What is Penguin 4.0?

Penguin is a Google algorithm that finds and catches spam. Namely, it locates shady links on a website placed without that site’s users in mind — in other words, links that exist solely to game the SEO system.

Sites generate bad backlinks by purchasing them, by improperly optimizing anchor text, and through many other means. Effectively identifying low-quality links is an advanced SEO practice, and it requires experts to do effectively, but Google’s guidelines on link schemes cover most of the basics.

The Penguin algorithm has been growing older and wiser since its 2012 birth. And on September 23, 2016, Google became the proud parent of Penguin 4.0, the fourth update to the series. Penguin has spent years getting tweaked — now it’s baked into the core algorithm. In other words, every Google search performed is now subject to Penguin’s principles. This baby operates in real time (as does everything within Google’s core algorithm), and it ain’t goin’ nowhere.

There are a few key features that make 4.0 noteworthy:

  • Prior iterations grabbed a great big SEO reaper and demoted badly linked websites into SERP wasteland. Penguin 4.0 still hunts down bad links but devalues the links rather than demoting their sites on SERPs. What’s the difference, you ask? Google’s Gary Illyes explained it to Barry Schwartz by saying that demotion occurs when Google actually adjusts the ranking of a site. Devaluation refers to Google ignoring bad backlinks, whether or not the site owners intended for those links to exist. Devaluation is a step towards falling down the SERP.
  • Penguin 4.0 does not penalize an entire site for bad links, just the page where the bad links lead. In other words, one bad apple no longer sours the bunch.
  • Black hat SEO practitioners were formerly able to add shady links and avoid being penalized for several months. Now those inorganic links are found right away. We always knew that SEOs who played hide-and-seek with Google would lose sooner or later. Now it’s definitely sooner.
  • On the flip side of the coin, white hat SEOs can now immediately benefit from their strong link building work, rather than having to wait a few months to see that good work take effect.

TL;DR: if a site has been relying on shady backlinks for its rankings, its fall from the SEO rafters shall be swift.

Should You Care About Penguin 4.0?

To be clear, Penguin 4.0 isn’t going to help you rank better. If you already have a solid digital marketing strategy and engage in organic link building, then keep up the awesome work. Bear in mind that you may begin to see some of your competitors climbing the SERP ranks. If this happens, then it’s time to up your digital marketing game.

On the other hand, if you or a former agency have engaged in SEO activities (like link buying) but have opted to clean up your site, you now have a faster path back into Google’s good graces. It used to take months to get out of the penalty box. Now you can do it immediately, with the right digital marketing tools.

“Google’s Penguin updates have helped elevate the SEO industry, forcing brands to engage in higher quality earned media and content marketing strategies, instead of link building shortcuts.”
— Allie Brown, Director of SEO, Knucklepuck

What Can You Do About Penguin 4.0?

Google survives by its ability to avoid being manipulated, and this is ultimately a win for the user. So don’t try to steer the river; follow the current. Here’s how.

  1. Invest in Excellent Content and Design – You have to rely on organic links now — and average-level content isn’t going to earn you any. Create high-quality content that is unique, engaging and valuable to your user.
  2. Always Monitor Your Link Profile – You need to know what kind of anchor text is coming in, and who is linking to you. Since Penguin 4.0 made the algorithm more granular, you need to audit your subdomains. All of them. All of the time. (Yep, we know what a tall order this is.)
  3. Keep Using the Disavow Tool – If you geek out in Google Search Console the way we do, then Penguin 4.0 might make you question the value of using the disavow tool. As smart as Penguin is, it can’t catch everything. Google staff members have noted that you still need to be responsible for disavowing bad links to your site. NOTE: This is an advanced feature, so make sure to use with caution. Otherwise, this feature can harm your SERP performance. We recommend that you disavow backlinks only if you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you. In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without your guidance.
  4. Don’t Do Sleazy Stuff – If a link or a piece of content doesn’t make sense for the user, then it shouldn’t be there. Don’t pursue easy-to-get links for the sake of having links. Make sure there’s a substantial reason.
  5. Vet Your Vendors – Be wary if you think you’ve found a shortcut that seems too good to be true, or if you have a digital marketing or SEO company that says they have a quick fix. Google is always going to focus on closing those loopholes. If you find a vendor that offers link building services, ask to see some real examples of the links they’ve gotten. Don’t assume your money is being well spent just because you’re seeing positive SERP movement. It could be short-lived.

“The principles of Penguin 4.0 are at the core of digital marketing. Your content, links and images have to make sense for your users.” — Brett Snyder, CEO and founder, Knucklepuck

A savvy SEO will never tell you that white hat is the only thing that works. Black hat tactics can work, but can also be devastating to your brand.

You want to build something sustainable.

You want to leverage your website as a digital extension of your business.

You want to grow your business on a strong foundation.

You need an integrated digital marketing strategy that’s based on hard numbers and aimed at steady growth.

Having Some Penguin Anxiety?

If Penguin 4.0 scares you, then you probably need to make some serious changes to your digital strategy. Our team has been working in SEO since before baby Penguin 1.0 showed its face above the icy waters of SERP penalties. We don’t do easy-way-out SEO. Instead, we stay on top of our game by always pursuing white hat techniques that deliver long-term results.

A former agency may have gotten you into this mess by focusing on short-term goals, but we’re here to help you build awesome, engaging, relevant resources for users without the tricks that other companies will try to sell you. Give us a buzz — we want to show you what we can do.

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