“Is the Penguin Penalty Still Relevant at All?” Google Responds

According to Google’s John Mueller, it’s still relevant...at least, partially.
SIA Team
November 3, 2021

During the English Google SEO Office-Hours From October 29, 2021, Google Search Advocate, John Mueller, addressed a question:

“Is the Penguin penalty still relevant at all or less relevant? Spammy toxic backlinks are more or less ignored by the ranking algorithms these days.”

The video below is queued to the 37:05 mark, which is where John addressed the question.

John’s response

“I’d say it’s a mix of both.

“So for the most part, when we can recognize that something is problematic and kind of a spammy link, we will try to ignore it. If our systems recognize that they can’t isolate and ignore these links across a website, if we see a very strong pattern there, then it can happen. Better algorithms say, ‘Well, we really have kind of lost trust with this website’.

“And at the moment, based on the bigger picture on the web, we kind of need to be more on an almost conservative side when it comes to understanding this website’s content and ranking it in the search results. And then you can see…a drop in the visibility there. 

“But for the most part, the web is pretty messy, and we recognize that we have to ignore a lot of the links out there.

“So for the most part, I think that’s fine. Usually, you would only see this kind of a drop if it’s really a strong and clear pattern that’s associated with the website.”

So…What Did He Say?

I’ve been watching John answer questions for weeks now, if not months, and sometimes, I feel that he needs an ‘interpreter,’ or…at least someone to give their understanding of what he said.

Here’s my take:

So, we know that, for years, some webmasters have tried to boost the number of links to their websites. This form of link-building is what’s called a link scheme, and may be against Google’s Webmaster guidelines

According to Wikipedia, the stated aim of the Penguin update was to decrease the rankings of websites that participated in such link schemes

The person who asked the question asked if Penguin was still relevant because, presumably, they’ve seen a lot of ‘spammy toxic backlinks’ that are ignored nowadays. 

(And I’d say that they said ‘ignored’ because in the past, in the earlier days of Penguin, those links would probably contribute to a loss of rankings of a site, but not so much so today.)

And John said ‘I’d say it’s a mix of both,’ because–and again, this is my opinion–today, ‘the web is pretty messy,’ (more so than in 2012, when Penguin was first released). 

So, instead of penalizing sites as often as they may have in 2012, Google now ignores links more often. 

(Also, I think it’s good that Google is more apt to ignore links, rather than be quick to penalize sites. I say this because there is something called ‘negative SEO,’ where a competitor can artificially try to send links to the competition’s site, in an effort to cause them to lose rankings.)

But, if Google does see a ‘very strong pattern,’ (however that may be determined…only Google knows that), then that site may lose trust with Google.

So, in my opinion, Penguin may not be as potent as it was 9 years ago, but it should not be absolutely ignored. 

Source: Google Search Central YouTube channel