After a staggering 2 year wait, Google has finally announced the roll-out of the latest Penguin update; 4.0. Heralded as the biggest updated to date, it has a number of key differences that firmly set it apart from its predecessors. Now one month on, what have been the early effects of the update?
Launched in 2012, the Penguin algorithm was seen as an answer to reducing webspam by promoting high-quality content. The primary focus of Penguin was first and foremost to detect and penalise websites using black hat link building. The algorithm used a variety of signals to identify unnatural link activity and, in the most severe cases, applied a manual action penalty which wiped sites from the SERPs that violated Google’s quality guidelines. There have been a number of updates and refreshes over the years, each with it's own set of issues to over come.
In the past SEOs often had to wait until each new update was completely rolled out to see the effects of any changes made since the previous one. In most cases an algorithm refresh took place within 6 months to a year, which meant a fairly rapid recovery. For anyone who took a big hit from 3.0 however, this meant waiting nearly two years for the algorithm refresh.
The latest update has been the longest wait yet, 700 days to be exact. It was officially launched on September 23rd 2016. So has the wait been worth it?
Running in real-time, Penguin 4.0 has three major differences to its predecessors that, at least on the surface, should receive a warm welcome from SEOs and marketers.
- Penguin is now part of Google’s core algorithm. One of the most important parts of this change is the new real time refresh. This means no more waiting months or even years for a new update before changes take effect. SEOs can adapt and optimise websites and see the benefits faster. It also means no more announcements from Google about Penguin updates.
- Penguin is more granular. The new update will also look at individual pages rather than entire sites, so it can identify and target individual links and their pages, rather than the whole website. This means no more demotion for entire websites.
- Penguin will devalue rather than demote. Rather than demoting an entire website to a lower search rank, Penguin will devalue and ignore poor quality spam links. Instead of having their search rank effected, SEOs will simply not benefit from unnatural links.
What this means for SEOs
A faster Penguin is a double-edged sword. While no more updates may mean less drama and instant optimisation opportunities, it also leaves SEOs to keep a constant eye on their search rankings. Bad links will be devalued just as the effects of positive changes, and this time there will no handy heads up. Instead of checking effects around each Penguin update, you'll will need to monitor organic traffic on a regular basis to check for fluctuations. This more granular approach might make it harder to track and pinpoint problem areas. Individual pages will need to be monitored carefully to keep up with changes in organic traffic.
While not exactly a drawback, there is some confusion about the future use of the disavow tool. Now that links are devalued and ignored by Google, Penguin essentially performs the job of the disavow tool automatically. Since the algorithm release, Google has clarified that the disavow shouldn’t be rendered obsolete and should still be used for manual actions.
Hailed as a kinder update to its predecessors, the algorithm update should make it easier to monitor and manage changes. More instantaneous updates should eliminate the dramatic drop in traffic that some have experienced in the past after an update and, of course, means no more waiting around for improvements. With more incremental and up to date effects, we should be able to more easily adapt and improve optimisation efforts.
A big plus from the update is the diminished potential for negative SEO. In the past it was possible to buy and create thousands of spammy links that pointed at a competitors website; this would frequently result in a manual action penalty and a dramatic drop in rankings. Penguin 4.0 will no longer demote an entire site (unless necessary). Instead, the penalty with be applied on a per page basis, eliminating the ability to attack another site through malicious linking. While Google has always claimed successful negative SEO to be rare, this should ward off black hat practitioners for the most part.
All of this indicates that plenty of sites affected by 3.0, even those who hadn’t taken painstaking efforts to clear up backlinks, should have seen improvements after the Penguin 4.0 roll-out was complete. However, was this actually the case?
Penguin 4.0 today
Unlike other updates, the immediate impact of Penguin 4.0 seemed minimal. There have however been whispers of positive ranking improvements and ‘recoveries’ from previous Penguin updates since the update was released at the end of September.
Site owners previously hit by Penguin have struggled to regain rankings. Victims of self-made link directories and article syndication, many have worked hard to disavow the offending links with little or no ranking improvements as a result. Since Penguin 4.0, many have recorded ‘dramatic’ improvements in their search rankings, all positive signs that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Where keyword rankings were previously suppressed by unnatural links with no sign of let up, they are experiencing a renaissance. Ignored instead of suppressed, keywords are no longer judge by their previous spammy links and given the opportunity to rank naturally.
Not all sites are recording positive results however as Google’s more granular approach is has devalued many ‘suspicious’ links resulting in search rankings declining.
Penguin 4.0 opinions
Some from the SEO world have spoken out about the possible implications for grey and black hat SEO. Punishments that are more lenient mean less need to worry about crippling website demotion. Combined with fast experimentation opportunities, it could mean an open door for testing new spam tactics. The question remains whether 4.0 will be equipped to deal with link schemes and spam techniques that may be developed. Overall though, Penguin 4.0 has received a warm reception from many.
The update rewards legitimate SEO more quickly and spam is devalued more efficiently. With an algorithm that works ever more in favour of natural link building and SEO techniques, the industry as a whole should continue to steer towards positive practices. The diminished feasibility of negative SEO should bolster these effects further as SEOs begin to focus on the quality of their own website rather than maliciously targeting others.
Tips for Penguin 4.0
With so many new changes, it may be beneficial to readjust your current SEO strategy for Penguin 4.0. The bottom line, as always, is to focus on quality content with the customer or reader in mind. Natural SEO and link building will always be superior to any kind of manual techniques. For Penguin 4.0 specifically, here are some quick tips.
- Make sure someone is responsible for monitoring organic traffic and SERP positions on a regular basis. With no more updates from Google, it's vital to stay on top of changes in traffic.
- Use alerts to keep informed of changes in SERPs, including for competitors.
- Monitor and audit backlinks regularly to ensure they meet value and quality benchmarks, and continue to disavow and remove those of poor quality. This is especially true for the source of any links, as Google uses this as a key indicator.
If you have any concerns about Penguin 4.0 or want to know more about optimising your SEO strategy, call one of our team today on 01344 266 844.