David Bryan
David Bryan 27 September 2016

What Does Google’s New Penguin 4.0 Algorithm Update Mean for the World of SEO?

On 23rd September 2016 Google announced an update to Penguin, a key part of their search engine algorithm, and have now made it a core part of this algorithm. Many in the SEO community and business world have been waiting several years to see some of these changes introduced and it has been a welcome move forward by many of us. But just what does Google’s latest Penguin 4.0 update mean for the world of SEO?

What is Penguin?

Google’s Penguin is a key signal that helps to make up the Google algorithm as a whole and was first announced back in 2012. It was introduced as a means to combat “black hat webspam” tactics that some webmasters adopt in an attempt to circumnavigate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and boost their SEO ranking through foul means. While Google always plays their cards a little closely to their chest when it comes to the exact workings of their algorithm, factors such as ‘keyword stuffing’ and 'link spamming' are negatively penalised under Google's algorithm updates. Google have always been clear that webmasters and business owners should simply focus on producing a high-quality website with useful content that genuinely helps and guides those that use it, and then you’ll have no unnecessary run-ins with Google Penguin!

These figures may have changed in more recent months, but Google Penguin affected around 3.1% of all search queries made in English when first introduced. Google won’t confirm exactly what percentage of queries are affected now, partly because the figure is always changing.

What have the previous Google Penguin updates entailed?

Google Penguin 4.0 is obviously not the first change that Google have made to their algorithm. Previous updates have all been geared towards refining Penguin and further rewarding those who conduct white hat SEO tactics.

Over the previous years, Google has begun to penalise those who create poor quality backlinks and targeting websites with too many ads. Quite simply, each new update that Google introduces to Google Penguin is done to try and bring higher quality websites to the top of Google’s search results, making everyone’s browsing experience much more enjoyable!

What is new with Google Penguin 4.0?

Google Penguin 4.0 is the seventh Google Penguin update since it was first introduced and brings about even more changes that will benefit those websites who abide by Google’s guidelines.

The two major benefits of Penguin 4.0 are:

#1 Google Penguin will now be in real-time

Previously Google Penguin ran periodically, and while there was no set time on how often this would be, sometimes it could be months or years before it was run again. Penguin 3.0 for example ran in October 2014, nearly two years ago. This would mean that if your site was deemed spammy and penalised for it, you would most likely have to wait until Google next ran Penguin again to see whether it deemed your site as 'recovered', even if you made the necessary changes months/years ago. For example, those sites that were penalised by Penguin 3.0 have waited almost two years to be able to put these penalties behind them. With the new Google Penguin 4.0 update, this has all changed as Penguin’s data is constantly refreshed in real-time, meaning changes can happen instantly and be visible quickly.

This is great news for those in the SEO world have been eagerly awaiting an update like this for years. In a world that is becoming more and more connected and where we are able to access anything we like almost instantaneously, it always seemed odd that Google’s algorithm lacked behind and made webmasters wait so long. Google Penguin was introduced to tackle spammers and those who use black hat SEO tactics. However, it has also meant that some honest, genuine webmasters who try their best to abide by white hat SEO tactics were getting penalised as well. The Penguin 4.0 update will allow those who want to build genuine and useful websites or e-commerce stores to rectify their mistakes quicker and continue to provide a real service.

#2 Google Penguin is now much more granular

The second major update to Google Penguin 4.0 is that it has been made more granular. As per usual, Google has not given exact confirmation on exactly what this means, but they have confirmed that Google Penguin will no longer penalise whole sites as it was previously.

It will now penalise things at a much finer, grainier level, perhaps meaning that it will negatively rank an individual page rather than a whole site if that page is particularly spammy as compared to the rest of the website.

What does this mean for us in the SEO world?

This update is welcome news to those in the SEO world. Many websites, particularly those that are several years or decades old, have likely built up hundreds of pages, links, content, and other forms of data. An old page buried from years ago or link building campaign undertaken and forgotten about could be negatively bringing the whole website down. Now, with the website's SEO not being affected as a whole, those developing their websites can focus on the future of their marketing and content development, rather than being stuck in the past and having to fix every nook and cranny.

This is exactly in line with Google’s thinking, where they have said

“webmasters should be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling websites.”

This is what Matt Cutts, Google’s former Head of Webspam, had to say on webmasters.

Has Google’s Penguin 4.0 update come too late?

While Google’s Penguin 4.0 update is welcome news to anyone that is involved with SEO, some feel that it may have come too late. Articles from when Google Penguin were first released show that websites may never have recovered from the harsh effects that Penguin had. While these checks did need to be introduced, it's come at the detriment to many small businesses. Before, small businesses had much better chances of competing with large corporations when it came to Google rankings and raising their brand awareness online.

However, the goalposts have undoubtedly moved. Numerous articles on the internet, such as this from Search Engine Journal, this from SME Insider and threads on Quora discuss how Google’s algorithm have destroyed small businesses. The Penguin updates are much needed, but how many businesses have fallen and gone under due to the long waits? It is also likely that we will have to wait some time to see the results of the latest Google Penguin update, as it is still rolling out now. 

Previous Penguin updates made 'spam' and 'non-spam' and 'white hat SEO' and 'black hat SEO' tactics clearer to businesses undergoing their online marketing. This separated out honest and dis-honest businesses, but it left genuine users who had simply made some mistakes on the wrong side of the line. The latest advice and updates from Google allow businesses a quicker and easier chance to rectify their mistakes, businesses can now focus on building websites for the future, rather than having to dig back through years old content and backlinks to discover mistakes that may be dragging their website down. 

It will be awhile before we can fully analyse the success of Google Penguin 4.0 and the results that it yields for websites and e-commerce sites, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

So is the Google Penguin 4.0 update live now?

Google have said that the Penguin 4.0 update is rolling out, so it is difficult to know if it is fully live yet or not, but some have commented saying that they believe it went live immediately. It will likely only be a couple of weeks before we see the full impact on Penguin 4.0. Google have also said that they will now no longer confirm future Penguin updates as it will be a constant process happening in real-time.

What should I do if I have a Penguin penalty?

Some negative SEO tactics that will be picked up by Google Penguin are site-wide links, link automation, low-quality site links, 'built for SEO' link directories and exact anchor text matching. If you need help with correcting your Penguin penalties, take a look at this article which will give you some useful tips and tools. You can also undergo a professional penalty removal service or feel free to get specialist advice. For more information about Opace and what we offer, please visit

It is also worth remembering that Google Penguin makes up only a small part of the Google algorithm, and there more than 200 unique signals within the algorithm. Other parts of the algorithm you need to consider are Google PandaGoogle Hummingbird, and Google Pigeon.

Focus on producing good quality content with high-quality links, building an easy-to-navigate website and genuinely trying to offer your users something that they cannot find elsewhere on the internet, and you will have no problems with the new Google Penguin 4.0 update.


Image credits: Keith Nevin

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