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Google Penguin 4.0 and What You Need To Know to Rank

Posted on 10.17.2016

:: By Michael Peggs, Marccx Media ::

SEOs and digital marketers alike had been waiting for word about the latest update to Google’s ranking algorithm, since the RankBrain announcement in 2015.

On Sept. 23 2016, news broke that Google released the fourth (and final) update to the Penguin algorithm. Google Penguin 4.0, as with previous iterations, is an algorithm used to penalize sites that engage in risky link building, or earning inbound links (also known as backlinks) to your website. Now that it’s live and running, let’s explore the details that marketers need to know.

Now Part of The Core Algorithm

For awhile now, marketers have known Google’s core algorithm to consist of “200 unique signals.” Penguin 4.0 is now one of them, meaning it will play an integral role in Google’s crawling and indexing of Web pages.

Real-Time Updates

The history of Google Penguin dates back to 2012, but until now it was unable to take effect on the fly. Previously, it relied on periodic “refreshes” to the way it processed data, meaning that changes in SERP (search engine results page) could go unnoticed for many months until the next update. In Penguin 4.0, everything is refreshed constantly, which can be both good and bad depending on one’s SEO practices.

Previously, when a website was attempting to resolve a penguin penalty, it could take years for Google to review the changes and make a new call on the quality of backlinks. Now, if a website is under a penalty, those same penalties can be eradicated within a few hours. On the negative side, Penguin 4.0 should lead to brands and online businesses frequently analyzing the backlinks to their content since Penguin 4.0 constantly crawls each page.

More Granular

In addition to continually updating itself, Google Penguin 4.0 alleges to be more thorough in its inspections. In other words, its analysis will go well beyond the off-page signals like backlinks, likely encompassing the domains, sub-folders, keyword groups and content targeted by the referring domain. So, pretty much anything that contributes to a website’s organic rankings and off-page SEO will be analyzed more precisely than before.

Page Specific, Rather Than Sitewide

It might sound like sites will be under a larger microscope now, but this precision does have benefits. Google Penguin 4.0 will make determinations for ranking adjustments based on spam signals, meaning that penalties will only be assessed to specific pages rather than the entire website. This is a great sign for brands that run their sites in an honest way, but who might occasionally make mistakes on certain pages. No more having one’s whole operation go invisible in search engines after a tiny mistake.


In order to keep pages out of the Google penalty box, it’s advisable that brands not be overly aggressive with anchor text usage and keyword repetition. It’s also important to analyze backlinks on a regular basis (at least once a month) to keep up with the speed of Penguin 4.0. The best approach will be for webmasters to set a schedule reminding them of the ongoing need for quality checks throughout the month and building backlinks the right way. 

Devaluing Web Spam vs. Demoting It

It’s more than a difference in semantics. Google Penguin 4.0 devalues spam, however it doesn’t necessarily demote it. While this might sound like a loophole for sites engaging in black hat SEO practices to take advantage of, Google has assured them that their negative methods will not go unnoticed. Conversely, sites who already have a positive standing will not see their ranking affected by minor errors here or there.

It’s also great news for brands who linked to other websites that were once credible, but then they suddenly began producing spam content. Instead of treating that situation with a guilt-by-association demotion, Penguin will only penalize the page with the spammy link, requiring a simple disavow to get it back in good standing.

Don’t Overthink It

Many marketers have a tendency to process this information and then work unnecessarily hard to try to "game the system." As we’ve learned with past Google algorithm updates, there’s no foolproof way to achieve this. It all comes back to creating unique, high-quality content and backlinks that will grow credibility to a website or brand. Search rankings will not be affected by Internet providers, solar exposure, or the Earths’ gravitational pull. They will only be affected by the common sense SEO measures of the webmaster. While the Internet remains cluttered with sites that lack integrity, here’s hoping that the real-time approach of Google Penguin 4.0 will make an impact for the rest of us.

Michael Peggs is the founder of Marccx Media, a digital marketing agency specializing in search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Before Marcxx, Peggs worked at Google in business development, forming digital media and advertising partnerships in the United States and Asia. He is also a contributor to The Huffington Post, FastCompany and Business Insider as well as and podcaster, hosting the iTunes Top 10 New & Noteworthy Podcast You University.

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