September 23rd, 2016 will go down in history as the single-most decisive day in Google’s war against shady SEO techniques used to bump up SERPs. I may have gotten carried away with the statement, but surely, the launch of the Penguin 4.0 update on the aforementioned date comes as a shrill wake up call to black-hatted SEOs. It serves as a reminder to them to get their act together and not indulge in dubious methods to get higher rankings for their sites.
So what’s all the fuss about this innocuous-sounding, yet potentially-lethal update?
Where Did Penguin Come From?
The first Penguin update, rolled out in April 2012, targeted sites that had unnaturally-acquired back links pointing to them. The update affected some 3% of such websites and the entire SEO community, who, barring a few, knew that such dubious link-building methods will be penalized one day, rejoiced as one. Sites that were penalized by the Penguin update took a long time to recover as the next update took a long time to be announced and manual intervention by Google typically took a lot of time as well.
But the Penguin 4.0 update, which comes two years after the 3.0 update, changes the game altogether. It is “real-time” meaning “changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after (Google) recrawls and reindexes the page.” This also precludes the need for future Penguin updates. Also, Penguin is now well and truly integrated into Google’s core algorithm.
Special Features of Penguin 4.0
The two major features of the Penguin 4.0 update are:
a) It is real-time and runs as part of the core algorithm.
b) It is “granular,” meaning it affects specific sections of the website and not the entire website.
a) It Is Real-Time
While Panda penalized (heavily, I must say!) sites with low-quality, spammy content and rewarded sites with high-quality content that offered genuine value to customers, Penguin did something similar for links. Sites that had spammy links pointing to them in a bid to gain traction on SERPs will be targeted by Penguin, while sites that have high-quality, authority links pointing to them will get better rankings.
And with Penguin 4.0, all this will happen in real time. So, if you suddenly see a drop in rankings of certain sections of your website (or even certain keywords), check that section’s backlink profile and clean the mess.
b) It is “Granular”
The fact that Penguin 4.0 is “granular” means that your entire site won’t be penalized due to a few shady, spammy backlinks. It will target only specific pages and sections that have an unnatural backlink profile. So, if you find that some website pages are falling off the charts, you need to check if they have bad links pointing towards them and “disavow” them, using Google’s Disavow Link Tool. This will tell Google to ignore those links when ranking your page.
Another interesting feature of Penguin 4.0 is that it will not “penalize” pages and websites per se. It will simply reduce weightage of bad, spammy, dubious links or not count them altogether. This will automatically lower the ranking of a site with such links.
With the real-time and granular features of Penguin 4.0, it is relatively easy to keep rankings intact. Of course, this is not an automatic process, and continuous work and constant monitoring is required. The focus will now be on building a healthy, high-quality and authority back link profile.
Also, the granular nature of Penguin 4.0 will make it difficult, if not impossible, to detect minor penalties. This will make it necessary for webmasters and SEOs to conduct periodic backlink audits on all the pages (as well as different language versions) of the website.
Obviously, no warnings will be sent to webmasters. This will make it imperative for them to constantly monitor their websites’ position on SERPs. And again, because there will be no “penalty,” “penalty recovery” will not mean that you will regain your original rankings. It will imply that you will have a clean and healthy backlink profile and will not get bogged down by spammy, unnatural links anymore. Further, you will need sustained efforts that include healthy link-building tactics and lots of great content to get back to the leaderboard.
All said, experts still fear that the very same features that give Penguin 4.0 an edge may also tempt link builders to try “gray hat” techniques. So, SEO experts will definitely want to “try out” and see whether some “borderline” links do work or have been penalized. If they are penalized, they can always disavow them. Their rankings will not suffer that much and they can get the pages back on track.
Whatever the scenario, as Google has said time and again, it is worthless to try to “outbrain” the search engine. The only way to get top rankings is by creating high-quality and meaningful content that satisfies users’ queries and builds authority links around that content. So, instead of getting stuck in the “gray areas,” it is better to stay spotlessly clean and let Penguin and the other animals in Google’s animal farm take care of the rest.
Author Bio: Avinash Nair is a digital marketer at E2M, India’s premium digital marketing agency. He specializes in Content Marketing and PPC services. You can find him on Twitter: @AviNair52