Many of you may be wondering why we haven’t said anything in the past few weeks about arguably the biggest SEO event in the industry’s recent history. The reason for that is simple – nobody knew what the heck was going on. Theories, explanations, and hypotheses were flying in from left and right, while Google execs didn’t do much to elaborate on the issue.

Rise of the Burj Khalifa

The event, now known as the Burj Khalifa, is in the history books for being the most turbulent rankings event since the inception of search engine optimization in Denver or anywhere else, for that matter. Even people who have no training in SEO can appreciate the excitement these sudden changes caused. But, what really happened behind closed doors to make something like the Burj Khalifa rise at the start of the New Year?

Algoroo Burj Khalifa


The most contested theory regarding the Burj is that these are the effects of an early testing of the real-time Penguin. The timeline fits, considering Google did announce the release of the update sometime in the first quarter, most likely around March. But, Gary Illyes was quick to put an end to any Penguin talk by declaring that the Burj was a result of a change to the core algorithm.

Are There Penguins in the Burj?

Even this, however, didn’t stop many conspiracy theorists from linking the changes to Penguin in some way. The most prevalent of these arguments is that Google is slowly baking at least parts of Penguin into the core – similar to what they did with Panda. In addition, turning Penguin into part of the core sounds like part of the plan if the search engine wants the update to refresh in real time.

This theory is further supported by the explanation Google representatives gave, when they attempted to shed light on what it really means to become part of the core. But, this is all conjecture until someone comes forward with actual evidence one way or another. Fortunately, we may have our shining light, as an old frenemy of the SEO industry made an appearance to talk about the issue.

Cutting In

Matt Cutts has been on leave from Google for a couple of years now, but is still held to a high degree of authority by many in the industry. Sporting a Luke Skywalker beard, Matt went online to talk on This Week in Google 336, addressing the many changes Google has made over the transition of the New Year.

Matt Cutts Returns


According to Matt, what most likely happened was a simultaneous launch of different changes after Google enacted a code freeze in mid-December. A code freeze is when Google stops launching changes around the holidays to prevent causing extra stress on publishers, webmasters and SEOs. But, Google engineers keep working through that time, and are ready with several changes by the time everyone comes back to work.

Still Not a Hundred Percent

This effect works a lot like releasing a dam, and does explain a lot about why the Burj became as turbulent as it did, when it did. There are however, still some questions that have yet to be answered even with this explanation. One of them being, why didn’t Gary Illyes just say that instead of stopping at ‘it’s a core update’?

Gary Illyes Not Penguin


There’s also the fact that though Matt is speaking from years of experience of working with Google, he hasn’t been a part of actual operations since 2014. He brings this issue up himself in his blog, by saying that the code freeze theory is only his suspicion, and that he doesn’t know for sure. Matt, however, backs the popular belief that this may not be Penguin.

It seems like the voices coming forward not convinced this is Penguin are growing by the day. Only time – and probably Google executives – can say what exactly happened.

Did you see these strange effects on your rankings? Were any of them hit by old Penguins? What are your theories on why the Burj happened? Let us know your thoughts, and we can shed more light on this issue together.

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