For a long time now, SEOs have been expecting a new Penguin update, particularly those that were negatively affected in previous updates and have been waiting to recover.
The last penguin update (3.0) rolled out on October 17, 2014 and affected 1.0% of queries. Penguin 3.0 rolled out a year after the preceding update and 4.0 (the new update) about 2 years after 3.0.
The most significant thing to note about penguin 4.0 is it’s real-time nature. According to Google, “With this change, Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page.”
This means that there will no longer be long waits between each update. Whenever Google visits your site, it reassesses it again through it’s penguin filter. If your site is guilty of spam, it drops in the search results.
In the same vein, if your site was previously penalized and you’ve taken action to get it back into Google’s good graces, your search rankings will be adjusted and your site will rank well again when Google visits your site, runs it through the penguin filter, and determines that it deserves to rank high.
Penguin 4.0 also brings another new change to the table – page specific evaluation. Google stated something that, despite it’s vagueness, the SEO community have managed to interpret to imply that with this update, penguin will not affect entire websites but will penalize specific pages on the websites concerned.
To explain this further, a spammy page on your site caught by the penguin filter will not affect the rankings of other pages on your site. Certain pages or sections of your site could be affected, but not the entire website, unless, of course, the entire website was spammy.
Since penguin is now happening in real-time every time Google crawls websites in its index, Google will no longer announce or confirm penguin updates. The impact of the update is not expected to be very noticeable now until after a few weeks later when it full rolls out.
What this Means for Small Businesses
Small business owners depend largely on Google for a huge portion of their traffic (and therefore sales), and so need to be adequately prepared for this change.
If you’re one, I suggest you take a look at the backlinks pointing to all the important pages on your site since penguin is a link-based filter to detect spammy link building practices.
The most important factor to pay attention to is your anchor text ratios. Look for a high percentage of exact match anchor text in your link profile and either disavow the unnatural links pointing to your site with that anchor text or change their linking text to url and brand anchor texts if possible.
If you do not detect any spammy links, this change shouldn’t affect you and you shouldn’t be concerned. However, be on the lookout for spammy links in the future and disavow them as they come in. These should be enough to keep the penguin at bay now and in the future.
If You’ve Been Hit…
If you’re a victim of past penguin updates or the latest one and you’ve cleaned up your link profile, you’re likely to notice some improvement in your rankings, although as with all things related to Google, nothing is guaranteed.
Thankfully, penguin is now a real-time signal so recovery is going to be faster going forward. But, in the mean time, focus on other traffic sources while you wait.
I’d like to conclude this article by emphasizing something about penguin that many fail to notice – penguin penalties are more about the anchor text of links than their quality.
I have sites promoted with spammy links but diversified anchor text and the vast majority of them are still going strong in the SERPs while those displaying obvious anchor text manipulation struggled to survive (but failed).
There’s an inherent risk in anything you do to boost your rankings. However, if you’re going to monitor just one aspect of your SEO efforts, let it be your anchor text ratios.