Changes to Google’s Penguin No Longer Penalize Entire Websites


Just last month, Google announced that it will be making Penguin 4.0 a part of its core algorithm. “After a period of development and testing, we are now rolling out an update to the Penguin algorithm in all languages,” said Google’s Gary Illyes from the Search Ranking Team on a Google Webmaster blog post.

This shift in Google’s algorithm will bring with it some changes for webmasters – which Illyes claims were amongst the top requests from webmasters. Specifically, the new version of Penguin updates in real-time and is more granular.

What is Penguin?

Penguin is a Google algorithm update that was announced in April 2012. The goal of the update was to limit the use of black-hat SEO techniques meant to manipulate search rankings. Penguin devalued pages that used inorganic links to improve search rankings, also known as spammy link building.

This could drastically influence a webpage’s ranking and forced webmasters to audit every link on their site. Even if spammy links were removed or disavowed, a web page wouldn’t be able to recover until Penguin was refreshed.

Barry Schwartz at the Search Engine Roundtable detailed a list of Penguin updates, and the most recent took two years. “The last update in 2014 – Penguin 3.0 – may have only affected less than 1% of US/UK searches, but that ultimately translated to 12 billion queries,” said Christopher Ratcliff from Search Engine Watch.

Yet, Google’s announcement now puts Penguin 4.0 among the more than 200 signals that the search engine uses in its core algorithm. This means that Penguin is now likely to be updated on a more frequent basis, despite the fact that Google is “…not going to comment on future refreshes” of Penguin.

More Granular Means No More Penalizations

The new changes seem to mean that Penguin will no longer penalize entire websites. “Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting the ranking of the whole site,” Illyes said in the post.

The granular changes mean that websites will be impacted on a page-by-page basis, instead of an entire domain being penalized.

Real-Time Updates

Before Penguin 4.0, affected websites had to wait for a Penguin refresh before seeing a change in their search engine rankings. “Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google’s algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed,” Illyes said.

But the 4.0 update brings with it real-time updates meaning that Penguin data is refreshed almost immediately. Therefore, as soon as the page is recrawled and reindexed by Google, changes will be made to the system.

This has a huge impact on developers that previously tried to improve their sites, but had to wait on a Penguin update before any of their changes would affect the site’s SEO placement. Now, changes made by webmasters and SEO experts will reflect in Google’s search engine ranking much quicker.

Using Disavow Files

Despite the changes, you may still want or need to use a disavow file if you want to see more immediate changes in your website’s ranking.

In a Facebook exchange between Barry Schwartz and Gary Illyes, Illyes clarified that the recommendations for the use of disavow files haven’t changed and that in order to recover from Penguin issues, it is recommended to use a disavow file.

Illyes similarly added that “manual actions are still there, so if we see that someone is systematically trying to spam, the manual actions team might take a harsher action against the site.”

Overall, the changes involving Penguin and Google’s search engine algorithm are likely to shake up the SEO world and the way in which webmasters currently work.

“The web has significantly changed over the years, but as we said in our original post, webmasters should be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites. It’s also important to remember that updates like Penguin are just one of more than 200 signals we use to determine rank,” Illyes concluded in the post.

As the internet changes and evolves, more additions and updates to Google’s algorithm should be expected, meaning SEO experts need to stay on their toes and be aware of any other algorithm changes coming down the pipe.

On YavinOn Yavin is the Founder and UK CEO of Exactive Marketing and the Founder and CEO of 
Online Performance, a company specialized in providing SEO services.

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