Most business owners should be very relieved to hear of Penguin 4.0’s release.
Some businesses may be relieved to hear that they can finally recover from a previous penguin penalty.
Other businesses who work hard to implement great marketing are relieved to hear that Google is continuing to improve how they deal with spam and low quality marketing tactics that don’t add value to the web.
The SEO community has welcomed the changes that Penguin 4.0 brings and we think that the web is going to be a better place with Google’s Penguin 4.0 policing links and web spam.
That said it is important to understand the changes to the Penguin algorithm and how they impact your business. I put this post together to help clear confusion around Penguin 4.0 and to put all of the most important things business owners need to know about the algorithm update together in one place.
There is a lot of information on this page, so feel free to jump directly to the section you want to read using the menu below.
A Short Overview of Google Penguin Updates
First, we need to look at a quick history of the penguin update. Afterall, Google’s Penguin update is a significant change to its search algorithm.
It joins previous overhauls like Google Hummingbird, Google Pigeon, and Google Panda.
When it was first introduced, the intent of the Penguin update was to crack down on “black hat” SEO techniques (referred to by Google as “webspam”) that were in common use at the time.
Sites would artificially inflate their rankings on the results pages by over optimizing anchor text in internal links or implementing unethical link building tactics against Google’s quality guidelines.
Basically, sites which focused their resources on gaming the system, rather than adding value to the web, ended up performing better than those that concentrated on delivering quality.
- Penguin was essentially a necessary system to keep a large number of sites utilizing aggressive link building schemes from achieving unfair search engine rankings.
- The goal of the update was to see more relevant websites with quality content on the first page of Google results and fewer sites that were unhelpful to search engine users.
When it was first launched, Google estimated that the Penguin update was going to change the results of roughly three percent of searches executed in English. This total has gone down over time, but it fluctuates constantly due to changing search engine demand.
It’s easy to think that three percent of searches could have been impacted by some form of corrective measure with the amount of unethical SEO that was occurring. Most of the tactics penalized in the Penguin update were already in flagrant violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Key Takeaway: What Penguin Means for Your Business
Specifically for your business, if you noticed a significant dip in rankings or search traffic then this likely means that your website could have been impacted by the Penguin update.
You should determine if your business invested resources in unnatural linkbuilding tactics. The sad part is, most businesses that I consult don’t even realize that they have invested in these low quality tactics.
The problem comes from shady SEO marketers who aren’t transparent with their clients about the links that they are building to their website. So, make sure that your business receives backlink reports showing the links that your SEO is building to ensure they are high quality.
Additionally, your business should consider monitoring your link profile from negative SEO attacks from competitors. Competing companies and their SEO providers will sometimes build unnatural links to your site to reduce your visibility in search results, so it is worth keeping an eye on your link profile so that you can respond to this quickly.
In either scenario the best action you can take is to review all links pointing to your website. If you find low quality or unnatural links, then you should use Google’s link disavow tool to ensure they do not harm your site’s rankings. Additionally, you should invest in quality content and ethical link building/promotion tactics to improve the quality of your link profile. Learn about disavow
The Evolution of Penguin
Rarely do tech products come out of development in a state of perfection, though, and Penguin was no different. It had numerous loopholes and problems that drove marketers and webmasters crazy. Changes were clearly necessary.
To see just how big of a change Penguin made in search results, look at this historical data showing the MozCast temperatures on Penguin release dates.
Penguin 1.0 created huge SERP fluctuations bringing the MozCast temperature up to 93 degrees!
However, since then Penguin has become a much more balanced algo update and not so much a harsh penalty. Penguin 3.0 and Penguin 4.0 did not create huge SERP fluctuations at 73.6 and 74 degrees, which is just a little over the average MozCast temp of 70 degrees.
The first rollout of Penguin made a huge stir in search results. Many websites lost there first page rankings along with 50% or more of their organic search traffic.
In some cases, sites lost ALL of their organic search traffic:
As more Penguin updates have come out, the SERPs have been impacted much less.
Penguin has been steadily moving toward being a less drastic penalty and a much more useful check and balance in search engine results.
The Problems With Past Penguin Implementations
The original Penguin update functioned as a very inflexible wall built between those optimization practices which were allowed and those which were forbidden. It failed to address the very wide gray area which actually existed between the bounds of moral and immoral optimization.
While Penguin was a blessing to individuals who followed accepted SEO practices perfectly and a curse to those who were using undeniably unethical practices, a large number of people who were making honest optimization mistakes unintentionally wound up getting penalized along with the cheaters.
The results from previous Penguin penalties were too severe and arbitrary.
For one thing, some sites would lose ALL of their organic search traffic which is pretty harsh. Also, it took time to work out exactly which practices were drawing the new penalties. Rules change and people adapt to them when they do, but the process becomes more challenging when the new rules aren’t clear.
Another significant issue was that Penguin was not applied in real time.
Sites which were penalized in one interval would have to wait for the next update to see any improvement in their ranking based on changes they made. This process took months or in some cases years. Businesses just sat while their traffic was cut to 50% or even lower levels during this time.
Under the old Penguin, many business owners struggled to ever recover from a penalty and some small businesses downsized or even closed as a result.
Any website – commercial or personal – which suffered a penalty due to Google Penguin was stuck with that reduced search result ranking until the next time Penguin ran. It did not matter how rapidly the owners of the site caught and corrected their mistakes; nothing could be changed until the next update to the algorithm.
This became a significant problem once it became clear that Google was not updating its search algorithm in any way that could be called timely.
Waiting for months to see a Penguin penalty lifted was a best case scenario; things got steadily worse over time. Webmasters who caught a penalty in the Penguin 3.0 update ultimately had to wait nearly two years to see the matter resolved.
What’s Different About Penguin 4.0?
Here is what Gary Illyes from Google says is different about Penguin 4.0:
There were two dramatic changes made to the Penguin system with the 4.0 update, both of which were very welcome news to webmasters:
1) Google Penguin now runs (and updates) in real time
Where webmasters previously had to wait for the entire algorithm to be overhauled to see a penalty lifted, Penguin is now an integral part of Google’s regular indexing process. Changes made to remove a penalty will be noted the next time a site is indexed.
2) Penguin is now more granular
Earlier versions of Google Penguin ran at the domain level. That means if one page was flagged for violations of the rules, the entire site would be penalized. Google has confirmed that Penguin will be more discriminating in the future and that it has the capability to apply penalties on a smaller scale. The full scope of this change hasn’t yet become clear; ideally, penalties incurred by negative SEO practices can be applied on a page-by-page basis.
The rollout of Penguin 4.0 is expected to take 4-6 weeks so not everything is certain yet and everyone should be keeping an eye on things for the time being.
Search Engine Land Editor, Glenn Gabe said it best,
While I’m pleased to finally have a more responsive Penguin on the block, there is much to watch out for as all of this shakes out. In the meantime, we’ll continue to focus on helping those dealing with manual actions, for whom nothing changes without hard work and attention to detail.
Anyone suffering a manual action needs to understand that this is different than a Penguin algorithmic penalty. You will still need to work diligently to correct any violations of Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines in order to recover from a manual action.
You should check your webmaster tools search console to see if you have a manual action. Manual actions can be resolved and your search traffic can recover. We can help! Learn more about our Google Penalty Recovery Service.
What Small Businesses Need To Know About Penguin
In the modern consumer world where the internet is a vital research tool consulted before virtually any buying decision, good search visibility is a matter of life and death to small businesses.
It’s a great relief to know that the chances of catching an unfair penalty from your search engine optimization efforts have gone down significantly and that Penguin penalties will be much easier to correct in the future.
Here are the most important SEO tips to avoid Penguin penalties and to quickly recover from them:
- Mitigate damage If you hired SEO companies that may have built links to your site, ensure that the links are natural and not damaging your site’s rankings.
- Choose wisely Going forward be very selective in choosing an SEO company and do not invest in low quality link building such as automated link building.
- Focus on content Your resources are better invested in high quality content that creates value on the web, this content will rank regardless of Google updates.
- Monitor search visibility Track and monitor your keyword rankings and your organic search traffic so that you can quickly respond to and recover from any penalties your site receives.
If you think your business may have incurred a penalty, click here to jump to the section on how you can respond.
Even though it’s tremendously important, many small businesses don’t have the in-house resources to handle their own search engine optimization. That means relying on consultants and other third-party SEO providers.
Business owners need to continue to exercise caution in the SEO vendors they choose to work with. While the Penguin 4.0 update allows much more leeway for minor optimization errors, there are still costs attached to unethical optimization.
Businesses should strive to work only with reliable, competent SEO consultants that steer well clear of Penguin penalties.
What you should consider in response to Penguin 4.0
- Analyze your link profile – Have you worked with an SEO company that didn’t provide link building reports? Is it possible that a competitor of yours knowingly, or unknowingly, hired an SEO company to perform negative SEO on your site? If you think that you may have spammy links pointing to your site then it is worth reviewing your link profile for any unnatural or low quality links that could be hurting your site.
- Use Google’s Disavow Tool – Google has not changed their recommendation on using their disavow tool. If you do find unnatural, or low quality, links in your link profile then you should use Google’s Disavow Tool to clean them up. Under Penguin 4.0 you should be able to get results from this process much quicker. Learn when you should use the disavow tool
- Clean up your internal links – It would also be worth your time to review your internal link structure and anchor text usage. If you have over optimized keyword rich anchor text internally linking your pages you may want to vary it up a bit. Using exact match keywords as anchor text over and over again sends the wrong signal to Google. Try using some variations of your keywords and add text to the anchors so you have more longtail anchors.
- Monitor your traffic and ranking data – Keep an eye on your Google Analytics traffic data as well as any keyword ranking data that you have access to. If you notice significant dips in rankings or traffic then you should have an SEO expert to review your link profile and website to see if you may be suffering from Penguin.
If your SEO stratey is relying on an unnatural link profile, then your SEO strategy is built on a house of cards.You may temporarily achieve good rankings using unnatural link building tactics, but with Penguin running in real time it won’t take long until the links are devalued and your site loses its rankings and traffic.
Google’s recommendation for the use of their link disavow tool has not changed. And if you find that your organic traffic is suffering it is worth analyzing your traffic data, keyword rankings, and link profile to see if you may be suffering from Penguin.
If this is the case, then you can very quickly remedy the situation using Google’s disavow tool.
Disclaimer for Disavow Tool
Exercise caution when using the disavow tool. It is possible to disavow good links resulting in reduced rankings.
Generally there are three main instances when I use the disavow tool:
- The first is when I identify aggressive negative SEO. I begin monitoring the site’s link profile weekly and adding any new domains with unnatural links to the disavow file.
- The second is when I take on a client who had a previous SEO provider spam thousands of low quality links to the web and the client barely has any quality links to counter them. I disavow the low quality links immediately while building quality links over time.
- The third instance when I use the disavow tool is when I get a client who has a manual action for unnatural links. I do my best to reach out to webmasters and request removal but this is never possible for 100% of the links so I then use the disavow tool. I am very thorough and I disavow ALL unnatural links even the ones that I am able to have successfully removed by webmasters.
I believe that no matter how sophisticated Google’s algo becomes, it will never be better than me at identifying and stopping spammy links. So, in the above select cases where spam links may have a big impact on a site, I take action using Google’s Disavow tool and I have seen good results.
Alright, you know everything you need to know about the Google Penguin 4.0 update and how it impacts your business.
Now it is time to take a look at your link profile and make sure you don’t have any low quality or unnatural links in there. With Penguin being active in real time, you should be able to recover from penalties and see results from the disavow tool much quicker.
The most important thing to keep in mind, is that your resources should be focused on creating great content and ethically promoting it.
So, now would be a great time to get rid of that old school shady SEO provider who is spamming the web and damaging your site and business’ reputation.
If you need help reviewing your site for an algorithmic penalty, or resolving a manual action, then we can help.
How was your business impacted by Penguin? Tell me in the comments below right now!