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Google has been keeping a low profile for the past few years as far as sweeping changes to its algorithms are concerned. Of course, there has been a fair amount of change in the layout of the SERPs, the launch of a mobile-friendly update, and RankBrain, its latest effort in artificial intelligence for Google search. However, there hasn’t been any action as far as the Panda and the Penguin updates are concerned. Now, after a really extended period, a Penguin-related release has been announced by Google. Popularly being referred to as Penguin 4.0, the update makes significant changes to the way Penguin operates and hence is of great importance to SEO specialists.

The Penguin Algorithm Revisited

The Penguin update was released by Google in 2012, on the heels of the Panda update that was announced just one year earlier. The Panda update significantly overhauled the manner on which Google evaluated the quality of content and penalized sites that were perceived to have spammy or thin content and rewarded those that offered content that was relevant, useful, valuable, original, and rich. The Penguin update acted similarly; it penalized sites that had links of doubtful quality pointing inwards or links coming from really low-quality websites. Conversely, it also rewarded those sites that possess inbound links of good quality. Penguin 2.0 and 3.0 along with some smaller updates followed.

Quite unlike most of Google’s algorithms, there is no stream of constant updates to Penguin; it instead undergoes data refreshes periodically, which can change the way Google interprets your link profile. This means that there is usually a considerable lag between the webmaster’s actions and its effect. As a leading social media marketing MumbaiCompany explains that the inclusion of bad links will become perceptible only after the next refresh, and similarly, any cleanup action would also be subject to the waiting period before bearing fruit.

Changes Ushered in by Penguin 4.0

  • Complete incorporation in the core of Google: Google has openly declared the latest Penguin update to be a part of its core algorithm set. A number of different algorithms make up Google’s core and act to evaluate the rank of a site for a specified search term. With its integration into Google’s core, Penguin is now a more significant component of the page ranking technology.
  • Continuous updates: Instead of being subject to periodic refreshes, Penguin 4.0 is now programmed to update constantly. What this means for SEO practitioners, is that the cause and effect are almost instantaneous; for example, the inclusion of spammy links could have the site being penalized immediately instead of the effect being noticeable only after the periodic refresh. Conversely, if you have taken action to clean up your act, then the benefit will also be available immediately.
  • No more full-domain penalties: Earlier, if Google received an indication that the site had a bad reputation link pointing to one of the pages inside, it would penalize the entire site by driving it down the results page. Now, instead,only the page containing the disreputable link will be penalized.

Key Lessons for Marketers and SEO Practitioners

Faster consequences: Penguin 4.0 lifts and penalties are almost instantaneous. This means that if you have managed to clean up your link profile and files a request for reconsideration, you will be able to extricate yourself out of the mess more quickly than ever before. On the other hand, if you have indulged in any black-hat practices of building links, you can be sure that you will be penalized almost instantly.

Refinement in link evaluation: Although Google has not indicated that there is any change to the way it evaluates the quality of links, the launch of Penguin 4.0 is a perfect opportunity for site managers to review their practices of link-building. You need to make sure that you are only building links that are valuable and relevant to your audiences, and that you are only targeting sites that have a good reputation and high authority for the rub-off effect. It is also the ideal time to figure out if you have been using anchor text that is appropriate and enveloping your links with content that is well-written and useful.

Effect of volatility in SERPs: While it is likely that the instant consequences of Penguin 4.0 will make the search rankings more volatile, it is also quite clear that the changes at any given point of time will be incremental because of the series of constant changes rather than the potential of sweeping changes of periodic refreshes of the earlier version of Penguin. Thus the overall effect will tend to be generally far less noticeable than before.


Google seems to be working on algorithm consolidation so that their operation is more streamlined, less noticeable, and more gradual while being quicker. Penguin 4.0’s incorporation in Google’s core is not the first such instance – it has taken this path earlier with Panda, and it is likely that this trend will continue. Google’s seems to have attained a more solid foundation for determining rankings and consequently, it is expected that the volatility of search results will be driven down.

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