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Penguin 4.0 Rollout Complete: Are You at Risk?

Google is engaged in a constant, uphill battle against those who try to game the SERPs for profit, distorting search results with spammy tactics and questionable link acquisition. In 2012, the first Penguin update was implemented to deal with sites that were using unnatural links to boost their search engine ranks.

As a result of the original Penguin, several websites were penalized, which ultimately removed them from visibility in the SERPs. It took some sites quite a bit of time to recover, and sites that made legitimate attempts to restore their rank in the search results were forced to wait for the next update of the algorithm. Now, everything has changed with Penguin 4.0.

“Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Now Penguin is real-time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page,” wrote Gary Illyes on the Google Webmaster blog.

The Big Changes with Penguin 4.0

Like virtually every algorithm update from Google, multiple changes often occur. In the case of Penguin 4.0, there are some significant changes to the Penguin algorithm overall. These include:

1. Addition to Google’s Core

There are plenty of secondary algorithms used by Google, but its “Core”, as Google calls it, is the primary group of dozens of algorithms used to evaluate your site. These algorithms analyze a variety aspects of your site’s design and content then weigh them against a user’s search query to determine your rank.

Google is now moving Penguin into this group of core algorithms, which will make it a more significant deciding factor when it comes to search rank.

2. Constant Updates

As Gary Illyes mentioned, Penguin 4.0 is going to update in real-time, rather than updating only periodically. The constant refreshing means that sites won’t have to wait as long to restore their rank if they catch and eliminate a bad link to comply with Penguin.

3. Decrease in Domain Penalties

Previously, if you built a spammy link on a site that pointed back to one of your landing pages, and that link was flagged as an unnatural one, your entire domain was likely to be flagged. This resulted in a site-wide penalty that would kick your entire domain down in the search results.

With the new Penguin update, a full domain penalty is far less likely to occur. Instead, you’re more likely to see penalties on individual pages that receive spammy links.

What the Update Means for Marketers – Are You at Risk?

Updates like Penguin’s latest one have a greater chance of impacting more websites, specifically because they involve the evaluation of links coming into your site and the authority and quality of the domains they come from.

While you have some control over the links you’re directly building, you have far less control over the sources of links, since Google’s position on a domain could change at any time – and now much faster after Penguin’s inclusion as a core algorithm.

Here are some takeaways to keep in mind:

Quick Lift, Quicker Penalties

If you were recently penalized for link building, you can rectify the damage much more quickly than before. That means you’ll see lift and restoration to previous search rank faster than ever before when you quickly disavow or deal with bad links.

On the other side of it, those penalties will come swiftly – faster than ever before. I’d like to think you’re building links naturally and sticking to white-hat, completely legit practices. If you’re edging into gray hat SEO and acquiring links through loopholes, understand that you’re putting your site and your most important landing pages at risk. If these get flagged, you’ll face a swift penalty from the algorithm.

A Fairer Algorithm

Nowadays, there is a big emphasis on content marketing, as businesses, influencers, and marketers rely heavily on guest blogging to build natural links and grow referral traffic. Marketers who produce really awesome content are going to see significant rewards from their efforts.

Granularity in Fixes

Since Penguin 4.0 is doing away with domain-level penalties, and instead targeting the offending link destinations (landing pages), you now have the opportunity to fix issues on a granular level. This is a good opportunity for marketers to learn from their mistakes without losing a tremendous volume of organic search traffic.

Better Evaluation

I expect this update will force marketers to spend a little more time evaluating where their links are coming from, especially when they’re actively building organic links. While the impact may be less significant, it will now happen faster and you should aim to protect your search rank at all times.

Ultimately, the smartest approach is focusing on building your brand rather than building links. Creating great content will generate links naturally, especially if you’re guest blogging and creating the kind of quality, 10x content that people want to share.

Aim to tell your story, and rely on your metrics to determine what content your audience is most interested in seeing. Build on that, promote it, distribute it properly, and continue to repurpose your best content. If you’re not actively trying to build links, you’ll never really be at risk of crossing the line with the algorithm because your links will come from natural acquisition.

Have you seen any changes in your search visibility as a result of the Penguin 4.0 rollout? Share in the comments below and tell me about how it’s influencing your strategy moving forward.

About the author


Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius, CEO of worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world's leading digital marketers. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a growth marketer - a fusion between search, content, social, and PR. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or on the Louder Online blog.


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  • Hello thanks for the review of the algorithm penguin, Google reduced the sentence, and it pleases. I think especially there is nothing to fear if you don’t make a strong spam, and if links to the site natural it is possible not to worry

  • Without building a single link in a year, our website started ranking on page two of google. I think that focusing on the branding is indeed the most important aspect but clever link building is equally as important.

  • The problem is inside google and their tactic to continuously change their workflow and look at other people as the enemy. If anyone changes a functioning system continuously they create a continuous problem but google doesn’t have the integrity to look into their behavior which causes the problems they always blame the others. Since they built a wall around themselves and have only a top-down communication system (similar to the military) they will evaporate sooner or later it wont mater if they call it penguin or white elephant. Now they moved most operation to Bangalore, do you know that most people there and around don’t even have a working WC? No access to even the basic medication etc. Is this the way google goes? A fourth world company?

    • Google is a for-profit business, and their business is serving search users (their customers) with the best experience possible. That means always displaying the most relevant content for the users search query – both in organic listings and paid ads. Their updates are intended to do just that, always refining to improve the end user’s search experience.

    • Glad you liked it. I recommend creating high value content on site and through guest blogging to expand your organic reach and build natural backlinks.

  • One thing I love is the updates are frequent that we can see the effects immediately. I also appreciate the quick penalty for spammy links.

    • That’s true only to a certain point. With 200 or more ranking factors including the domain level, site level, back link factors, brand signals and other behavior specific or special factors as part of the core algorithm, there’s a lot more to rank and search impact than writing content very well. Penguin has a lot more to do with link development. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi ..thanks to sharing your tips…as usual you are the best because your topic always gives a fresh idea for our work…thumbs up for you … 🙂

  • Your thinking toward the respective issue is awesome also the idea behind the blog is very interesting which would bring a new evolution in respective field.

  • Google analytics informs us that from linguee.com there are a total of 4,185 links to pages on our site (mostly to two particular pages). Also from linguee.de there are a total of 4,577 links to the same pages on our site. A polite message to info@linguee.de complaining about this was ignored. Does Google regard this as link spamming? Do these 9000+ links harm our ranking? What to do about this?

  • I am very positive with the new Penguin SEO update. I need for my new do follow back links to age. My issue is having older do follow back links.

    • Things like age, for domain or even the links you build, carry very little weight overall. The greater focus should be on authority links built naturally. Since you can’t control the age of your links, it shouldn’t be a primary concern.

  • It’s a matter of time for all the people to understand that Google Penguin 4.0 is a game changer and it will be very wonderful for all the people to get through it, less spam.

  • There are serious fluctuations in the rankings.

    Suggest me what can i do to improve the better result.

    • Fluctuations are normal. Serious fluctuations that occur, but without you making significant and regular changes (like new content daily or building new links constantly) are likely to do with competing content/pages. See if new listings or updates to other pages are pushing you down and look for opportunities to improve your own rank organically.

  • Thanks for sharing a great news about the penguin 4.0.
    Many of websites affected by the penguin. Always work according to the Google then you can get the best ranking and results.

  • Hello, I’m following the pro news site for some time, I always like the posts here, and this one of the Penguin 4.0 will help me a lot with regard to SEO. Thank you! Hugs from Brazil.

  • Thanks for sharing a great inforamation about the penguin 4.0
    it will helps me to change my seo Strategy regarding to the updates.
    but I have some problem for my 1 url.
    ranking in SERP of this url goes down day by day even after
    submission as well as proper onpage.
    plz suggest me solution.
    url: traininginstitutepune.in/digital-marketing-classes-pune

    keywords : Digital Marketing Courses in Pune, Digital Marketing Classes in Pune, Digital Marketing Training in Pune

    before penguin 4.0 upadte
    Google SERP at 1st page 2nd postion but current situation its 2nd page 2 position.

    • I would suggest starting with the links you’ve been building. You’re targeting the same anchor text consistently to align with those keywords that you’ve stuffed into the content, stacked with trying to match the keyword in the domain. You’re likely seeing the exact kind of rank adjustment Penguin was design for. It’s pretty clear the link profile you’ve built for that landing page isn’t natural, In my opinion, that’s the primary cause of your problem.

  • The best part of Penguin 4 update is not penalizing entire domain for getting some spammy links pointed to a page. Because there are always some bad guy who tried to ruin others empire in an illegal way. I am talking about those guys who pointing many bad links to their competitors because they can’t gain the position by their ability. I faced one of them years ago, He was pointed total of around 1000 spammy backlinks to one of my clients site. The worst matter were, he was pointed those links to only three pages of this site but entire site was penalized and after 3 months of hard working our team finally can regain its ranking. I think this bad guy was take just one or two weeks to put those backlinks but takes our three months of hard work.

  • Hi Aaron, thanks for sharing this helpful post i want to say that we must be careful about making backlinks nowadays while google penguin is active, i mean we must make less backlinks but choose it carefully to help us to get good ranks for our websites not to kill our ranks .. thank you 🙂

  • This has been the best update so far, it is said that penguin in now real time, although I have to yet to observe the effects in real time since its implement.
    That being said, you have written a very informative blog Aaron.

  • Thanks for sharing a great news about penguin 4.0. I am very Supportive with the new penguin SEO update. I have to watch the consequences in real time since its implement.