Penguin 4.0 is here and it actually contains some good news for websites previously affected by the Penguin updates. Google has expanded its line of filter updates and released Penguin 4.0, a filter designed to better catch sites deemed to be spamming its search results, in particular those doing so by buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed primarily to boost Google rankings. Typically, Penguin updates are known to affect websites that are managed by companies that employ black hat SEO methods, usually from hiring inexperienced, outsourced or even malicious SEO firms. In search engine optimization (SEO) terminology, black hat SEO refers to the use of aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience, and usually does not obey search engines guidelines.
Link Spam, aka a Google Bomb, used to illustrate how link spam works. This is the same concept Penguin 4.0 is meant to combat.
Penguin specifically targets “Paid Links”, created by black hat software or foreign SEO companies to crawl the web and automatically create links back to your website with customized anchor text. The anchor text typically is formatted to the desired keyword a company is trying to rank for. This abuses Google’s algorithm, because Google uses anchored links to determine a pages relevancy. A popular example of anchor text abuse is from pre-2007, when searching Google for “Miserable Failure” would show whitehouse.gov’s biography of George W. Bush. SEO pranksters started posting links to the previous presidents biography with the anchor title as “miserable failure”, causing google to correlate the keyword to the website. Although Google killed the “Link Bomb” in 2007, it resurfaced in 2013 using the same keyword but affecting Google’s knowledge graph. This shows how difficult fighting link manipulation is for Google.
Who is at risk for a penalty and how will I know if I have been hit?
If you have purchased “link packages” or worked with a company guaranteeing rankings on specific keywords on black hat SEO websites, you are likely to be affected by this round of updates. I have also worked with clients who outsourced there SEO efforts to foreign companies to later get hit with penguin penalties. The only true way to build your ranking for keywords is to create quality content that is naturally shared and considered an authority on a subject matter, any company promising rankings for cheap without any work is nearly almost gaming the system. Less then 5% of search queries are typically affected by the Penguin updates and a majority all of them have tried to game Google with improper link building strategies.
Unfortunately, there are false positives with each update Google rolls out and they can be devastating for businesses caught in the algorithmic crossfire. In the past, getting hit with a penalty from Panda or Penguin meant usually months of sustained loss of traffic on nearly all ranked keywords. Google would run a major update, hand out penalties to thousands of websites and you would need to wait until Google rolls out the next major revision of that update for Google to remove the penalty. A penalty didn’t just mean a few pages were removed from Google’s index, it meant your entire website was blacklisted from google for extended periods. For many businesses, that meant thousands in lost revenues and sustained traffic loses. With Penguin 4.0, that all has changed with real time grading and granular page grading.
The Good News, Real Time Grading & Granular Penalties
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.
As stated before, previous Penguin penalties meant your entire website would be blacklisted from google and you would need to wait months until Google released a new Penguin update and regraded its entire index to recover. For businesses caught in the crossfire from either hiring a bad company or just a mistake by Google’s algorithm that was an online death sentence! That’s all changed with Penguin 4.0, as Google will now be including Penguin 4.0 into its 200+ ranking signals that are applied every time your page is indexed. That means you can recover from a penalty in just days versus previously months. Its up for debate if this will cause an increase of keyword spamming, as it allows spammers much more leeway in there tactics but the previous method was for sure an overreach.
Google also said this new Penguin algorithm is “more granular.” From its post:
Penguin 4.0 is now more granular. Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.
This part is not that clear, but most experts have concluded that penalties will now be applied on a case by case basis, instead of the previous method of blacklisting an entire site. This goes back to the link bomb example, but instead of your domain being blacklisted, it’s possible that only the page in question will be. This allows false positives to be a lot more forgiving and allow recovery to be a lot easier.
Previously, Penguin was a site-wide penalty. So, does being “more granular” mean that it’s now page-specific? Yes and no, it seems. Searchengineland.com asked Google for more clarity about this, and were told:
It means it affects finer granularity than sites. It does not mean it only affects pages.
Our best interpretation of this statement 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.
This is quite a major change to the algorithm, and its debatable if it will cause an increase in link spam because of the flexibility it will allow black hat SEO companies and spammers to adapt to penalties. Although this will be the last announced update to Penguin as its now part of the core ranking algorithm, Be prepared to see subsequent adjustments to this update in the next few weeks and possible fluctuations in your search engine ranking. Overall, I approve of the new changes because many clients I have worked with were penalized for not their own actions, but the actions of SEO companies they had previously hired. This allows better recourse for many innocent businesses in similar positions.
I have worked in the Web Design & Development industry for over 15 years and created over 300 websites(I lost count a while ago). I have held positions at the executive level(CTO & CTO) with 3 separate tech companies. I have helped several Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of small-mid sized businesses in establishing a brand and creating beautiful interactive websites. I frequently find myself managing LAMP stacks, learning new programming languages and working on amazing new ideas! I love spending time with my amazing wife and son, and helping business owners expand! Currently working on a top secret project that will change the world.