In October of 2015, we cheerfully announced that Santa might be bringing us a new Penguin algorithm for Christmas. As you all know, the Man with the Bag didn’t pull through. However now, one year later, Google has finally released Penguin 4.0. Recently made a part of Google’s core algorithm, Penguin penalizes websites that use “black hat” SEO techniques to sabotage competitors’ websites or improve their own rankings. To learn more about this newfangled bird, scroll down to discover the ins and outs of Penguin 4.0.
An Old Bird
Before we examine the newest iteration of Penguin, let’s review the algorithm’s long history. Four years ago, Penguin first hit the scene. Google specifically designed it to target and combat link spam. One of more than 200 specific signals used in the search engine’s algorithm, Penguin has gone through several updates since its introduction in April 2012:
- Penguin 1.0: April 2012
- Penguin 1.1: May 2012
- Penguin 1.2: October 2012
- Penguin 2.0: May 2013
- Penguin 2.1: October 2013
- Penguin 3.0: October 2014
As this last break is the longest Google has gone without rolling out a new Penguin, many SEOs grew impatient – hence our excitement a full year ago when one of the search engine’s Webmaster Trends Analysts predicted the next Penguin update would launch before the end of 2015. That turned out to be false, of course, but we’ve waited patiently ever since. And finally, at long last, on Friday, September 23, 2016, Google announced the newest Penguin update on the Webmaster Central Blog. Commonly known as Penguin 4.0, this is the seventh version of the algorithm.
Now that it has waddled into our lives, let’s discuss the newest changes to Penguin. The algorithm includes two main features: real-time updates and increased granularity.
The Deal with Real Time
You may find the term “real time” perplexing if you haven’t heard it before. Isn’t all time real? What would imaginary time look like? Penguin is only just now using real time? In fact, real time refers to “the actual time during which a process or event occurs” (source). Previously, Penguin periodically refreshed all of the sites it impacted at the same time. After a webmaster updated his or her site, they wouldn’t notice any changes until the algorithm refreshed – this could take days, weeks, or even months.
Now that Penguin 4.0 has taken hold, the algorithm will refresh in real time. Immediately after a webmaster updates a website, Penguin will recrawl and reindex the page. You won’t have to wait weeks to see what this flightless bird thinks of your site. Plus, if you should ever make an SEO mistake, you can quickly fix it without suffering long-term repercussions.
This change in speed works both ways, however. Where in the past black-hatters could get away with spam-like links for a few weeks before being caught, now they will feel the wrath of Google’s algorithm immediately. So if you occasionally use black-hat (or perhaps just gray-hat) techniques, know that you won’t slip under Google’s radar for long.
All in all, Penguin 4.0 should improve the fairness of SEO. It will reward good content instantly and penalize bad content instantly – or at least very quickly.
Hitting Two Stones with One Bird
In addition to being faster, Penguin 4.0 is more granular. In the past, Penguin would devalue spam by lowering the ranking of the entire site. Thus, one small infraction on a single page could damage an entire domain. Now, only the offending page will suffer the consequences. This more precise punishment should please webmasters. If you make a small mistake on a single page, you won’t have to worry about losing a huge amount of organic traffic.
However, this doesn’t mean that Google will never punish your site for having a few pages with spam links. If Penguin views a substantive portion of the pages on your domain as sketchy, Google may still penalize your entire site (source). In addition, remember that other algorithms can punish your websites for bad links.
How to Avoid Getting Hit by Penguin
If you’re playing by the rules with your current SEO, you shouldn’t notice any negative shifts in traffic due to Penguin 4.0. In fact, most SEOs have not noticed any changes to their SEO due to Penguin’s influence. However, if you haven’t been playing by the rules (and you somehow slipped past the radar of previous Penguin iterations), Penguin 4.0 should have you shaking in your boots.
To avoid ramifications in the future, just work on building the best site that you can. Instead of focusing on links, focus on pleasing your audience with a well-designed and well-written website. Increase your traffic by sharing your website in a variety of ways (social media, PPC advertisements, digital PR, etc). In addition, monitor your links regularly, so that you can remove or disavow any negative links attached to your site.
Finally, remember that Penguin works alongside more than 200 other signals to determine where your website ought to rank on Google. All of Google’s signals can sway your ranking, so don’t place undue emphasis on Penguin.
Unfortunately, you can’t use a shortcut to boost your SEO. Slow, steady, white-hat SEO is the way to go.
Penguin 4.0 seeks to catch webpages with spam links as quickly as possible to prevent them from ranking well in search results. Over time, if this bird does its job, black-hat techniques should be so effectively punished, they will stop working and begin to disappear. The algorithm is currently being rolled out in all languages, but all that crawling, indexing, and refreshing may take a little time. And according to Google, Penguin 4.0 will never stop rolling out due to its real-time updates (source). Whether you like it or not, this Penguin is here to stay.
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