Penguin 4.0 is coming
Penguin 4.0, the latest link based algorithm update from Google, is apparently imminent. We say apparently as Google announced it last year and rumours of its release have been spread almost on a weekly basis. Google has metaphorically been using it as a big stick to threaten those who have looked to game search results using black hat link building for some time now. We have no doubt that the day will soon come when they open the new improved Penguin’s cage and those who have played the short-term game will find themselves swiftly penalised.
What is the Penguin Algorithm?
Penguin is a series of algorithm updates that concentrate on identifying and penalising link building / webspam practices that seek to fraudulently increase the page rank of a website. In days of old (and in some cases not so long ago) people would purchase thousands of high page rank links and get them pointed to their websites. This would artificially increase the site’s perceived relevance for certain keywords and subsequently gain them high ranks in the search results.
Other techniques employed included forum spamming and more recently article marketing, which although popular was misused and was soon deemed to be too spammy by Google and penalised accordingly.
There are always people trying to make a quick fortune by selling clever ways of ‘gaming’ the system and Google are always trying to tighten the rules whilst working towards providing the most relevant results for the user. Needless to say 4.0 will not be the last webspam update.
Penguin release timeline
Penguin 1.0, when launched back in April 2012, was Google’s first salvo in targeting webspam (including keyword stuffing, link schemes, cloaking, sneaky redirects, intentional duplicate content). It has since worked hard to try and root out all illicit techniques to leave website backlinks as bonafide advocate links and relevant points of reference.
Penguin launches so far:
April 24 – 2012
May 26 – 2012
October 5 – 2012
May 22 – 2013
October 4 – 2013
October 17 – 2014
What will make Penguin 4.0 different from previous rollouts?
The exact details of how it will work are obviously secret but one thing for sure is it will aim to improve the relevance of Google’s results through identification and penalisation of webspam and poor link building practices, more than likely on a real-time basis.
Once released there will be plenty of analysis conducted across the web to try and nail down exactly what it is affecting (and even how it works) some conclusions will be backed up by mountains of data whilst others will be conjecture – such is the nature of the beast.
The business effects of Penguin
For many businesses the key question will be ‘will I be affected?’ Well, if you have been doing your own SEO for the past dozen years and have only built links from (and to) relevant websites using ‘white hat’ techniques (one’s that do not violate Google’s webmaster guidelines) then you should have little to fear*. However, if you have sought to employ an agency or person who has promised instant page 1 results with minimal to no input then you may want to think about getting your backlinks checked right away and address any issue before the cage door is opened.
*There is a chance that your business may be affected by Penguin even though you haven’t dabbled in link building practices. This is because competitors and malicious third parties can attach negative links to your site in order to lower your rank (in order to give themselves a boost) or simply cause problems. We therefore recommend that you get your links checked out just in case.
There may also be a chance that your current level of traffic is significantly being held back by old links that previously were artificially beneficial but are now in effect a millstone around your business’ neck, preventing it from fulfilling the site’s potential.
Penguin rollout - worst case scenario
The worst that can happen is that post rollout you receive communication (via the Search Console) of a manual penalty being placed on your site. This can sometimes be site-wide and sees Google place a manual weighting on your search results which more than offsets the perceived benefit of the poor links attached to your site.
Example penalty and recovery (real client website data)
To a lesser extent such manual penalties may only be attached to a certain section of your site. The next step down is where instead of Google manually placing a penalty on your site, the algorithm itself downgrades its perception of your site influenced by the negative nature of the poor links and automatically lowers your rankings.
All of the above will mean the traffic (and revenue) driving ranks that you have until now enjoyed will likely disappear overnight, meaning that sales and leads will dry up and you have to turn to PPC to fill the void and pay for the privilege.
Removing manual penalties can be a long drawn out process which takes weeks to get lifted and algorithmic issues, once addressed, it can take time for traffic levels to return to ‘normal’.
What can I do about it?
The safest thing to do is request a backlink audit of your domain. A top level assessment by Number1 is free but the cost of a more in-depth review depends on the amount of backlinks that your site has. We will only ever advise an in-depth review if there are signs of issues that will be affecting the performance of your website in the search results.
Number1 are here to help your business develop and grow, not to provide a short term boost. Get in touch today