Penguin 4.0Late in September, Google launched a long-awaited update to its Penguin algorithm signal, which was designed to filter spammy sites out of its search results. On September 23, the search giant announced,

“We are now rolling out an update to the Penguin algorithm in all languages… Penguin is now real-time…

[and] Penguin is now more granular.”

What does this mean for search marketers, and local marketers in particular? Let’s have a look.

How Penguin Works

Introduced in 2012, Penguin has historically worked on an occasional basis to filter spam out of search results. In its first iteration, Penguin affected about 3% of search results. This signal targeted specific abuses of Google’s guidelines, like cloaking, keyword stuffing, link schemes, duplicate content and more.

What made Penguin unique — and worrisome for site owners and marketers — was that because it was only run occasionally, there was no way to recover in between updates.  This meant that if your site was filtered out of the results by Penguin, you would have to wait months or even years to be included again once you fixed the problem.

What’s New With Penguin 4.0?

African penguin. African penguin (spheniscus demersus), also known as the jackass penguin and black-footed penguin is a species of penguin Boulders colony in Cape Town,South Africa

With this latest update, Google has announced that Penguin has become a real-time factor in the overall search algorithm. It will catch sites in real-time, rather than only when an update runs, and sites will be able to recover faster if they fix the issues that resulted in their being caught in the filter.

By becoming more granular, Penguin may affect specific pages or groups of pages, as well as entire sites.

Penguin is also considered an algorithmic update.  If your website is impacted by Penguin, you may not see a warning message in the Google Search Console.  Rather, you will likely observe a substantial drop in specific webpage search rankings.  This is different than manual spam penalties where Google actually notifies the webmaster of an infraction.

We shouldn’t hear about any new Penguin updates from now on, since it’ll be considered in real-time as one of the over 200 signals Google Search considers when indexing and ranking content.

Should You Be Concerned About Penguin?

If you and your team adhere to best practices in site optimization and are not involved in link schemes, you have nothing to fear.

Even if something does happen to your website, it will be much easier and quicker to recover from this algorithmic filter penalty.  Say for instance that you notice a major drop in rankings for one of your web pages.  You identify any spammy backlinks going to that webpage and disavow them. If that page’s backlink profile is now completely clean, you could recover in weeks, if not days.

Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Now Penguin is real-time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page

Gary Illyes of Google Search Ranking Team

Penguin vs Possum

Penguin 4.0 is not related to the Possum local algorithm update.   Although both of these algorithm updates happened around the same time, they target different kinds of spam.   The Possum update targets spammy local listings, while Penguin specifically targets webmasters who engage in shady backlink campaigns and other types of webspam.

What Impact Might Google Penguin Have on My Local SEO?

Unless you are (or an agency working on your behalf is) using spammy techniques in an attempt to rank, Penguin will have no impact on your local rankings. If your locations aren’t ranking as you feel they should, the issue is more likely:

  • a lack of relevant local content on specific location pages;
  • incorrect or outdated business listings in search, social or elsewhere in the local search ecosystem;
  • missing markup that tells search engines what your sites are about;
  • some combination of the above.

Learn more about improving your brand’s presence for each location here, or schedule a demo.