Google Penguin is an algorithm update that was first announced in April 2012. The update aimed to reduce web spam, penalising websites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using black hat techniques to obtain links and manipulate search engine rankings. It also rewarded websites with high quality link profiles.
Google Penguin penalties and recovery
For many years, websites hit with a Google Penguin penalty would see their rankings suffer. The only way to recover from a penalty and regain Google’s trust would be to remove offending links. The website owner or SEO agency would send out requests to have these links removed. If they couldn’t be removed, it was necessary to submit a disavow list to Search Console. In simpler terms, you would ask Google to disregard certain links when crawling the site.
The problem with this was that Google Penguin updates were re-run periodically. Sites which removed or disavowed spammy links would be re-evaluated each time a Penguin update was released, but this could take anything from 6 months to a year. Websites could be wrongly classified as spam, and then have to play a waiting game to be re-evaluated by Google.
However, a new Penguin algorithm update released in September 2016 means this is no longer the case. Penguin now runs in real time, devaluing spammy links rather than penalising them.
Google Penguin 4.0
Penguin 4.0 is the fourth version of Google’s algorithm and the first to run in all languages. Google announced the update on September 23, 2016, claiming “webmasters should be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling websites.” It was also revealed that Penguin 4.0 would be the last update of its kind.
While Penguin still addresses the web spam problems it was originally intended to tackle, it has been given much more responsibility in its latest update. For instance, it has become a leading part of Google’s core algorithm. The “core” is comprised of more than 200 separate algorithms that evaluate where a website should rank for a given search query. This suggests that Penguin is now more significant than it ever has been before.
Other key changes to the algorithm include:
Penguin 4.0 devalues spam
Rather than being punished for spammy links, low quality links are now ignored and devalued. This is good news for sites which have been unfairly hit with a Penguin penalty in the past. However, if Penguin detects a large amount of low quality links, it can decide to discount all of the links pointing to your site which will be severely detrimental to your site’s visibility.
The disavow tool is still available to users and Google has encouraged webmasters to use it, but the function will become more of a way of alerting Google to spam rather than protecting your site from punishment.
Penguin 4.0 runs in real-time
The latest Penguin update operates at a much quicker speed than ever before. It’s no longer subject to periodic data refreshes. Instead, it refreshes in real-time, meaning links are constantly re-evaluated as Google crawls the web.
This means that if you’re found to be manipulating links, you could be penalised almost instantly. On the other hand, it also means it’s much easier to regain Google’s trust when working to remove a Penguin penalty, as you no longer have to wait months for an update to be re-evaluated.
Penguin 4.0 is more granular
Google previously penalised entire sites if they were found to be guilty of spammy link building practices. For instance, if one page had a particularly bad reputation with Google, the entire domain would suffer the consequences.
Now, the Penguin algorithm has become much more page-specific. If one page has a high number of poor quality links, ranking adjustments will be more likely to affect this page rather than the domain as a whole.
How does Penguin 4.0 affect my SEO?
Despite this being one of the most significant algorithm updates in recent years, the optimisation process is likely to have remained largely the same for your SEO agency.
However, there are several things that need to be considered carefully:
We’d hope that you aren’t involved in any black hat link building practices and would strongly recommend avoiding doing so, but if you are, you’ll need to be aware that it’s likely you’ll face penalties almost immediately. However, you will also be able to resolve the situation much faster than before.
As Penguin 4.0 re-evaluates link profiles in real time, fluctuations in rankings are likely to occur more frequently. However, it’s important to note that Penguin is only one of many possible reasons for a change in rankings. Your SEO agency will be able to help determine whether your rankings are being affected by Penguin 4.0.
There’s been no indication that Google has changed the way it evaluates link quality with Penguin 4.0. Nonetheless, it’s a good opportunity to assess your own link profile and ensure you’re doing nothing that could trigger spam signals. If you’re concerned about this, it’s a good idea to ask your SEO agency to conduct a link audit which will help to highlight any links that could be problematic.
High quality content distribution
Many website owners previously relied on a specific page or area of a website to keep them high in the rankings. As Penguin 4.0 is more page-specific, having high-quality content and links distributed equally across a website is becoming more important. Ensure that you are not neglecting any areas of the website and this should not be a problem.