Penguin Dives Into Real-Time: What Version 4.0 Means for Webmasters

Google Penguin was first released in 2012. In the years since, it emerged from the water every so often in the form of yet another update. With every release, it more thoroughly punished websites for spammy offsite factors. However, in September of 2016, Google drastically shook things up – making Penguin a key part of its algorithm with the Google Penguin 4.0 update. This meant that instead of releasing Penguin periodically, Penguin would now be working in real-time, constantly examining sites’ spam signals as Google crawled them. But before we get too much further into the side effects of the new update, let’s dive further into why Penguin was created in the first place…

What Kind of Spam Does Penguin Primarily Address?

Penguin primarily targets sites with bad backlinks – usually obtained unnaturally through black-hat tactics. This can include the following types of links pointing in to your website:

  • Links achieved through link exchanges – These include those reciprocally exchanged (If you post my link, I’ll post yours).
  • Links achieved through low quality directories – These directories usually look like they were created in the 1990s, are general (not specific to any industry), and usually include something like “Add your URL/link” near the top nav bar.
  • Links that were paid for – Important to note that these don’t usually encompass sponsorships and other forms of prominent advertising.
  • Forum spam – These are usually links included in forum posts – especially those that are hyperlinked with keyword rich anchor text.
  • Links in spammy guest posts – Guest posts aren’t always bad (sometimes they can be really good), but the spammy types usually appear on generic websites that allow users to submit articles where little to no moderator approval is required.

So exactly how do I recover from these awful backlinks…?

As Penguin addresses offsite spam pertaining to your web presence, it’s important to get rid of those bad backlinks. Reach out to webmasters and request that they remove your link from their sites. For the websites that don’t reply, perform a disavow in Webmaster Tools. Your disavow file may take around 2 to 4 weeks to process, so be patient as you wait to see if your rankings increase again.

*Important Note: Unlike manual penalties, with a Google algorithm penalty such as Penguin, you won’t necessarily receive a penalty notification in Webmaster Tools. Therefore, submitting a reconsideration request may not be required.

What Does Penguin 4.0 Mean for Digital Marketers and Webmasters?

How the Real Time Status Changes Penguin Penalty Recovery…

In the past, recovering from Penguin meant you had noticed your site’s rankings were decreasing (this didn’t always mean you’d see a manual action in Webmaster Tools, however), and that you needed to adjust your site accordingly to meet Webmaster Guidelines. Once that was done, you had to wait for the next Penguin update to roll around before your rankings would be given the opportunity to tick back up again. This sometimes took a while – as the longest gap between Penguin updates lasted for over a year, extending from October 4, 2013 to October 17, 2014.

With Penguin 4.0 (the new real-time version), Webmasters who’ve corrected their spam problems no longer have to wait until the algorithm refreshes. “With this change, Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page,” states Google via its Webmasters blog.

Penguin 4.0 delivers granularity…

Penguin 4.0 goes in-depth like never before. How so? Let’s say only one page on your website is in violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines but the rest aren’t. Instead of punishing your entire website, Google may now only punish those specific webpages. Google hasn’t explained this in too much depth, aside from saying, “Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.”

Penguin 4.0 means no more notifications…

During previous releases, Google would always announce when a new version of Penguin was released (usually through its Webmasters blog). If Webmasters noticed that their rankings dropped, they could always look back at when the last penguin update was released; which was usually indicative of what was causing their rankings to fall. The fact the Penguin is now operating in real time, however, frees Google from having to notify the Webmaster community when an update is released – since it’s always constantly operating.

The Good and the Bad

Having to respond to a Penguin penalty has never been a fun activity and today, that hasn’t changed. However, with the latest update, there is one clear advantage: The fact that Penguin now operates in real-time means that Webmasters no longer have to wait so long to get their penalties removed. Penalty removals can now be carried out shortly after Google has crawled and re-indexed your site (something we can all applaud!). Figuring out if it’s a Penguin penalty that’s causing a ranking decrease is still tricky (if not trickier than ever). To avoid one, we recommend building only quality backlinks and disavowing any ones that are considered black hat. Once you do so, you’ll not only avoid the Penguin penalty, you’ll also give yourself a better opportunity to rank well above the competition.