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With Google on the verge of rolling out Penguin 4.0, now would be a good time to have a quick recap on what Penguin is; previous versions and more importantly, what it means for your website.
Penguin was launched as a way of improving the quality of organic search listings across the Google search engine, and to penalise webmasters for using black-hat SEO techniques. The goal of the update was to control a range of spamming factors, and to ensure that natural, authoritative, and relevant links were rewarded while punishing those who had bought links, or manufactured a high number of poor quality links to their website.
Back in April 2012 Google announced plans to bring out an update to the system dubbed the “Webspam Update”, later renamed Penguin 1.0. The factor that hit webmasters the hardest was keyword stuffing; the practice of filling webpages content or meta tags with keywords in order for Google to read that page and rank it higher for the keyword in question. The impact of this first major update was said to have affected up to 3.1% of all English language based search queries.
Just 1 month later in May 2012 Google released an update, which was a data-refresh that meant Penguin data was processing outside of the main search index. It was considered just a minor update as only 1.0 and 2.0 are considered to be major updates as they involved changes to the algorithm that determines search ranking. The effect of 1.1 was said to impact less than 0.1% of search queries.
Later that year in October of 2012, Google would release another minor update, which was again another data refresh on indexed searches. This time around the update would affect 0.3% of English related searches, while also affecting 0.4% of French and Spanish searches, and affecting 0.3% of Italian search queries.
In May 2013 their second major update was released. It again was focusing on those who had used black hat techniques but on a slightly more magnified level, this time honing in on internal pages of websites as opposed to just homepages. The update was said to have affected 2.3% of English based search queries.
As another minor update (in October of 2013), 2.1 was only another data update to the Penguin algorithm. Despite it just being a minor change, it was said by most webmasters that they were hit quite hard, resulting in 1% of queries being affected by it.
It took another year for there to be anymore Penguin updates, with 3.0 coming out in October of 2014; this was another update that was primarily rolled out for the purposes of a data refresh. The refresh would revalue sites with bad link profiles and relegate them to poorer positions, while rewarding sites that had cleaned up their backlinks since the last update. The affect the refresh had was said to have predominantly affected lower ranking websites, with an overall 1.0% change to English based search queries.
Previous updates have been rolled out quarterly or annually. Penguin 4.0 will still be penalising you for poor links as ever, but now it will be doing it in real-time. This means Google will be constantly rewarding sites with good link profiles and relegating those with bad ones. It is in effect, ‘always on’.
Originally scheduled for early 2016, there is no definitive date when Penguin 4.0 will be rolled out. However, no Penguin updates for over a year means it is sure to be just around the corner.