prepare for google’s penguin 4.0 update this march

Lee Halliday | 1/02/16

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Though there has been no official mention or comment in over a year concerning the newest Penguin algorithm refresh, it is no secret that Google’s Penguin 4.0 algorithm update will happen soon. In this regard, Google may have cleverly hinted that the refresh will occur in March 2016 in its early December 2015 announcement: “With the holidays upon us, it looks like the penguins won’t march until next year.”

Regardless of the actual timing, many webmasters are ecstatic of the changes that will, hopefully, make their work easier. However, an equal number of online businesses, especially those that use unnatural or old links within their content, may suffer serious consequences and possibly go bankrupt or lose their businesses altogether, if history is any indicator of what can be expected. Still, there will be a large pool of businesses that remain unmoved or less than delighted with the update.

The effect of the Penguin algorithm

The last confirmed Penguin update was on October 14, 2014 though the algorithm was first released in 2012 as a way to combat web-spam that often flooded search engines, directly affecting on-page rankings.

Before Penguin, search engines were filled with spam links. Webmasters were manipulating the systems by paying for specific links and over-stuffing keywords. Even after these bad links were devalued, webmasters would simply replace them and automatically recover their rankings.

But Penguin was introduced to correct all these. Bad links became toxic, often requiring a link check followed by the disavow or removal of spammy links, essentially stopping spammers and re-establishing accurate page rankings. But even after correcting the bad links, a refresh was still required before any signs of recovery could be detected.

A real-time Penguin refresh that does not require the long period of time between updates would a real game changer.

What to expect with Penguin 4.0

1. Semantic search

With topical relevance replacing PageRank, the new algorithm is likely to transform the value of links by making semantic-related or editorial links more valuable. The concept of semantic search tries to understand the relationship between things as opposed to blindly depending on strings of data, like anchor text or meta tags.  

Semantic search was first integrated in May 2012 with Knowledge Graph, and then Hummingbird in September 2013, followed by RankBrain in October 2014. Machine learning is claimed to be among the top 3 ranking factors, yet no one seemed to know about it until the 2014 refresh.

2. The end of Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Before the introduction of Penguin, websites with unnatural links were punished via manual penalties. The Penguin algorithm then started punishing sites that were manipulating anchor text. In December, many webmasters claimed that they were being penalised for boosting rankings using their own PBNs. If this is true, very many innocent clients relying on PBNs will be adversely affected.

3. The Google Disavow Tool

Google currently has an abundance of data regarding spammy links, owing to the 2012 crowd sourcing program initiated at Pubcon and currently known as the Google disavow tool. Though some good links are rejected on a daily basis, the vast majority are spam or outliers.

How to prepare for the Penguin 4.0

The advice is simple: use only white hat and ethical SEO techniques to boost your website rankings.

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