Over the weekend Google released its latest Penguin update, the first in more than a year. 

This follows a recent update to Panda, which took aim at thin content and aggregator sites.

I asked Stephen Kenwright, head of search at Branded3, about the aims and impact of this latest update…

What is Penguin 3.0?

Automated punishment for companies that do automated link building.

Penguin has caught quite a few sites that have backlinks from poor quality blogs and link networks too, and it seems like Penguin 3.0 has much more of a focus on blogs.

We’re getting better at algorithmically identifying sites that aren’t genuine, so it’s fair to assume that Google is too.

What is Google aiming to achieve with this update?

Most search results have at least one or two sites on the first two pages that really don’t deserve to be there; often fraudulent businesses using quick and dirty tactics to get search traffic.

The aim of Penguin is to take out those sites, and because the effects of Penguin are transferred through redirects, those spam sites can’t come back under another guise (or at least they can’t stay there).

Where are you seeing the biggest changes so far?

The biggest changes have definitely been in the travel sector, with several major travel sites seeing a fall in visibility.

The reason for this is the travel industry’s insistence on ‘relevant blogs’ – the problem is that there are very few relevant travel blogs, and there’s no good reason for a backpacker to write about package holidays, so it looks unnatural.

Based on what you have seen so far, has it achieved what Google wanted?

It has, because I think Google wanted to give sites the chance to recover and not wipe out innocent sites.

Penguin 3.0 is long overdue because the way that the algorithm works means sites are susceptible to negative SEO.

The chatter in forums like Blackhat World makes it seem like there have been a lot of hits, but SEOs on Twitter are struggling to spot big drops, which is probably the way it should be.

What is your advice for sites hit by penguin 3.0?

Stop link building. After the last couple of Penguin updates it was fairly easy to blame legacy links, but businesses have had a whole year to organise a disavow file, which implies that toxic links might still be being added.

The question you need to be asking before you place a link is not ‘is this blog relevant?’ but ‘will this link drive traffic to my website?’