Google Penguin 4.0 – Now a Core Part of the Algorithm

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On 23rd September 2016, search giants Google made an announcement on their official Webmaster blog. This sent waves of uncertainty throughout the SEO community as Google announced they had rolled out the latest update to the Penguin algorithm.

What this means is Penguin is now applied real-time, so any changes to the search results due to new backlinks or onsite modifications will be extremely fast, and the algorithm will devalue what it determines to be spam pages based on spam signals rather than the deindexing the whole site as has happened in the past.

So what exactly does Penguin 4.0 mean to you as a business owner? It means your site will be penalised in almost real-time any time you get an unnatural link. However on the upside, it also means that you can recover from a penalty quickly as long as you remove the bad links or disavow them.

How it started

As early as the beginning of September, many SEO experts and Webmasters reported some weird changes in Google’s results. Sites were suddenly tanking, and then quickly re-surfacing. Local results were mostly affected, and showed extreme differences from one day to the next during the first few days of the month.

There are always some deviations in results, even on a daily basis as the results get shuffled a little throughout the day – however this was something completely different. Sites were rising dramatically, only to fall just as dramatically to their original place the following day. Something was definitely afoot.

A few days later it was becoming evident the same thing could be seen in results worldwide. Usually when Google brings out a major update it begins first in the English-speaking countries – namely the US then the UK, followed closely by Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However this time, the update seems to have rolled out internationally and web properties in all languages were affected.

Further notable points:

  • We noticed businesses without a prestigious address in the centre of the town or city were getting a good boost. Prior to the roll out, Google seemed to favour businesses with addresses in the city centre. Now, even smaller businesses on the city outskirts are getting more of a look in.
  • A major point of this update is it appears that businesses that share the same address have been filtered. This is probably to prevent false businesses signing up under the address of an existing firm; however it is a little harsh on those businesses that genuinely do share an office or business address. It should also make you think twice before using a virtual office as a business address, as this may be shared by hundreds of other businesses.
  • The searcher’s IP is more important than ever and different results are served up depending on where the search is performed.
  • Typing in long tail keyword is now bringing up a wider variation in results. Before this update, if you typed in a slightly modified version of a keyword you would probably see the same results on the first page. However, modifying your keyword phrase slightly now brings up a set of somewhat different results.
  • Organic and local searches seem to be more detached. Previously if you ranked well organically, you would probably also show up quite high on Google maps, but this no longer seems to be the case.

It is still early days and we need to see how it all pans out for our local clients, but we are pretty happy with how this update has worked for us locally.

As the month went on…

As the month progressed, further fluctuations could be seen across the board globally, but when questioned Google claimed the instabilities were simply normal fluctuations. As SEOs, we could see this was not the case and something big was coming – the shakeups were simply too significant to be described as “normal”.

These beliefs were confirmed when on 23rd September Google announced that Penguin is now part of the core algorithm.

This update is different to previous versions, and here is why:

  • Penguin 4.0 will roll out continuously- with previous Penguin updates if your site got hit you would need to wait until there was another Penguin rollout until you recovered, if you had cleaned it up, that is. This latest update is a great improvement, as you will be to see ranking improvements as soon as the Google bot re-crawls your site and re-evaluates the changes you have made.
  • Site wide penalties will be a thing of the past. With the latest changes, certain pages on your site may be negatively affected due to dubious back linking or poor on page optimisation, but you will not be stuck with a site wide penalty – only certain pages will be devalued. Another big improvement.

Summing it all up

We have many SEO clients, involved in a wide spectrum of industries and services. To date with this new update we are not seeing significant negative effects on any of our client’s sites. In fact, the opposite – this update seems favourable to us. Previous Penguin updates have hit client sites in what usually appears to be random or unfair ways. We are pleased to see that Google is managing to find deserving sites that meet searcher’s expectations when they type in a search phrase, be it local search or otherwise.

Have you been hit?

If you think you have been hit by Penguin 4.0 and seen huge fluctuations, it doesn’t have to be the end of the road or mean a major overhaul to your site. First, remember the changes are still rolling out. So even if you see huge drops, you might see your site back to its original place in a short time.

If you have over-optimised in a dubious manner, cleaning up low quality back links and making sure your anchor text profile looks natural may be enough to recover.

How to optimise your website now

Nobody can look too far into the future as far as Google is concerned, but let’s have a look at the trends that are obvious today:

  • Firstly, they want our money! But that is nothing new. To guarantee your place on page 1 the only way is to pay for it and often dearly.
  • It seems Google is still toying with the correlation between local results and organic search results. Organic search results depend on the on page optimisation of your website and your back link profile, whereas local maps rankings can be improved by getting quality NAP (Name, Address, Phone) citations. So it looks like now you have a chance getting in the local maps results if you have good citations, reviews, and your business meets the searchers criteria; even if your site is not among the best with regards to organic search.

Google is constantly changing, and what we are seeing this year may be quite different towards the end of 2017. The important thing is to make sure your back link profile is natural and if anything you should under optimise. Use lots of brand links, raw URLs and anchor variations.

If you are not sure how to do this, or think you may have been penalised by the Penguin 4.0 update, get in touch with us today. We can help!




  • Mac McCarthy

    Mac McCarthy has been involved in the digital marketing field for over 20 years, having worked with the Jeeves, Alta Vista and Yahoo search engines in the early 90s through to the modern current day Google and Bing platforms.

    A keen follower of search engine algorithm updates and trends, he works and advises on digital strategies for a variety on SME’s and more recently the World Wildlife Fund, the single largest animal welfare charity in the world.

    Qualifications include Google Advanced Analytics, Google Ads, Google Search and the Google Partnership Program.

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