If you live and breathe SEO, when somebody mentions the word "penguin," you probably don't think about a cute little animal.

And for good reason.  

Now, the penguin is back, as Google announced a major Penguin 4.0 update last Friday.

Here are the top 10 things you need to know.

1. Penguin is all about spam

As a refresher, Google's Penguin algorithm is designed to identify spammy sites that slip through Google's other filters.

It was first launched in 2012, and the last update was rolled out in October 2014.

2. It's real-time

As Gary Illyes of Google's Search Ranking Team explained:

Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time.

Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google's algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed.

With this change, Penguin's data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page. 

This is probably good news for sites that get hit by Penguin, as they won't need to wait for an update for the chance to make changes and recover.

3. It's granular

According to Illyes: "Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site."

What does this mean in practical terms? That isn't so clear. 

Search Engine Land's Barry Schwartz asked Google for clarification, and based on the company's response, says:

Our best interpretation... is that Penguin might impact specific pages on a site, or it might impact sections or wide swaths of a site, while other pages are fine.

4. It's in all languages and countries

Nobody escapes the Penguin.

5. It's part of the core Google algorithm now

Until now, Penguin has been its own entity.

With Penguin 4.0, Google says that "Penguin is now part of our core algorithm," which it notes consists of more than 200 other unique signals that can affect rankings.

6. There will be no more announcements of Penguin updates

Now that it's part of the core algorithm and will work in real-time, Google says that it will no longer comment on future Penguin refreshes.

7. The effects probably won't be seen immediately

It's not known whether the new Penguin code has been rolled out to all of Google's data centers.

But even if it has, it could take time before the effects are seen given that there are almost certainly many URLs that will need to be recrawled.

8. It will be difficult to identify Penguin's fingerprints

Because of Penguin's real-time nature, it will be increasingly difficult to identify whether ranking changes can be attributed to Penguin refreshes.

9. Google's old advice stays the same

According to TheSEMPost's Jennifer Slegg, a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company has not changed its linking guidelines, and despite rumors to the contrary, has also not changed its recommendation for using disavows.

10. Google still wants you to focus on content quality, not SEO

Google's Illyes closed the announcement of Penguin 4.0 with a reminder...

The web has significantly changed over the years, but as we said in our original post, webmasters should be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling websites.

While this almost certainly won't put an end to the art and science we call SEO, updates like Penguin 4.0, coupled with the vast number of signals Google incorporates into its algorithm, mean that companies looking to earn and maintain top rankings can't ignore the forest for the trees.

As TheSEMPost's Slegg notes, it's even possible that sites penalized by the last Penguin update two years ago that thought they cleaned up their act won't see the recovery they hoped for.

As she observed: "A few years back, some ways of building links were seen as fine, while today they are definitely viewed as problematic.

"And some of the sites that previously had high quality links two years ago could be a low quality site today, if the site was abandoned or the site changed owners." 

For more on this topic, check out our international range of SEO Training Courses.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 September, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)

John Fieldsend

John Fieldsend, Digital Marketing Manager at Wilson Field

As penguin is now real time I've found it important to re-evaluate all my disavow files for domains I've been recovering namely https://www.wilsonfield.co.uk. Some site that were seen as spammy have now recovered and offer a decent link but unfortunately the opposite is also true. Auditing my disavows has now become a more frequent task. Have other webmasters been finding the same?

about 1 year ago

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