Penguin 4.0. He’s back…

Digital Marketing

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Penguin 4.0. He’s back…

and this time he’s here to stay.

Penguin 4.0 is being rolled out by Google after almost 2 years. It’s been a long wait for those sites which fell fowl of Penguin in its previous roll out in December 2014.

Recap on Penguin

As a refresher, Penguin allows Google to find and penalise sites that have unnatural link profiles. Lazy linkers and short-term visibility seekers have felt the wrath of our little webbed friend as it travelled through the web identifying spammy links.

You might remember Penguin’s previous visits and the devastation it caused in the SERPs. Sites that were penalised and dropped from view in the SERPs have had to wait patiently for Penguin to refresh. Since its initial landing in 2012, it’s only been back 3 times. That’s a hell of a lot of sitting on the sidelines wishing you’d gone a more sustainable route to attract links to your site.

Around the time of Penguin 3.0, Google did announce that it was going to do more continuous roll outs of Penguin, optimising as it went rather than processing the data offline and pushing it on a specific date. However this didn’t help the many sites who were penalised, cleaned up their act through backlink audits and disavowal and have had to wait almost 2 years to get back into Google’s good graces.

Effect of Penguin 4.0 So Far

While there has been some movement reported in the SERPs, it’s certainly not the devastation that was wreaked in previous Penguin incarnations. This may be due to a slow roll out across the web rather than an indication of the ferocity of Penguin, as well as site owners in general understanding the danger of naughty linking. There has been some uplift of a percentage of sites (about 12%) who have cleaned up their backlinks.

What’s different about Penguin 4.0

The big news on this latest return is that now Penguin is here to stay as part of the core algorithm. This means that this will be the final announcement on Penguin and the little critter will be with us all the time, swimming through the internet, roaming free in its search for spammy links. Of course just because he’s here doesn’t mean he won’t change. As Google gets even more sophisticated in its identification of spam signals we can expect Penguin to reflect this.

More Granular

Google has also indicated that Penguin has become more targeted. Instead of penalising a whole domain, now Penguin can demote the ranking of particular pages. Keep on monitoring rankings.

Real Time

Instead of Penguin being pushed online at a particular date, Penguin 4.0 will be continuously identifying and acting on spam backlinks and their removal/disavowal. When Google says “Real Time” they don’t quite mean instantaneous, Penguin needs to understand both the page and the page/domain linking to it to identify spam signals.

There is some speculation that the “realtime” flavour of Penguin 4.0 will allow those attracted to grey/black practices to be able to experiment with negative SEO (manipulating SERPs by generating dodgy links for websites). This experimentation would take concerted effort to unravel effects from other Google ranking tools but shouldn’t be dismissed especially in highly competitive sectors.

Quicker Recovery Time

Sites that do see a dip in visibility due to their own or negative SEO activity can recover more quickly after a backlink clean up and/or disavowal process.

Penguin joins Core Algo

With Penguin being bodily assumed into Google’s core algorithm, spam signals will be identified on an ongoing basis underlining Google’s continued commitment to rewarding valuable content.

What it means to Marketers

  1. Keep your links healthy. If you don’t regularly do it, carry out a backlink audit to benchmark where you are at the moment, act on the results and monitor links regularly.
  2. Monitor your SERPs for changes in ranking as this could indicate pages which are affected by spammy linking. Set up some alerts to identify unusual drops in keyword ranking and organic page performance.
  3. Set up Search Console properties for your subdomains and paths so you are in a position to manage any link attacks or spam penalties.
  4. Beware of Negative SEO. Black Hat SEO’s will already be generating links and reviewing their effect in their continued drive to game Google.
  5. This hopefully goes without saying – don’t rely of directory and listing links (or worse sources). Continue to focus of delivery quality and value to attract organic links. Its hard work but it’s the only way to build sustainable visibilty.