Google announce Penguin 4.0 update

Google's Penguin 4.0 algorithm update has arrived! Outreach Executive Euan Leopold talks about what to expect from the update and how to develop a strategy.

After just over two years, and a few algorithm fluctuations in between, Google has finally confirmed that its real time, granular Penguin algorithm update is rolling out in all languages.

P-p-p pick up a Penguin

If you’re not familiar with the Penguin update, let’s jump back to 2012 when it was initially released in what Google called ‘another step to reward high-quality sites’. The Penguin update was developed as a link based algorithmic penalty that concentrates on a site’s inbound links, cutting down on web spam and low-quality paid for links designed to boost Google rankings. Essentially it was built to penalise any site trying to manipulate Google’s algorithm through ‘black hat’ SEO tactics.

Before Penguin, bad or unnatural links were just devalued and would need to be replaced to recover any drop in search rankings.

Following its release, however, those unnatural links became toxic, requiring a link audit and removal or disavow followed by a Penguin refresh before any signs of recovery could be seen – a potentially time consuming process.

Penguin was last updated in 2014, which was deemed as something of a minor update affecting less than 1% of US/UK searches – although in real terms this ultimately translated to 12 billion queries.

What to expect from Penguin 4.0

The official launch announcement brought two major new changes to the Penguin algorithm, namely that it was now real time and that it would no longer affect an entire site, just individual pages.

Penguin is now real time

In the past, Penguin ran as a separate algorithm to Google’s main algorithm meaning that it would only impact sites, or remove penalties from sites that had been penalised previously and improved, when a refresh of the algorithm was rolled out.

This was a problem as links were, and still are, one of the most important ranking factors for a site. Now that Penguin’s data updates in real time, changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after Google recrawls and reindexes a page.

Penguin is now more granular

Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting rankings based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site. This means that penalties will be delivered to specific pages rather than the entire domain.

This change comes as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, penalties issued to individual pages are in many ways fairer than a penalty issued to an entire domain. However, this may make it harder to spot said penalties when they no longer affect the whole site. This makes close analysis of analytics really important as spotting those changes will be key to working out if you’ve been hit by a Penguin penalty.

When will we see Penguin results?

Although the official Penguin 4.0 launch announcement came on the 23 September., itt’s unlikely that we will see results after just a few days. With an update of this kind Google has to essentially re-crawl the entire internet. Did it start this process before the announcement? Possibly, but then Google always plays its cards very close to its chest, and with the Penguin algorithm now real time and incorporated as part of the core search algorithm, we’re unlikely to ever be given any big hints on updates in the future.

Preparing a real time Penguin strategy

Moving forward the most important take away from this update is that penalties can now affect individual pages. If your site witnesses ranking drops on specific pages then this could be the time to review the inbound links to those pages. Regular monitoring of your backlink profile should already be part of your regular SEO strategy, this update merely underlines that fact.

With Penguin now operating in real time, it stands to reason that disavow files might be updated faster. If that is the case then the penalty recovery process for algorithmic based penalties should be faster and easier than ever before.

By Euan Leopold, Outreach Executive