New Penguin Algorithm Update 4.0
Expertise, International, Fast
The Penguin algorithm update was first announced on April 24, 2012, and the official explanation was that the algorithm targeted web spam in general. However, since the biggest losses were incurred by those engaged in manipulative link schemes, the algorithm itself was viewed as being designed to punish sites with bad link profiles.
We knew that the Penguin update demoted sites with bad links, and an affected site could expect some semblance of recovery. A site would get hit with a penalty, the website owner would send out requests to have offending links removed, those that couldn’t be removed would be added to a disavow list and submitted, and then one would simply wait.
Penguin 4.0 rolled out on September 23, 2016, and in essence, there were a couple of major changes with this update:
1. Penguin now runs in real time. Webmasters impacted by Penguin will no longer have to wait for the next update to see the results of their improvement efforts — now, changes will be evident much more quickly, generally not long after a page is recrawled and reindexed.
2. Penguin 4.0 is “more granular”, meaning that it can now impact individual pages or sections of a site in addition to entire domains; previously, it would act as a site-wide penalty, impacting rankings for an entire site.
There is a change in how Penguin 4.0 deals with bad links: they now devalue the links themselves rather than demoting the site they’re linking to. Here is a few takeaways:
1. Spam is devalued, rather than sites being demoted.
2. There’s less need to use a disavow file for Penguin-related ranking penalties.
3. Using the disavow file for Penguin-related issues can help Google help you, but it is more specifically useful for sites under manual review.
On October 4, 2016, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller stated the following in an Office Hours Hangout:
• If these are problematic links that are affected [by Penguin], and you use a disavow file, then that’s a good way for us to pick that up and recognize, “Okay, this link is something you don’t want to have associated with this site.” So when we recrawl that page that is linking to you, we can drop that link from our link graph.
• With regards to devaluing these low quality links instead of punishing you, in general we try to figure out what kind of spammy tactics are happening here and we say, “Well, we’ll just try to ignore this part with regards to your website.”
The disavow takeaway
If you’ve used unethical link-building strategies in the past and are considering submitting a disavow file — good, you should do that. If you haven’t used such strategies, then you shouldn’t need to; if Google finds bad links to your site, they’ll simply devalue them.
It was once also claimed that negative SEO doesn’t work, meaning a disavow wasn’t necessary for bad links you didn’t build. But, obviously, negative SEO did work, so you should be continuing to monitor your links for bad ones and adding them to your disavow file periodically. After all, if bad links couldn’t negatively impact your site, there would be no need for a disavow at all.
The source site
Under Penguin, it’s not the target site of the link that matters, it’s the source. This doesn’t just include links themselves, but other signals a page sends to indicate that it’s likely spam. So, the value of a link comes from the site/page it’s on and not where it’s pointing. In other words, when you’re judging your inbound links, be sure to look at the source page and domain of those links.
Your links are labeled
Google places links on a page into categories, including things like: Footer; Penguin-impacted; and Disavowed.
We now have a term to use to describe it (“labels”) rather than simply understanding that a page is divided into sections, and the sections that are the most visible and more likely to be engaged with hold the highest value (with regard to both content and links). Additionally, we already knew that links that were disavowed were flagged as such.
There is one new side.
The new piece of information here is that either Google has replaced a previous link weighting system with a labeling system, or they have added to it. Essentially, it appears that where previously, content as a whole may have been categorized and links included in that categorization, now a link is given one or possibly multiple labels.
The link labeling takeway
Knowing whether the link is being labeled or simply judged by its position on the page — and whether it’s been disavowed or not — isn’t particularly actionable. You will be working to develop highly visible links, placed contextually where possible and on related sites. If this strays far from what you were doing, you likely weren’t doing your link building correctly to begin with.
Penguin penalties are treated very differently in 4.0 from the way they were previously.
• There is no sandbox for a site penalized by Penguin.
• If you get hit with a Penguin penalty, there is no trust delay in recovery — once you fix the problem and your site is recrawled, you’d bounce back.
• If your penalties are not Penguin-related, there may or may not be delays in recovering from one.
In Penguin 4.0, our links will get picked up faster (both the good and the bad), and penalties will likely be doled out and rolled back much more reliably; however, the links we need to build and how they’re being weighted remain pretty much the same. The use of the disavow file is unchanged, and you should still watch for negative SEO. Penguin is currently not impacted by machine learning. However, as machine learning takes on a greater role in how search engines rank pages — it’s likely that it will eventually begin to control some aspects of what are traditionally Penguin algorithms.