Google Penguin 4.0 Update – Now Part of the Core Algorithm and Running in Real Time

The latest version of Google’s Penguin Algorithm (Penguin 4.0) is now baked into  Google’s Core Algorithm, according to a statement by Google on September 23, 2016. Penguin 4.0 is now real-time, meaning that webmasters no longer need to wait for a “refresh,” in order to recover. This comes as a relief to anyone that has had to deal with a Penguin Penalty.
It was brutal, never knowing when the next refresh would come. To better understand what Penguin 4.0 is and how it will affect search results, it may be usefulto look at the past, present, and future of this Google algorithm. We will also offer some tips for the future.

Penguin Overview

Penguin rocked the web when it was first introduced on April 24, 2012. It was designed to specifically penalize websites engaged in link schemes. It was subsequently updated on the following schedule:

  • Penguin 1 on April 24, 2012 (impacting around 3.1% of queries)
  • Penguin 2 on May 26, 2012 (impacting less than 0.1%)
  • Penguin 3 on October 5, 2012 (impacting around 0.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 4 (AKA Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013 (impacting 2.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 5 (AKA Penguin 2.1) on October 4, 2013 (impacting around 1% of queries)
  • Penguin 6 (AKA Penguin 3.0) on October 17, 2014 (impacting less than 1% English queries). On December 1, 2014 Google confirmed that the update was still rolling out with webmasters continuing to report significant fluctuations.
  • Penguin 7 (AKA Penguin 4.0) on September 23, 2016

The Old Penguin Algorithm – Versions 1.0-3x

With Penguin 1.0 to 3x, the algorithm was independent of the core algorithm and ran on a completely random schedule. Websites that were impacted by Penguin were often “stuck”. It didn’t matter if the core problem was fixed. The reward would not come until the next rollout (refresh) occurred. The result was a lot of anxiety and in the worst cases, business failure.

The Penguin 4.0 Algorithm

With Penguin 4.0, Google decided to go real-time. Besides being real-time, Penguin 4.0 would also include:

  • Quicker response. Because of the real-time nature, it shouldn’t take several months or even years to recover. BUT, the real-time nature of the algorithm cuts both ways and one could find themselves smacked by penguin at any time.
  • Penguin 4.0 will not necessarily penalize an entire website That does not mean it still cannot happen, though. If Google notices most pages on a website have spammy backlinks, they still will penalize an entire domain. If it is only one folder or page that has a spammy link profile, it’s possible that only that folder or page will get penalized, not the entire website.

Like the old Penguin algorithm, Penguin 4.0 is still designed to remove the impact bad links has on Google search results. A website still cannot just add a lot of random links to their page in hopes that it will improve their Google search ranking. Real, topically related, editorially given links will be what moves the dial.

The Big Penguin 4.0 Roll- Out

The official Penguin roll-out started on Friday, September 23rd, 2016. Search Engine Ranking Positions (SERP) began to change a few days later. Due to the real-time nature of the new algorithm, it took about 3 weeks to fully roll out. (Confirmed as complete by Google on October 12)

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Approximately 4-6% of webmasters reported they were penalized with the new Penguin 4.0 Google algorithm, while only 1-2% said a penalty was lifted from their site. One thing is almost always guaranteed. If a website avoids spammy link building practices, they are highly unlikely to get penalized by Penguin 4.0. Websites that don’t use link spam should benefit from Penguin 4.0 by moving up in the Google search results.

Important Points to Note about the Real-Time Penguin 4.0

Below are some helpful tips to consider when creating or working on a website under Google’s new algorithm. Penguin 4.0 brought some undoubtedly unique changes to the internet world.

  1. Google will no longer confirm Penguin updates. This is because it is real-time, so it is always working.
  2. Penguin 4.0 is more granular, so there may be parts of a website that aggravate the filter more than others.
  3. The negative value once placed on spammy links has been changed to a neutral value. Rather than penalize a site for a link, they will ignore it. That said, there are still filters in place to identify and penalize egregious cases of exact match anchor text

Recommendations Moving Forward with Penguin 4.0

So far, the biggest changes with Penguin 4.0 is the real-time feature and the way that toxic links are handled.  Link audits and the filing of a disavow file should now result in faster relief. Because this is an algorithmic event, there will be no need (or even ability) to file a reconsideration request.

Some suggestions for websites to follow with the new Penguin 4.0:

  • Most “Toxic” links no longer carry a negative value. There will be either a positive or neutral effect. One notable exception is Exact Match Anchor text links. “Too many” will trip a filter and tank your SERPs
  • Full backlink profile analysis is still necessary. It is recommended to make sure that your backlink profile is natural and not full of spammy, useless (or harmful) links
  • Get rid of bad links. It you can’t get a link removed, you can disavow that link via Google search console
  • Keep an eye on website redirects. As was learned with Penguin 2.0, Google passes penalties on through web page redirects as well.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when putting together a website or page is to avoisspammy link building. If the website looks like it could be spam, it probably is. Therefore, it is not worth getting a link from.  The repercussions of getting a penalty from Google will be a lot more work than finding good link prospects

Summary andConclusion

Google’s new Penguin 4.0 algorithm has certainly brought changes to the world of the internet. After its roll-out this past fall, the changes we not very noticeable right away. A week or two later is when web pages really started being affected by the new algorithm. People started to notice Google search results changing as some web pages were penalized and others moved up the rankings by getting penalties lifted.

Penguin 4.0 is very unique compared to its ancestors. This is because the algorithm operates in real-time. Penguin 1.0 to 3x did not operate in this way. Instead, it ran very sporadically.  This had both its pluses and minus. It was a plus for websites that were using link spam because they would only get penalized when Google ran their algorithm. Granted, they never knew when this was going to happen, so it was not in their best interest to do this. The old Penguin algorithm was a minus for websites that got penalized because it could take up to a year to see a penguin refresh.

The takeaway: Don’t get lazy or cut corners when it comes to link building. This has been the undoing of an untold number of websites and businesses, since the penguin algorithm first rolled out.

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