Our complete guide to Penguin and its evolution over the years

Samuel Mangialavori

Senior SEO Analyst

What is Penguin?

Back in April 2012, Google released a major algorithm update commonly known as Penguin, which revolutionised the whole search optimisation industry. It was a paramount alteration to Google’s search results that was intended to decrease rankings of sites that did not comply with Google’s quality guidelines.

Google also made sure to notify webmasters about the upcoming update by sending a comprehensive email which explained how changes would affect their sites. Differently from Panda, which was focused around thin & low-quality content, Penguin was addressing another aspect: unnatural and manipulative inbound links.

In the pursuit of serving better and more relevant results that would benefit the users, Google’s new update had the ultimate goal of fighting webspam techniques that were used solely to manipulate rankings. Such activity was widely spread among “black hat” webmasters, and included several tactics, from keyword stuffing to link schemes.

How has it evolved over time?

Penguin has undergone four major updates since April ’12, which all have had different and newer features.

Penguin 2.0 was rolled out in May 2013 and was designed to be much deeper than the first update, tackling spam across internal pages and not just the homepages.

Penguin 3.0 was released over a year after the previous one, in October 2014. Despite its long anticipation, it turned out to be a large data refresh, impacting only 1% of English queries.

Lastly, Penguin 4.0 was rolled out on September 23rd 2016, almost two years after the previous refresh. Google also announced this is the last update that will get a public confirmation.

Google’s new update has the following features:

  • It runs in real-time, instead of being manually refreshed.

  • It updates itself on a regular basis, as it is a continuous & constant process.

  • It is faster and more granular, being able to impact individual pages instead of the whole site.

  • It will also be able to devalue webspam instead of demoting the site’s rankings, meaning it will tackle unnatural inbound links without affecting the site’s rankings.

What does it mean for brands?

In the world pre-Penguin 4.0, Google would manually renew the algorithm whenever they thought a change was due. Websites that were negatively impacted by previous updates would need to wait until the next data refresh in order to recover. Therefore, if your site has been subject of ranking devaluations, you can now hope to recover in a faster fashion provided you have taken the necessary improvements.

Webmasters that intend to manipulate rankings by using subtle and temporary “black hat” techniques, such as churn-and-burn websites, are likely to be at high risk of getting caught and penalised.

Google confirmed that manual penalty will still take place for webmasters that “systematically try to spam”, which means that reconsideration requests will still be the main way to recover from a manual action.

There are speculations around Negative SEO gaining traction and becoming a widespread tactic, especially in high-sales periods. Webmasters may look to lower competitors’ rankings, taking advantage of the real-time feature of Penguin 4.0.

What is iCrossing’s approach?

iCrossing has developed a thorough process which is undergone to assist all clients.

Organic traffic and rankings are monitored on a regular basis to detect any noticeable volatility that may reflect Penguin’s impact. Such analyses are carried out on both a domain and page level due to the granularity of the new update.

Backlinks audits are conducted regularly to identify any artificially-built links that do not comply with Google’s quality guidelines. Such audits aim to clean up websites’ backlink profiles and detect any risk of penalty or upcoming ranking devaluation.

Updating or creating of a disavow file is still important to help Google identify unnatural links, despite Penguin being able to devalue webspam instead of affecting the whole site. iCrossing has developed a strong expertise in mastering the usage of the disavow file, along as submitting reconsideration requests to recover from manual actions.

Regular Negative SEO checks are also carried out to ensure competitors’ inbound link attacks are picked up quickly and rightfully addressed.

Read more about link removals, Negative SEO and Google penalties.

To find out how iCrossing can help you unleash the potential of your SEO strategy contact results@icrossing.co.uk

Continue reading


Are you ready to make a digital step-change?

We believe that moving too slowly in digital is the biggest risk your business faces. If you are ready to move faster in digital, we are here to help.

Get In touch