Penguin 4 Rolling Out

Penguin 4 Update

Ordinarily we would be publishing our 5 Quick Tips piece today but when I awoke to news that the Penguin Update was rolling out after 705 days it became pretty clear that:

A – I had a far larger topic that needed to be researched and covered, and
B – I didn’t think a 5 Quick Tips piece would get quite the traction it might on other days

If you’re just hearing now that the Penguin 4 Update is rolling out there’s a lot to know.  But first, go ahead and take a moment to pop over to Google and check your rankings.  It’s OK … I’ll wait.

OK, now that you know that the sky didn’t fall let’s answer a few questions:

What Is Penguin?

To give a bit of context to folks new to SEO, the Penguin Updates began back in 2012. The goal of Penguin is to devalue or penalize sites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. While technically these violations could come from a variety of areas the update became synonymous with links as sites were hit with severe penalties for violations in this area. One of the major complaints about the way these penalties worked was that sites wouldn’t recover until the next Penguin Update and as noted above, it had been 705 days … that’s a long time to wait out a penalty recovery.

What’s New In Penguin 4?

The announcement came out this morning from Google’s Gary Illyes on the Webmaster Central Blog that the latest iteration of the Penguin Update (Penguin 4) was rolling out. If you’re interested you can read the announcement here.  But what you probably most want to know is, what’s it doing?  Well here’s what Google’s telling us:

  • Penguin 4 is rolling out simultaneously in all languages.
  • Penguin 4 is now moving to real-time.  Rather than making website owners wait for the next update the algorithm has been built into the Google Core and will operate in real-time dishing out penalties and rewarding reparations far faster.  This doesn’t mean that a penalty recovery will happen instantaneously if a site owner fixes a problem, I’m sure there will be delays and “prove you can play nice with the other websites” functions built in but they likely won’t be waiting two years.
  • Penguin 4 is more granular.  Google is really vague on what they mean by this (though I’m sure clarity will come to some degree).  What they do note is that a penalty may not impact an entire website which it’s done until now.  Moving forward it seems any devaluations or penalties may impact only pages or sections of a site.  If this interpretation is correct this is a big move forward in the battle against negative SEO reducing significantly the impact of such efforts.
  • There will be no more confirmation about Penguin Updates as it’s being folded into the algorithm and updates will be more frequent and likely less dramatic.

What Should You Do?

As with almost any update, the first step whether you rose or fell is to take time to:

A – make sure the update sticks and isn’t adjusted (I’m pretty sure it’ll stick but there almost certainly will be adjustments in the near future – see below), and
B – assess what caused the changes and react with information

Fortunately both of these things can be done at the same time.  Once things have settled and you have your data (likely competitor backlink data for sites that improved and your own backlink data) here are the main “to dos” with the Penguin 4 Update now that Penguin is real-time:

  • Paying attention to your backlink profile is now both more and less critical.  Penguin is real-time and what that means is that as bad backlinks accumulate their impact will be swift.  On the plus side, recovery will likely also be far faster as well.
  • As with any update, if you notice new competitors popping up or old ones disappear you’ll want to review their backlinks (especially for the ones that jumped up) and see what a profile rewarded by Google looks like.
  • And of course, continue to develop quality link based on quality pages.

What I’m Seeing Of Penguin 4 And What It May Mean

I would hardly be an SEO if I didn’t immediately start running ranking reports for sites I was monitoring for Penguin-related activity and monitoring threads discussing it.  What other people have experienced is fairly similar to our observations. To quote SnowMan68 over on the Webmaster World forums, “Well that was underwhelming.”  It was indeed and our observations show that very little changed which means it wasn’t an update like in the past, it was something else.  The conversation matches my own predictions (always nice) which is that the changes are coming.

My own prediction is that what we’re seeing of Penguin 4 is the launch of the infrastructure, not an algorithm update as we’ve experienced in the past.  In the past it appeared that they ran all their calculations on who was naughty and who was nice and then pushed that live at once.  As they move to real-time and with the almost insignificant changes many are experiencing it appears that the infrastructure to run in realtime was set active today but the changes are still to follow in the coming weeks as those signals are collected.  We’ll be able to see this fairly readily as I’m expecting above-average crawl rates in the coming days.  If that happens then my prediction is fairly likely.

So … to reinforce the idea that you shouldn’t panic and you shouldn’t tear off and change things, there’s more to come and the full impact of the Penguin 4 Update is still to be revealed.

Buckle up and good luck.

Additional Reading On The Penguin 4 Update

If you’d like to monitor the Penguin 4 Update activity or just find out what’s going on here’s some recommended reading to get you started: