    Or put another way

    If Google died tomorrow does ALL internet commerce die with it?

    If the answer is yes to either question, then you will ever be chasing the Google “carrot”.
    Anyone that truly believes they have NO CHOICE but to worship at the altar of Google are in for a very rude awakening.

  7. Vivian Dilberd says:

    It seems that great power sector are now handled by Search engines at some different stage because they aren’t quickly suffering from any of the upgrade.