Google’s newest search algorithm, Penguin 4.0, had SEO professionals talking, panicking, and speculating when it went live on September 23. The update has two major components that will affect SEO: scope, timing, and automation. Here’s what the changes mean for you and how you can play nicely with Penguin 4.0:
The point of Penguin
Penguin is Google’s initiative to combat link spamming. For years, backlinks were the most important aspect of a website’s SEO. A page with 1,000 backlinks would rank much more highly than a page with 100. This is still true, and backlinks are still considered “votes” in favor of a page’s quality and relevance, but Penguin takes it several steps further.
Now, the quality of linking pages is taken into heavy consideration. Webmasters who have landed a high-quality backlink from several high-authority, related websites will fare much better in search results than webmasters who have several dozen links from low-authority or irrelevant sites.
Penguin has been all about putting an end to link spamming by penalizing websites that have used sketchy techniques to build their link profiles. Buying links is strictly forbidden and will quickly bury your site in search results, as will having unpaid links from questionable websites. In fact, one of the black-hat methods of beating the competition was to buy links to your competitors’ websites. Furthermore, link spammers were beginning to blackmail site owners by creating spammy backlinks and then charging for removal.
In older versions of the Penguin algorithm, link spam was penalized with incredible force. Having even a few sketchy links to one or two pages could mean your entire site dropped through several pages of rankings or were removed from the index altogether. In other words, having one bad page could wreck your entire site.
Beginning with Penguin 4.0, link spam is more likely to be ignored and left out of the algorithm entirely in most cases. Site-wide penalties are only likely to occur for serious offenders, those that have hundreds or thousands of sketchy links to multiple pages.
Previous versions of Penguin ran sporadically. SEOs who were working on fixing their link profiles waited up to six months to see any difference in search rankings — a lifetime on the internet. Penguin 4.0’s defining feature is that it is now going to factor into Google’s algorithm in real time. In other words, clearing up spammy links could get you a boost in a few days, rather than months down the road. Likewise, questionable behavior can get your site penalized in a number of hours. As soon as your site is crawled and indexed, you will see the results of your efforts.
Cleaning up link profiles to lift a penalty used to mean working directly with Google. Webmasters had to reach out to the owners of link spam sites and ask them to remove the links, then report back to Google to let them know that they had completed the process, or at least tried. In the case of extortion, site owners could report that they had attempted to make contact but failed to have the links removed.
Because Penguin 4.0 is real-time, and its main job is not to dole out penalties, the process has become much more automatic and less demanding. Although site owners are no longer specifically required to work with Google in cleaning up bad links, it is still a good idea to use their webmaster tools to assist you. Penguin is not the only algorithm that can penalize your site, nor is link spam the only way to incur a penalty.
How to play nicely with Penguin 4.0
Penguin has been all about cleaning up search results and combating link spam, so following the fundamentals of good search engine optimization is still the best way to ensure high rankings. Make sure each page of your website offers outstanding value. Target only relevant keywords. Build backlinks to your website from high-authority, relevant websites based off of the value that your page provides, rather than trying to manipulate search results through questionable techniques. Simply make your website the best in its niche and you will be rewarded accordingly.