What does a Penguin 3.0 recovery look like? A case study

  • 1
  • October 23, 2014
Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright

Strategy Director

Though Google’s Pierre Fer stated on the 21st October that the Penguin refresh affected “fewer than 1% of queries in US English search results” – we have seen some websites recovering in the UK also.

We posted an article on Saturday explaining that we were seeing large fluctuations and some sites had certainly lost and gained rankings as a result of Penguin 3.0 at that point.

With kind permission from one of Branded3’s clients, we’d like to share the data we’re tracking for an entire SERP in the UK, along with evidence of the recovery they have had.


You might be surprised to learn that the Ecigarette SERPs are full of spam.

We track hundreds of websites in this industry, so the data set has been limited to sites that we’re estimating have lost or gained more than 100 visitors from Google Organic search between 17th and 20th October – when the algorithm first started to roll out and when we first started to see this settling down.

The below is a graph from our system that details estimated traffic via certain keywords.

Our platform works in exactly the same way as Searchmetrics, but on a daily basis instead of weekly, and with the ability to separate out brand terms and to drill down to certain keyword ‘buckets’ (or topics). The downside is that we don’t have a database the size of Searchmetrics (just yet!).

Insights Engine Traffic Share - Ecigarette Direct

The data is corroborated by Searchmetrics, which most recently updated on Wednesday 22nd:

Ecigarette Direct SearchmetricsAfter the 18th ecigarettedirect.co.uk began ranking for 171 additional keywords that we’re tracking, with 6 additional rankings inside the top 3. Most interestingly, the number of keywords that ecigarettedirect.co.uk appears on page 1 for in Google UK more than doubled overnight, and has stayed relatively constant, as evidenced in the bar graph below:

Insights Engine Rankings - Ecigarette Direct

Fortunately it’s also backed up in terms of traffic, with ecigarettedirect.co.uk seeing a 35% increase in Google Organic traffic this week compared to last (16th-22nd vs 9th-15th):

Google Analytics Ecigarette Direct


We’ve seen more drastic recoveries after previous Penguin updates (check out the Analytics graph in Matthew Jackson’s post last year), but these were sites on a much bigger scale that gain hundreds of natural mentions and operate in industries with much more traffic.

The main takeaway was that Ecigarette Direct has almost certainly benefitted from the Penguin 3.0 rollout over the weekend, whether it was a refresh or not, and whether Google will admit it was in the UK or not.

So who lost?

As I mentioned above, the ecigarette SERPs are full of spam, so it stands to reason that some sites will suffer as others recover.

We track any sites that rank for the keywords we’re tracking (not just our own clients) so we have a reasonable idea of where rankings were won and lost.

The table below features the same metrics as the Traffic Share graph at the top (it’s easier to show a table than a graph):

Ecigs Traffic Share

There are a lot more sites operating in the industry of course – we’ve filtered this to only show visibility changes of more than 100 estimated Google Organic visits between Friday and Sunday. Checking through Searchmetrics it looks like a lot of these sites are showing the increases and decreases respectively.

…and again, it’s worth mentioning that Google has claimed the update is still rolling out, so these changes are by no means static (are rankings ever static in Google?) – but they are holding firm for now and our client is benefitting from the refresh.

What effect did Penguin have on Ecigarette Direct?

According to Ecigarette Direct’s owner James Dunworth:

“The penguin penalty received definitely lead to a slow down in the growth of our business, although it also lead to a much stronger business model as we diversified into retail and wholesale channels.

“One thing that continued to go from strength to strength, despite being adversely affected by the penalty, was our blog. It highlighted to us the importance of both relevant, viral content and of a strong social network base as an alternative to relying on search engine traffic.

“It’s been a long hard road to get our rankings back, and I’d advise any company outsourcing some or all of their SEO to ensure they work with reputable companies using white hat techniques, and to constantly monitor the quality of links coming in.”

We recently launched our Search Due Diligence product to help businesses assess whether they are at risk of a manual or algorithmic penalty. If you’re concerned about what effect the Penguin refresh has had on your website get in touch and we’ll help in any way we can.