The difference between an algorithm update and refresh.

Penguin updateToday, Google’s Pierre Far, cleared up some of the confusion in regards to what is happening with the latest Penguin rerun.  He said that it was a refresh that was designed to help sites who had cleaned up and also demote sites with newly found spam.  A lot of people are confused about the difference between a Penguin refresh and and update so I thought I would write a quick post to explain this.

A refresh of one of Google’s algorithms simply means that they ran the algorithm again without changing any of the signals.  An update means the factors and calculations that the algorithm uses have changed. Both are similar and here is why…

An analogy would be to look at the engine of a car.  A refresh of the car’s engine would occur when you turn it on.  But, an update means that you’ve changed some parts of the engine, or perhaps tinkered with the way that it processes gasoline and oil and then turned it on.

What does this mean in terms of Penguin?

A refresh of the Penguin algorithm means that the exact same signals have been used as in the last update which was October 4, 2013.  This is why we are seeing fewer reports of hits and why those sites that are getting hit are ones with fresh links that are horrendously unnatural.  So far, all of the requests for help that I have had for sites that took a hit with Penguin are from sites with really, really unnatural links.  At some point, when Google does run an update of the Penguin algorithm, it is going to look quite different.  The update will likely find ways to find other types of unnatural links that previously went undetected by Penguin.  Perhaps the update will be able to detect guest posts made solely for the purpose of gaining links or perhaps it will get better at detecting links that come from private blog networks.

This refresh will take a few weeks to roll out.  I’m not sure why it will take so long.  Sites that have worked hard to clean up their link profiles should see some improvement.  The reason why Google pushed this refresh now is likely because of the public outcry from site owners who have done everything that Google suggests and yet their business is still suffering because of Penguin.  The real question I have is why it took over a year for this to happen.

When will Penguin update?

John Mueller hinted in a hangout yesterday that it will take a few more months before an update happens.  He said, “The holiday season is coming soon and I don’t think we want to cause too much fuss there.”  So, look for an update perhaps in the new year.

What if you didn’t recover?

If you have done a thorough cleanup and you’re still not seeing your rankings increase then there are two possible reasons for this:

1. The rollout is not yet complete – Pierre Farr from Google said it will take a few weeks for this rollout to completely finish.

2. You need to be more thorough – If the rollout completes and you still aren’t seeing improvement then you may need to be even more thorough at finding and removing or disavowing your unnatural links and then wait for the next refresh or update.


Hopefully that clears up some of the confusion.  But, I’m happy to answer questions if you have any.

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  1. Hi Marie that was a quite helpful explanation – thanks for your work on this front. Scenario: if someone approaches you right now and they haven’t done any cleanup am I reading correctly that they can still submit a disavow and wait for the update in 2015 ?

    • Yes, if you haven’t done link cleanup and you know you have links that were made solely for SEO purposes, then start the process now. When you submit your disavow, immediately, as Google crawls each of the sites listed, they’ll apply an invisible nofollow. But, if you are being suppressed by Penguin then you won’t see any release from the algorithm until they either refresh or update the algorithm again.

      At this point, this should happen in early 2015, but really, no one knows. Still, there’s no point waiting. I’d get started on this right away!

      • Hi Marie, why are you saying it should happen in early 2015? Any valid source related to that?

        • Hi Eldy. John Mueller mentioned in a hangout that they don’t want to push out a new update over the holidays and disrupt things too much. Given that Google said that Penguin will run more frequently now, I am assuming that the update will happen in early 2015. There hasn’t been an official Google statement on that though.

  2. Oh well. So much for the hysteria!

  3. Hi Marie,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I have a US based site that underwent a thorough link cleanup in February, and has gained hundreds of natural links since. Unfortunately, as of this moment, there is still no sign of any recovery.

    Is there still hope for this site to recover during this “refresh”? Or is it too late now? Pierre said that it will take several weeks for this rollout to finish, so does that mean that more sites will see recoveries, or has that ship already sailed?

    • Oh, there is definitely still hope! I know of a good number of sites that have done thorough link cleanups, obtained fantastic new links and still have seen no improvement. When Pierre said that the rollout would take a few weeks I was extremely excited and hopeful for these sites.

  4. FWIW Pierre said 2 conflicting things in his Penguin Google+ update:

    “Penguin update rolling out

    On Friday last week, we started rolling out a Penguin refresh affecting fewer than 1% of queries in US[… ]”

    The title of his post suggests an update, and the body a refresh. Not sure whether he has clarified this, but I’m not sure how some sites hit this time around could have been missed last time Penguin ran if no signals have changed.

    • It certainly was confusing. I really do believe Pierre was saying it was a refresh though.

      It seems that sites with fresh hits are ones that had been actively engaged in unnatural link building SINCE October of 2013 which would make sense.

  5. Re.Demoting sites with newly found spam – this is going to be very interesting indeed when the majority of publishers switch to SSL! To me – this update / new system / refresh – whatever you want to call it will only gain its true functioning use when this happens

  6. I see that my site pages are jumping and rank at 3rd and 4th position. but another site result change on daily basis. A day before its drop from 2nd postion to 6th page of and today its on 3rd position again. i think its due to refresh. Well explanation. thanks.

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Marie Haynes is the founder of HIS Web Marketing, formerly at In 2015, she rebranded the company to Marie Haynes Consulting Inc.