The Penguin Update: Google’s Webspam Algorithm Gets Official Name

Move over Panda, there’s a new Google update in town: Penguin. That’s the official name Google has given to the webspam algorithm that it released on Tuesday.

What’s An Update?

For those unfamiliar with Google updates, I’d recommend reading my Why Google Panda Is More A Ranking Factor Than Algorithm Update post from last year. It explains how Google has a variety of algorithms used to rank pages.

Google periodically changes these algorithms. When this happens, that’s known as an “update,” which in turn has an impact on the search results we get. Sometimes the updates have a big impact; sometimes they’re hardly noticed.

Who Names Updates?

Google also periodically creates new algorithms. When this happens, sometimes they’re given names by Google itself, as with the Vince update in 2009. If Google doesn’t give a name, sometimes others such as Webmaster World may name them, as with the Mayday update in 2010.

With Penguin, history is repeating itself, where Google is belatedly granting a name to an update after-the-fact. The same thing happened with Panda last year.

When the Panda Update was first launched in February 2011, Google didn’t initially release the name it was using internally. I knew it, but I wasn’t allowed say what it was. Without an official name, I gave it an unofficial one of “Farmer,” since one of the reasons behind the update was to combat low-quality content that was often seen associated with content farms.

In the end, I suspect Google didn’t want the update to sound like it was especially aimed at content farms, so it eventually let the “Panda” name go public, in a Steven Levy interview for Wired about the update about a week after it launched. Panda took its name from one of the key engineers involved.

Say Hello To Penguin

Since Panda, Google’s been avoiding names. The new algorithm in January designed to penalize pages with too many ads above the fold was called the “page layout algorithm.” When Penguin rolled out earlier this week, it was called the “webspam algorithm update.”

Without a name for the new webspam algorithm, Search Engine Land was asking people for their own ideas at Google+ and Facebook, with the final vote making “Titanic” the leading candidate. A last check with Google got it to release its own official name of “Penguin.”

Postscript: If you were hit and are trying to figure out what to do next, see our follow-up article, Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice
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