As you probably know, the release of the original Penguin update was April, 2012. Google, of course, also releases smaller updates in between the major ones. In October, 2014, for example, Penguin 3.0 was announced. This was the first update since the release of Penguin 2.1, which was more than an entire year earlier.
One confusing characteristic of Google updates, at least from the point of view of someone trying to rank their sites and avoid penalties, is that they are unrolled over an unspecified time period. This can create a false sense of confidence for sites that are not immediately impacted by an update. Google is usually rather vague about the amount of time it will take for an update to be completed.
Shortly after the release of Penguin 3.0, for instance, it was announced that the rollout would take place over the course of a few weeks. It was also announced that this new update would affect fewer than 1% of search queries in English and that no new signals would be added. In other words, Penguin 3.0 was supposed to be a relatively minor event that would not introduce any significant new elements and would only impact a small minority of websites.
Even though Penguin 3.0 was released in October and was supposed to be rolled out over a period of several weeks, it was still not complete by Thanksgiving weekend, more than six weeks after it was introduced. A direct quote from Google stated that the “Penguin rollout is ongoing.”
Most disturbingly, many sites reported around this time that their rankings were fluctuating, with some sites gaining ground and others losing ground. Because Google has the policy of remaining vague about how its updates are rolled out and who they will effect, there is little we can do when it comes to making reliable predictions.
The stated purpose for Google’s updates is to improve the search engine experience for everyone. Google, of course, is mainly concerned with pleasing search engine users, not SEO firms or online marketers who are trying to rank their sites. At the same time, the internet is a holistic environment where everything is closely related. If Google wants websites to conform to its expectations, it should at least make these as clear as possible. We might wonder why the search engine giant is so mysterious and inconsistent about its updates.
Those who tend to be conspiracy minded or who see Google as the enemy might theorize that Google wants to keep everyone off balance. Could it be that, like a powerful tyrant who changes his mind from one day to the next, Google enjoys yielding its dominion over its hapless subjects? A related theory is that Google wants to compel online businesses to rely on paid advertising rather than organic search. From this point of view, it works in Google’s favor to keep webmasters in the dark about what is really going on.
There is probably some truth to these suspicions. Like many large and powerful corporations, Google does want to guard its dominance in its field. Yet many of the inconsistencies regarding updates are probably caused by a lack of planning rather than by sinister design. After all, it is not really in anyone’s interest, Google included, to have confusing rules that are enforced one day and ignored the next.
The people who run Google are smart enough to realize that they depend quite a bit on many of the websites that are effected by Penguin and other updates. While it’s understandable that they want to penalize spammy sites with thin content and low quality backlinks, updates have the potential to disrupt quality sites as well (known as collateral damage). It’s a proven fact that search engine users prefer to click on sites that come up organically rather than on ads. According to one study, users click on organic sites 94% of the time relative to paid search results. This alone shows that there is some commonality between the interests of Google and the multitude of websites trying to rank.
Google certainly has the potential to release its updates in a more consistent manner. This might require the company to do more thorough testing before update releases. It would also involve communicating with the public more openly about what each update entails. In the end, however, increased transparency on the part of Google would mean a better search engine for everyone.
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