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Google Panda update is the calm before the Penguin storm

Google released its 19th iteration of the Panda update this week, with less than 1% of sites affected, but storm clouds are gathering in the shape of the next Penguin update.

February 2011’s original Panda update was a major blow by the search engine against link farms, and 12% of all search queries were shaken up. But with the exception of an August 2011 update that affected 6-9% of non-English language queries, subsequent Panda updates have had little actual effect. That is in stark contrast to the imminent release of Google’s Penguin update, which had webmasters running scared after Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, spoke at SES San Francisco in August.

“You don’t want the next Penguin update,” said Cutts, before adding that further Penguin updates would be “jarring and jolting.”

While Panda updates tackle low-quality sites, Penguin is aimed at penalising over-optimised sites that cheat Google through black-hat techniques such as keyword stuffing, and affected nearly 65% of SEOs, according to Search Engine Roundtable. This is only the third change to the original Penguin, and Cutts believes its updates will continue to cause a stir for the foreseeable future. In a statement on Search Engine Roundtable he said:

“We’re still in the early stages of Penguin where the engineers are incorporating new signals and iterating to improve the algorithm. Because of that, expect that the next few Penguin updates will take longer, incorporate additional signals, and as a result will have a more noticeable impact.”

Cutts went on to tweet that webmasters should focus on how links are incorporated into webpages. While the initial response to Cutts’ announcement has been one of fear, the truth is that there will be winners as well as losers. Panda and Penguin were both released to reward sites that offer high-quality website content rather than set out to cheat the system. By focusing on producing on and off-page content that is relevant, imparts useful information and encourages natural linking and sharing, you have nothing to fear from any of the updates Cutts’ team unleash.