Penguin 4.0 – The Rundown Every SEO Should Know

Penguin 4.0 – The Rundown Every SEO Should Know

If you are an SEO practitioner, or if your work involves online marketing in any way, then you would most likely be aware of what Google Penguin is.

It was a standalone algorithm update launched in 2012, which devalued web pages that were identified as engaging in spammy link building activities in hopes of gaining better search rankings.

Understandably, there were many websites affected by that update and those who maintained the affected sites struggled to make adjustments that would help lift the penalty imposed on their site.

The problem was that penalties weren’t lifted until the next Penguin update.

This meant that even if you have already made all the necessary adjustments to your site, you aren’t likely to see any improvements until the Penguin algorithm is once again updated, and that can take anywhere between several months to more than a year.

Think about it: The last Penguin update was implemented last October 17, 2014—almost two years ago.

If your site was penalized as a result of that update, then—following the original rule that sites will only be released on the next update—your site would still be on the penalty list, whether you’ve made appropriate adjustments or not.

Penguin 4.0

Good news for all those who’ve been waiting for their websites to be released from the last Penguin update!

Google has finally rolled out Penguin 4.0 last September 23, and signals have begun to be observed all over the web; websites that have cleaned up their links since they became penalized during the last update have finally gotten the ranking boost they’ve been waiting for and those that have been hiding bad links have started taking a hit.

But that’s not the only piece of good news associated with the latest Penguin update.

Perhaps the most notable bit of news, especially for SEO professionals and website owners, is that this latest update transforms the Penguin from a standalone algorithm into part of Google’s core algorithm.

What exactly does it mean for the Penguin to now be a part of the Google core algorithm?

For one thing, the update means that the Penguin will now be running in real time.

Why is this good news for you?

Well, since the algorithm is now running in real time, you will no longer have to wait for the next update to be released from any penalty you may have suffered as a result of the latest update.

As soon as you make the necessary tweaks to your site, the penalty will be lifted and you’ll see a boost to your rankings.

You have to be careful, though, because this also means that the moment you do something to your site that Google deems worthy of a penalty, your rankings will also suffer immediately.

Other Changes

The incorporation of the Penguin algorithm into Google’s core algorithm didn’t just transform it into a real-time algorithm, but also involved a couple of other changes.

For one thing, the algorithm has been made more granular.

Perhaps the simplest way to think of what it means when we say Penguin has been made more granular is that the algorithm’s effect will no longer impact your entire website.

Rather, it will affect the ranking of individual pages on your site.

Penguin 4.0 Update

The incorporation of the Penguin into Google’s core algorithm means that it has become more granular. photo by MemoryCatcher

Let’s say, for example, that one of your web pages sends out spam signals and those signals are seen by Google.

In the past, your entire website will be penalized and your ranking in Google’s search results will suffer as a whole.

With Penguin 4.0 in place, only the page that sent out the spam signals will be penalized and the rest of your web pages will continue to enjoy their current rankings.

A Google spokesperson has also gone on record to say that the change goes beyond Penguin affecting single web pages; it actually affects “finer granularity than sites.”

Suffice it to say that where the spam signals are, there the effects of the new Penguin will be.

Another thing you can expect to change where the Penguin algorithm is concerned is that henceforth, Google will no longer be making any public announcements or comments about further updates that may be rolled out; that’s how it is when a particular algorithm becomes part of the search engine’s core algorithm.

Have you noticed how Google has been silent about the Panda for some time now?

That is because the same principle applied when they changed it into a long-running cycle. So, we definitely can expect them to be quiet about the Penguin from now on.

But it really isn’t any cause for worry if Google stops making comments about the Penguin now that it is part of their core algorithm because with the Penguin now being part of the core; it is no longer likely for you to keep seeing major changes to the algorithm.

The fact that Google was confident enough to make it part of their core algorithm means that it is already functioning as well as it is expected to function and there may no longer be any need to further change it.

Recovering from a Previous Update

You suffered from the previous Penguin update and have since tweaked your site.

So, can you expect to see your site recover from the penalty right away?

Technically, you should see some immediate boost to your rankings as soon as Google crawls your site after the launch of Penguin 4.0.

If you still haven’t seen any improvements, you may want to do a fetch-and-render on your important web pages to trigger a Google crawl.

Getting Penalized by Penguin 4.0

How would you know if you’ve been impacted by the latest Penguin update?

Well, if you were impacted before and you don’t see recovery even after triggering a Google crawl, then there may be individual spam signals somewhere on your website that are hurting you right now.

If you weren’t affected by the previous Penguin update, but you suddenly notice a number of your rankings going down, then you may have been affected by Penguin 4.0.

Penguin 4.0 Update For SEO

If your rankings suffer as a result of Penguin 4.0, you need to check if there are links pointing to your site that may be sending out spam signals. photo by Peggy_Marco

If you’re wondering how you could possibly be affected by the latest Penguin update if you’ve already cleaned up your links, remember that link building rules have changed a lot in recent years.

Link building methods that were acceptable a few years ago may no longer be deemed legit today.

There may also be links pointing to your site that were of excellent quality a few years back, but are already bad links today perhaps because the site from where the links came has been abandoned.

So, what should you do?

The best thing to do in light of the latest developments is to audit your links and determine if some of them may be hurting your site.

If so, don’t forget to visit the Google Disavow tool to get rid of those hurtful links and do a complete cleanup of your backlink profile.

The good thing is that Google has not made any changes to their disavow feature or any of their recommendations for the said feature.

Note that you may hear some people say the latest Penguin version has made it unnecessary for SEO professionals to use disavow. Do NOT believe such rumors.

The Complete Algorithm Puzzle

While the focus of this discussion is the Google Penguin and its latest incarnation, it pays to remember that the Penguin—although now part of Google’s core algorithm—is just a single piece of the entire algorithm puzzle.

It is only one of the more than 200 individual signals that Google uses as basis for determining web page ranking.

It also bears noting that links aren’t the only important factor Google weighs when ranking sites, although they do carry a lot of weight.

So while it is, in fact, a good idea to regularly check your link profile to make sure none of the links pointing to your site are causing problems, you should never neglect other important signals, such as the freshness of your website content, PageRank, your title tags, the keywords that you target and the manner in which you use these, and the like.


Over the next few days, you can expect to hear stories about the recovery or non-recovery of several websites; you may even have your own stories to tell.

Even as you listen to these stories and make your own site analysis, bear in mind that the changes you may see in the performance of your site aren’t just brought about by the resolution of old Penguin issues; there may also be changes that result from new issues you failed to anticipate.

Try not to be caught off-guard.

Check your backlink profile and make the necessary adjustments NOW.

And while you’re at it, why don’t you check the totality of your site as well?

After all, there isn’t a single factor that can completely carry your website to the top of search rankings.

Everything has to be just right, and as long as you make sure all search signals are taken care of, you can be confident of always enjoying good rankings no matter how many updates Google rolls out.


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