Penguin 4.0 is finally here – and it’s real time!

by | Sep 26, 2016 | SEO

On Friday, Google announced that the latest Penguin algorithm update, Penguin 4.0, is now live. This is the 7th iteration of the update with the last one before this coming nearly 2 years ago in October 2014. One of the major reasons this update has been delayed for so long is because several major changes were included. Here’s an overview of the algorithm, the update, and what it means for you.

What is Penguin?

Google first released the Penguin algorithm in April 2012 with the primary objective of identifying sites that tried to manipulate Google’s search results with spammy link-building techniques. Sites that were caught purchasing links or obtaining links through blog networks were hit particularly hard.

Penguin has developed drastically since the first iteration in 2012, with 6 more versions following, each of which was more sophisticated and better at catching sites that use black hat SEO tactics and violate Google’s webmaster guidelines.

What’s new with Penguin 4.0?

Key changes:

  • Real time with crawls
  • Page-specific
  • No more confirmations for algorithm updates.

Real time:

In the past, Penguin ran periodically. This meant that when it caught a site and detected spam, these sites would be punished and remain penalised until the next alteration was made, which could sometimes take months.

However, Penguin 4.0 is real time. This means that Penguin is now part of the core algorithm and the filter is being applied to pages as it crawls a website. This is great news for sites that use white hat SEO tactics and conduct link building in an ethical way, as they will be rewarded for quality link building quicker than before. A real-time update means it is now going to be more important than ever to conduct regular backlink checks to ensure that your site’s organic performance hasn’t been compromised by poor backlinks.


The update has also become page-specific. This means that certain section or pages on a site can be penalised, rather than an entire site. This is good news as in the past a Penguin penalty punished the entire website, rather than specific pages. This had devastating results on some sites, with them completely disappearing from the search results.

No update confirmations:

Google have also confirmed that we will no longer see any confirmations of any updates to the Penguin algorithm. Now that the algorithm is in real-time we will not be told when alterations are made. The recommendation is just to focus on ‘creating amazing, compelling websites’. They were also quick to remind us that Penguin is just one of over 200 ranking signals that are used to determine a site’s organic position.

As with any Penguin update, sites that have been affected by old variations of Penguin and have worked to repair the damage will likely start to see a recovery in the coming weeks.

Has Penguin 4.0 fully rolled out?

Google have said that the real-time update is not yet fully live, but has begun rolling out. An exact timeframe on when it will be completely rolled out has not yet been confirmed, but the impact of any change will likely correlate with how often your site is being crawled (given that this is when the filter is applied). If your site is crawled often then it is likely you will see changes a lot quicker than a site that isn’t crawled frequently.

How do I know if my site has been hit by Penguin?

We strongly urge that you check your organic visibility is the SERPs (search engine results pages) across major keyword categories. If you have rank tracking this is pretty simple to check but if you do not then you may have to complete a few manual searches in Google.

It is also important to check how these changes may have affected the organic traffic across your site. While it is early days, this is something that needs to be monitored closely, as with any algorithm update.

What should I do if I think my site has been affected by Penguin?

If you notice a dip in traffic that looks a little out of the ordinary then it is possible your site has been negatively affected. In this case it’s best to continue to monitor traffic in the coming days to see if the trend continues and conduct a full backlink analysis of your site.

How can I protect my site?

We recommend conducting a backlink review of your site and checking through to see if there are any spammy links that need to be removed. Given that Penguin is now in real-time we recommend completing the same check on a monthly basis to help ensure that your organic performance isn’t impacted by poor-quality links pointing to your site.

For more information on recent algorithm updates, check out our post on the change to local rankings, or get in touch with one of our SEO consultants.

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