Fishing for Insights About Google’s Penguin Update

It was only a matter of time before proverbial Saturn, The Google, would devour its own children, the spammy websites seeking to fully leverage search engines to get free business. That time arrived last week with the Penguin update, which aimed to knock the web spam out of Google’s search results.

Those who do SEO are constantly trying to keep ahead of algorithms controlled by data engineers at a search engine. It’s similar to staying healthy, you get flu shots today, but it’s not any good for next year’s bug – nor is there any way of knowing for sure what next year’s bug or algorithm is going to be.

But search engine results are like a boat full of holes. Google is trying to constantly patch theirs. And when Google rolls out their repairs, many people who are heavily invested in SEO get upset, as this infographic shows, while some petition Google to kill the Penguin update or offer some “colorful” Penguin feedback.

The Rules Have Changed (Yet Again)

Those in charge of SEO for websites or brands impacted by the Penguin update are scrambling to find answers and insights in order to hopefully stay afloat. Building a business purely with SEO no longer works.

Is building a brand the only way a business can succeed now? Branding takes time and a lot of money and investment – the very thing many don’t have right now.

But we were warned ahead of time about impending changes ahead. My mind flashed back to late January, hearing about a former client’s site that was getting a message from Webmaster Tools that their links looked “unnatural” and there would be a penalty.

Then at SXSW, word came from Google’s Matt Cutts that Google would soon go after unnaturally optimized sites to “level the playing field.” The interesting thing about this change is the level playing field just got rid of most of the small guys, who tried to equalize the lack of brand, with SEO tricks, leaving companies who have built their brands, and have money to spend, with a lot less competition to worry about and the Penguin Update may have made the “playing field” more uneven than before.

Penguin Sentiment

I decided to look more deeply into what is being said and felt about the Penguin Update using the Social Analytics platform NetBase, focusing on the text analytics features of one of best Natural Language Processing analytics platform on the market today.


Looks like the Penguin Update is upsetting men, who fear search results will be ruined, and it’s going to mess up Christmas this year. Meanwhile, woman seems relatively unconcerned about the update.


The sentiment about Penguin seems to be that this update is “the worst Google update yet” but that Google doesn’t owe anyone a living. But it’s anyone’s guess what update comes next after the Penguin, though it’s fairly predictable that Google will release a new update 3 or 4 times a year, so we’re in for at least two more by the end of 2012. My guess is the next updates, after Penguin, will undo part of the damage, which may have thrown out the baby with the bath water.

One of the other nice things about NetBase is it’s filtering by URL source – you can look at a text word cloud around specific sources such as Facebook in order to see how SEOs are expressing their pain about Penguin the most.


I suppose the limitations of the social analytics tools is akin to the limitiations of the search engines they were patterned upon Google, which is based on keywords (and links), with data I have pulled from Netbase containing information about real Penguins, including gay ones!

March of the Google Penguin


More likely than not, we as humans would prefer to deal with brands we can trust, directly. Perhaps 10 years ago dogs could be on the Internet, when the Internet wasn’t so saturated with barking noise. Now people want to tune out the barking.

So perhaps this latest algorithmic change from Google is actually cleaning out the search results, so people can actually focus on what they find, including the brands they more likely to do business with, in the first place.

Related reading

Interview Marie Haynes: What you need to know about E-A-T
how to fix top UX mistakes for better SEO
Differences between B2B and B2C link building tactics
siddharth taparia SAP on embarking on search transformation projects