On Friday, September 23rd, Google announced the rollout of Penguin 4.0. Penguin and Panda, Google’s innocuously-named spam-fighting algorithms, have been updated on an ongoing basis since April of 2012, when the first iteration of Penguin hit the Internet. However, the Penguin algorithm posed a serious problem for webmasters and website content generators because even if a site was flagged and the behind-the-scenes people got to work on correcting the problem immediately, sites would often have to wait for the next Penguin update to see their changes accurately reflected and rewarded in Google rankings, giving a given website’s competitors a potentially crippling advantage in the ongoing battle for first-page results.
Penguin 4.0, says Gary Illyes of the Google Search Ranking Team, will change all that. Penguin will not be updated as a bulk package anymore, but has been adapted to run in real-time as part of Google’s core internal process. The significant change from a user perspective is that as websites are updated, their rankings within Google will be as well because Penguin has been one of the KPIs determining how and where a website should appear in the rankings.
Another significant change is that Penguin is now “more granular,” meaning it looks at many aspects of a site rather than the gestalt whole. SearchEngineLand.com speculates that this means Penguin will be examining individual pages or possibly larger and smaller increments for indicators of black-hat webspam. Google has historically been very tight-lipped about what exactly its KPIs are, in an effort to keep webspam off top search results by preventing spammers from gaming the system. Because of this, what “more granular” really means from the back end and how it presents on the client-facing side are subjects of speculation and guesswork.
One thing that isn’t guesswork is that on Tuesday, September 13th, the webmaster and SEO communities were rocked by “significant” changes in page rankings, fueling already-rampant but hushed chatter about a possible upcoming update from Google. In a Tweet, Google’s John Mueller stated that “fluctuations in search are normal and a sign that our #algorithms & #engineers are working hard.” However, the sheer scale of the changes coupled with the denial only stoked the speculation to a fever pitch. Although Google says the fluctuations had nothing to do with the implementation of the new Penguin iteration, this seems unlikely given that Penguin is now hardwired into Google’s primary operating platform.
The upside of Penguin’s new incarnation as a part of Google’s internal system is that webmasters won’t have to wait for updates to spring their sites from “Google Jail.” The last major update to Penguin occurred on October 17th, 2014 and has since run only sporadically. For webmasters, this potentially meant agonizingly long delays while awaiting the time Penguin was run. In some cases, websites caught by the initial Penguin 3.0 run may have been waiting almost two years to achieve their new rankings, based upon improvements made to the site in the interim.
Google claims these delays will be a thing of the past, as will updates to the Penguin algorithm. Instead, Penguin will continue to crawl and index websites in real-time based on frequency. Thus, if Google “sees” your site more often, it is more likely to recrawl and reindex it on a regular basis than if it does not. Google also states that it will no longer confirm algorithm updates, as the Penguin algorithm’s new real-time functionality would render this unnecessary.
One other point of concern among webmasters is how the new Penguin rollout will affect web search engine queries. Historically, Penguin has affected an average of roughly 1.3% of all queries based on the following data presented by SearchEngineLand.com.
Penguin 1.0 rolled out on 24 Apr 2012 and affected roughly 3.1% of queries.
Penguin 1.1 released on 26 May 2012 and impacted less than 0.1% of queries.
Penguin 1.2 came out on 5 Oct 2012, affecting about 0.3% of queries.
Penguin 2.0 debuted on 22 May 2013, impacting 2.3% of queries.
Penguin 2.1 and 3.0, released on 4 Oct 13 and 17 Oct 14, respectively, each affected about 1% of queries.
However, with the new real-time version of Penguin, Google says it will not be possible to state with confidence what the actual impact of Penguin 4.0 will be, simply because updates will be ongoing and thus the percentages will be continuously changing.
One thing that remains certain is that Penguin will continue to reward white-hat SEO tactics such as delivering great, usable, well-written and easily readable content, optimizing speed and cross-platform functionality. Meanwhile, it is likely that black-hat tactics such as dodgy link-building, irrelevant keyword stuffing and spun content will be punished with greater losses in search engine rankings than ever before.
At Online Advantages, we make it our business to stay abreast of the latest developments in SEO and search engine advances to ensure we’re constantly delivering quality content that stays on the right side of Google’s, and other search engines’, rules and requirements. If you’re not sure if your site has been affected by Penguin, we’re offering a live Google Hangout to help you find out! Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (408) 645-7102 for more information on how to reserve your place. We’ll be covering topics like how to tell if your site has been pinged by Penguin and if so, what you can do about it to help get your site the placement and traffic it deserves, so Penguin won’t leave you out in the cold!
Now that Penguin 4.0 is live, it becomes more crucial than ever before to not gamble with the future of your site’s ranking. Let Matt Maglodi and Online Advantages show you how easy and affordable it can be to deliver excellent content that your clientele will get real value from and keep you higher in Google’s rankings than your competition.