Recently we shared some big news with SEOs all over the world: Google has officially announced the release of its Penguin Update 4.0. Penguin now becomes part of the core Google algorithm and runs in real time.

Before we see what impact these changes will have on the search industry, let’s take a look back.

The world first heard about the Penguin Update in April 2012. Its primary purpose was to deal with websites that had acquired links unnaturally in order to boost their rankings. After Google rolled out this update,  which affected about 3.1 percent of queries, plenty of websites were subject to a Google penalty and dropped out of search as a result. Thus the rules of the game changed completely, and a whole new era in link building began.

Recovering from a Google penalty has always taken a long time, and the new version of Penguin that Google rolled out on September 23 brought about some significant changes. “Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Now Penguin is real-time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page,” wrote Gary Illyes on the Google Webmaster blog.

Let’s review the key features of Penguin 4.0 and see how they will affect the work of SEO specialists:

  1. Penguin 4.0 was released for all countries and languages at the same time. This means that all websites will experience the same impact independent of their location; the rules are the same for everyone.
  2. Penguin is real-time now. This implies that any page’s rankings many change each time Google updates the information about this page and about pages linking to it. So, both the positive and negative impacts of your actions will become noticeable faster.
  3. The real-time algorithm allows you to recover from a Google penalty faster. If your site is penalized and your webmaster does a good job improving it and removing harmful links, you’ll see positive results sooner, right after Google recrawls your website’s pages.
  4. From now on, Penguin is a part of Google’s core algorithm, not a separate filter. That’s why we’ve seen the last official Google announcement about the update. Now you’ll need to continuously monitor your backlink profile.
  5. Penguin is becoming more granular. Simply speaking, the algorithm is now focused on the specific pages toxic links are pointing to, rather than on the whole websites. Such micro-penalties are more difficult to track, which is why it is now essential to audit all important subdomains and specific pages of your website on a regular basis.

How to benefit from Penguin 4.0?

One of the reasons Penguin is so dangerous is because you will never be informed if your website is penalized. You can only assume that you were penalized by indirect signs, like a sharp drop in organic traffic or declined positions for some (or all) of your keywords, including the branded ones.

Because the updated algorithm allows you to see the results of your actions quickly, it can be a double-edge sword. The recovery process becomes faster, but so does the penalization process. Here is what you can do to protect your website from unexpected drops in rankings:

  • Constantly monitor your positions in SERPs. Set up regular email alerts to stay informed of any position changes. Make sure you’re tracking not only keywords your homepage is ranking for, but also keywords for all significant subdivisions. Tom Clark suggestscomparing keyword rankings and investigating which keywords have taken a sudden drop in their position.”
  • Keep your backlink profile healthy and clean. Make a habit of regularly checking new and lost backlinks, their value and quality, and handling the suspicious ones.
  • Conduct a deep backlink audit of your entire website. Because the new Penguin takes a granular approach, it is essential to audit backlinks for each important subdomain and subdivision of your website (for example, conduct separate audit for each of different language version of your website).
  • Set up properties in Google Search Console for each important subdomain or subpath and update your disavow file as needed. You can use SEMrush Backlink Audit tool to easily and properly format disavow files.

The Penguin Update and the future of link building

In general, Penguin’s “real-time” feature implies that you can recover from penalty quicker. The new update allows you to conduct various experiments with a reduced cost of error – as long as you are competent and careful.

However, this could in theory lead to savvy SEOs trying to cheat the system and manipulate SERP results again – for example, by artificially acquiring backlinks for concrete subdomains or URLs and observing Google’s reaction to their experiments. We’ve asked some experts to share their opinion if the new Penguin Update is going to lead to a new wave of grey-hat optimization.

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