Dissecting Google Penguin 4.0: Learning About the Latest Algorithm Update

Dissecting Google Penguin 4.0: Learning About the Latest Algorithm Update Featured Image

Now that Google Penguin 4.0 finally dropped after a nearly two-year wait, it’s time to explore the update and examine how webmasters should handle off-site optimization going forward.

Whenever business owners and marketers hear about a new algorithm update from Google is about to roll out, the atmosphere starts to become tense — really tense.

Some feel paranoid for fear of their website getting falsely penalized, which could lead to them losing boatloads of traffic and sales, while others feel confident that they won’t be in trouble because they weren’t using unethical marketing practices.

Of course, there are also those that are dead terrified because they know 100 percent that their method of ranking their website was flat out based on using black hat and spammy methods — and yes, you can still rank websites nowadays using spammy strategies.

Well, just a couple of weeks ago, on September 23, 2016, Google’s Gary Illyes announced that the Penguin 4.0 update went live.

This time, however, instead of the webmasters typical negative reactions towards the updates, everyone was ecstatic about the release. If you’re wondering why that is, then allow me to shed some light on what the update was all about.

But first, let’s start with the basics and talk about what Google Penguin is about at its core.

What Is Google Penguin?

Google released a search algorithm update in April 2012 called Penguin. The goal of this update is to catch websites that are manipulating and spamming the search rankings by way of building links through bulk and spammy methods for the purpose of ranking better on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Because backlinks are one of the key ranking factors that Google looks at to view how credible, relevant, or “rank-worthy” a website is, there are webmasters — there are quite a lot, actually — that tried to manipulate their website’s “rank-worthiness.”

In an ideal world, the websites with amazing, relevant, and value-packed content should be the ones to rank the highest on Google’s results page. That way, the people using Google’s search engine would get the best answer out of their query.

However, since there are webmasters manipulating their website’s “rank-worthiness” by building low-quality links, there are mediocre or even crappy websites that are ranking high in the search results.

That’s why Google introduced the Penguin algorithm to address the problem of people creating artificial link profiles for the purpose of them ranking higher in the search results.

What’s the Penguin 4.0 Update About?

There are three crucial points that you need to remember about the Penguin 4.0 update.

Google Penguin Is More Granular

It’s important to note that in the past, the webmasters who got caught by the Penguin algorithm were slapped with a site-wide penalty.

Now that we’ve gotten a statement from Google saying that it’s going to be “more granular,” does that mean that the sanctions applied in the future will be page specific?

In his article at SearchEngineLand, Barry Schwartz shared how he asked Gary Illyes for clarification about the Penguin algorithm being granular. Here’s the reply that Gary gave: “It means it affects finer granularity than sites. It does not mean it only affects pages.”

Gary’s answer is quite vague (sadly). However, most marketers believe that Gary’s response means sites can experience getting penalized while some of their pages are still fine. It could mean that particular pages or sections of a site can be penalized while some of the sites pages aren’t impacted at all.

Whichever the case may be, we’re all still better off with this update since the penalties have become granular, whereas the entire site gets shutdown (penalized) in the past.

Google Penguin Now Updates Real Time

In the past, sites hit by Penguin would have to wait months (even years) before they could recover from being penalized.

After the Penguin 4.0 update, however, webmasters will no longer experience endless delays. Penguin’s data will be refreshed in real time, and the results will take effect shortly after the page is re-crawled or re-indexed by Google.

Because the updates are now made in real time, Google will no longer release any updates in the future on Penguin data refreshes.

What Does This Mean for You?

This means that the adjustments that you make on your site — should you get penalized due to the Penguin update — will now take effect a lot sooner. You no longer have to wait for months upon months (even years) before your website can recover. You will see changes shortly after Google re-crawls or re-indexes your website.

Demoting a Website Versus Devaluing Spam

Gary Illyes also commented on one of Barry Schwartz’s post on Facebook saying they are now devaluing spam instead of demoting websites.


When Barry asked for clarification about what Gary meant by “devalue” and “demote,” here’s the reply that Gary gave.


With the kind of answer that Gary gave, any webmaster would think that at this point, we might no longer need to use the disavow tool specifically for Penguin since Google is devaluing spam anyways and not demoting websites.

To that, here’s what Gary had to say:


I hope things have become a lot clearer for you at this point on whether or not we should still use Google’s disavow tool should we get slapped with a Penguin penalty.

Just like what Gary said, while there’s less need for it, it might be more prudent for us to help Google by using the disavow tool just to make sure that the spam links are addressed.

Also, it’s important to remember that Google’s recommendation about using the disavow tool has not changed. That being said, just to be on the safe side, it would be better for us to do what we can on our end to protect assets, instead of only hoping that Google will find the spammy links and protect us from it.

If you haven’t read Gary’s post yet about the Penguin 4.0 update, you should.

A Quick Look at the 2 Types of Penalties

Now that you have a better understanding of what the Penguin 4.0 update is all about and what the purpose of the filter is as a whole, I’d like to share with you the two types of penalties that you can incur as a website owner.

That way, should you get penalized, you can diagnose the problem correctly and be able to come up with the correct steps to recover from the penalty.

1. Manual Penalty

This type of penalty occurs when Google’s web spam team manually flags your website for violating their webmaster guidelines.

To know if you’ve been slapped with a manual penalty (or a manual action), just go to your Google Search Console, then click the “Manual Actions” option.


While anyone can get this type of penalty for a plethora of reasons, for the most part, people get a manual penalty because of their website’s backlink profile.

Be sure to read the message so you’ll have a better idea of why you were penalized.

2. Algorithmic Penalty

Algorithmic penalties happen when your website is flagged by one of Google’s filters like the Panda or Penguin filter.

This can happen when the algorithm data refreshes or if there are new algorithm updates — pretty much like how the Penguin algorithm had an update to Penguin 4.0.

What makes algorithmic penalties harder to detect is the fact that you sometimes won’t get any message from Google’s team about the penalty in Search Console. In most cases, the webmaster will just see a sudden huge drop in their traffic without any kind of explanation for it.

If you aren’t constantly monitoring your website’s health, there’s a good chance that you won’t realize that you’ve been slapped with an algorithmic penalty.

How to Recover From the Penguin Update

*Important note: You’d be better off if you held off a bit on trying to fix your site if it’s been penalized in the past because of Google Penguin. Because of the Penguin 4.0 update, there have been a lot of reports from webmasters saying that their website has started recovering.

The same thing might happen to you too since the Penguin 4.0 update will start to automatically devalue the spammy links pointing to your website.

However, if several months have passed and you’re still in penalty, then you can consider using the following points or by contacting an experienced SEO agency.

Before you make any kind of adjustments on your website so you can recover from being penalized, you first need to ascertain the kind of penalty that you’ve been slapped with.

Were you slapped with a manual penalty or was it an algorithmic one? If it is the latter, you need to determine which algorithm filter caught you. Was the Penguin update really the cause of your site getting penalized? Or was it due to Panda or another update?

Determining which filter update caught you (and whether it’s an algorithmic or manual penalty) is a crucial step when identifying the steps that you need to take to recover from the penalty.

Simply jumping to conclusions and making immediate adjustments on your website or link profile can make things a lot worse for you if you don’t determine which algorithm update caught you.

If you’ve confirmed that you were in fact penalized due to the Penguin filter, however, then you can follow these steps to recover from the penalty.

Step 1: Login to Google Webmaster Tools.

Step 2: Find all of the backlinks to your website by clicking “Search Traffic” then “Links to Your Site.”


Step 3: Click the “More” option from the section “Who Links the Most.”


Step 4: Download all the links so you can review them.


Step 5: Once you’ve downloaded the links, you can now use any SEO tools that you have access to that can give you the metrics and insights about each link.

Step 6: At this point, you just need to review each link and pick out the bad ones.

When reviewing the links, focus on looking into the dofollow links first.

There are a couple of things that you need to consider when judging the links’ quality. These are some of the things that I mostly look into:

  1. Examine the website’s metrics (Trust Flow, Domain Authority, etc.)
  2. Make sure that the website is relevant to your niche.
  3. Avoid gambling or adult sites.
  4. Avoid spammy sites.
  5. Avoid websites that have been de-indexed by Google.
  6. Avoid websites that have bad neighbors.
  7. Avoid websites with thin content.

While I’m just scratching the surface with the short list that I shared above, the points are usually enough to tell me if the link is good or bad.

Step 7: Once you’ve sorted out the bad links. You can send the webmasters of the sites a link removal request.

When sending these types of outreach messages, be sure to include, these three things:

  1. The URL where your link can be found.
  2. The anchor text of your link.
  3. The link to your actual website.

This process should help you get rid of the crappy links that might be causing your website to be penalized.

Step 8: If the webmasters ignore you or they won’t help you with your request, then you can use Google’s Disavow tool. Here’s a detailed instruction from Google on how to use it.

After sending the disavow request, it should take a couple of weeks (perhaps a month) for your request to be processed. At that point, you should see your website slowly recovering in rankings.

What if Google Mistakenly Penalized You?

We are not living in a perfect world. While Google attempts to improve the quality of their search results by adding these updates, there are times when the civilians — those who aren’t doing any kind of spammy or unethical practices — get penalized wrongfully.

If that’s you, then you can use the reconsideration request form.

When sending a feedback, it would be more prudent for you not to focus on how much business you’re losing because of you getting penalized wrongfully. You can emphasize instead how much searchers are missing out by not being able to see your content.

Instead of pointing out how reputable and famous your company is, or how amazing your products are, emphasize the benefits that Google’s searchers are missing out.

At the end of the day, remember that Google doesn’t care (that much) about the size of your company. They are more interested in giving their searchers (their customers) the best search results quality so they can serve their customers better.

Words of Caution

In light of the Penguin 4.0 update, I’d like to share with you a couple of things that you need to be cautious about.

1. You Can Get Penalized in Real Time Now

Most webmasters and digital marketers who read about the 4.0 update tend to focus on the brighter side of the story where the recovery for those who were (and will be) penalized is now a lot faster.

While they are certainly correct in that focus, the flip side of the coin is also true. Because Penguin is now part of Google’s ranking factor and is updated real time, that means everyone gets penalized in real time (or near real time) as well.

2. Trying to Game the System Hurts Everyone.

With the updates taking effect in real time, it’s going to be a lot easier for webmasters and marketers to experiment and understand how the Penguin algorithm works.

That right there is good news and bad news at the same time.

I say it is good news because we can recover from getting penalized a lot faster since we can experiment and see the results of our tests a lot faster.

On the other hand, I say it’s also bad news because those with malicious intent — those who do negative SEO and those who want to rank using blatant unethical/spammy methods — are bound to learn how to game the system.

As you can probably imagine, when people start to game the system, it will result in Google adding more algorithm updates to correct that, which will ultimately make it harder for everyone to understand how ranking on SERPs works.

I strongly suggest that you continue with your white hat practices. We can never tell what kind of animal Google will release in the future to counter the people that are gaming the system.

3. You Must Monitor Your Website’s Health Regularly.

If you don’t normally monitor your website’s rankings regularly, then it’s high time that you do.

I mean, with Google Penguin’s data being refreshed in real time, the chances of you (or anyone who has a website for that matter) getting penalized increases drastically.

Also, if you think that the marketing agency you hired is using even the slightest hint of SEO malpractice, then you need to tell them to stop — right now.

Digital Current can provide assistance if you need help with your website’s SEO.

What’s Next?

If you’ve been penalized in the past due to Google Penguin, we sincerely hope that your website is on its way to recovery. However, if you’re still struggling and are oblivious with what you need to do to recover, then contact us now and we’ll be more than happy to help you with your website.

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