Is Google Penguin Getting a Refresh?

Over the past couple of days, the SEO and webmaster forums have been rife with speculation that Google is testing some sort of new algorithm update this week. Give a look to some of the speculation and commentary on the Webmaster World Google Forum for reference.

Is this the “jarring and jolting” Penguin Refresh we’ve been hearing about?

Last month, Matt Cutts really caused a stir during his keynote speech at SES San Francisco. The SEO industry has been in an uproar ever since that time. He suggested that the next tweak of Penguin would be significant, and it sounds like they certainly have a big whammy coming up.

The last update was Penguin 1.1, back in May. It was nowhere near jarring or jolting, as it was a simple refresh of the original update. It is unclear whether the next refresh will be a 1.2 or a bigger step up to 2.0, which would make more sense given the guidance Mr. Cutts gave us a few weeks ago.

Let’s take a moment to investigate whether there are any reasons or indicators that this speculation is anything more than hype.

Gauging Current SERP Volatility

The first thing to keep in mind is that Monday was the Labor Day holiday here in the US. If your site gets most of its traffic locally from the US, you should have seen a natural decrease in week-over-week visits. I saw this on many of my sites, but less so on my sites that have a more international audience. Return On Now, for example, gets the vast majority of its traffic here, and I saw about half of the trending visit volume that I saw the prior two weeks.

There are a couple of outstanding free services available online that gauge SERP volatility on an ongoing basis. These are typically very accurate at identifying major moves in algorithms.

SERPmetrics

SERPmetrics provides a Search Engine Fluctuation Chart that gauges overall SERP volatility on a daily basis (available hourly for paying customers). I reviewed today’s chart, which measures through last night, and it looks like business as usual:

SerpMetrics Chart August 2 - 5, 2012

If this chart shows lines higher on the volatility scale, that means a lot of websites are moving up or down in ranking. As you can see, the last major movement was at least a couple of weeks ago.

MozCast Weather Report, September 1-5, 2012

MozCast

SEOmoz offers a free service at MozCast.com that gauges SERP volatility using a weather-report format. Essentially, hotter temperatures or rainy days indicate something may be amiss. The image to the right shows their weather report for the past few days.

As you can see in the image, September 1 was a bit of a murky day on MozCast. This suggests that something may have in fact been underway. Alternatively, given that this was a weekend day and on a holiday weekend, I would expect search behaviors to change. If the weather showed up as much worse, I’d be more concerned.

Given the inconsistency between the two tools, the data is pretty much inconclusive at this point in time.

What Other SEO Bloggers Are Saying

Industry thought leaders have been all over this news today.

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land was the first blog post I saw on the topic: Was That a Google Update or Wasn’t It?

Cris Crum followed up with his own commentary shortly thereafter: Google Penguin Update Refresh Suspected. Cris also covered off on some early rumblings that happened on the industry forums last week.

Conclusion

It does not appear to me that a major update is under way. Perhaps we are seeing a small refresh to Panda, rather than Penguin. The holiday depressed traffic volumes a bit, so that is likely playing a role in any traffic decrease you are seeing.

As for the SERPs, it seems specific niches are getting it the worst based on the forum threads I’ve been reading. Hopefully Google will provide some official information in the next week. In the meantime, just keep doing the right things and your website should be fine.