Times just got really exciting with the Penguin 4.0 update, as it is now integrated into Google's Core Algorithm. This is not going to be a Penguin update like the previous ones, where Google will announce a specific number of affected queries after a complete roll out.
This update is ongoing and it will affect rankings in real time. Therefore, there will not be a complete roll out like before. Also, this is the last Google Penguin update.
We've put together a helpful Q&A article with all you need to know about the Granular Real-Time Penguin 4.0.
Read on to find out what we discovered:
- Penguin 4.0: important changes
- How to deal with traffic changes
- How Link Detox and the LinkResearchTools can help
- General SEO questions
- Link building in the future
- Disavowing bad links after Penguin 4.0
- Spamming and Negative SEO
Download an eBook containing all the Penguin Q&As, as well as essential SEO strategies that will help you avoid a Penalty and boost your rankings in the real-time Penguin era.
Understanding the Real-Time Google Penguin eBook
Download this 75-pages eBook and learn:
- how SEO strategies changed with the Real-Time Google Penguin;
- what is link risk management and why you need to do it on a regular basis;
- why you need to clean your backlink profile and how;
- how the Real-Time Google Penguin works;
- why you should not wait for Google to re-crawl your links;
- what the granularity of the Real-Time Penguin means;
- how do you diagnose websites that have partial Penguin penalties;
- how to find and build great links that will help boost your rankings;
- and so much more...
Q: What exactly is Google Penguin 4.0 and how does it affect my current SEO?
The Penguin update isn’t something new. It happened in 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2016 we have Penguin 4.0. The goal of this update is to combat web spam and keyword stuffing used by some websites to manipulate the search results.
How it affects your SEO-strategy heavily depends on what your SEO-strategy is.
The fact that Google Penguin is now more granular means that your website could get into a partial penalty, while before that was not possible. Parts of your website, like folders or pages, even one single page could drop in rankings, while the rankings of your other pages remain stable.
You need to pay special attention to subfolders and subpages on your website. We expect to see a lot of negative SEO attacks directed to single directories now. Penguin 4.0 makes link risk management - the practice of proactive link audits and disavows - more important than ever. Doing a thorough competitor analysis for every main topic a site covers is also very important if you want to understand different risk level standards in your niche. Competitive Link Detox (CDTOX) can help you understand the risk levels in your industry and find strong links that your competitors have.
Q: What are the most important parts about the Google Penguin 4.0 update?
The two biggest changes are: the update is real-time, and Google Penguin is now more granular. Real-time means, that changes in your backlink profile will affect search engine results as your links are re-crawled. Granularity means that now single directories, pages, and keywords could be penalized or go up in rankings instead of the whole domain.
Q: Did Google confirm this update?
Yes, Google confirmed in an official statement published on the Google Webmaster Central Blog (September 23, 2016) that they rolled out the Penguin 4.0 update as part of their Core Algorithm.
Q: When do you expect Google Penguin to roll out completely?
The roll out will never be „complete”. As Google crawls the web ongoing and it will change on an ongoing basis. The question probably refers to “when will I see all the effects for my website” and that happens when all your links and all their links and all their links, etc. were crawled across the web, so I would give this a couple of weeks. Until then, we will still see fluctuations.
Q: Penguin is not on my radar. Never has been on my radar. Why should I care?
When you work in SEO and depend on organic traffic, you need to have the mindset, that you want to understand how a search engine works. That’s why you do things that help you improve your organic traffic. Google Penguin was always an on-top-filter built to fight web spam. Now it’s part of Google’s Core Algorithm and it works in real time. If your backlink profile has a high DTOXRISK, your website, a page or a directory on your website will drop in rankings.
Q: Is Penguin more aggressive/sensitive now that it’s included into the algorithm?
We think that Penguin is more sensitive. It can now filter and penalize single pages and folders. Webmasters will not be able to see huge ranking drops like it happened with the previous Penguin updates.
The Real-Time Google Penguin 4.0
Q: What does "Real-Time" mean in relation to Google's Penguin update?
Q: Google says that the new update will not have any impact until sites get recrawled. Do they mean your site or all the sites that link to yours?
Google needs to crawl all the sites linking to yours. Yes, Google refers to crawling the websites linking to yours. The more backlinks you have in your disavow file, the longer it takes until all your links get re-crawled. This also means that if you have many spammy links on some old forums, those links do not get crawled very often. We built Link Detox Boost in 2013, to speed up the crawling and solve this issue.
The "granularity" feature of Penguin 4.0
Q: What does it mean when Google Penguin now works “more granular”?
Granularity means that now single directories, pages, and keywords could be penalized or go up in rankings instead of the whole domain.
Q: Will Penguin 4.0 affect the entire website or only the page that has spam links?
Penguin is now more granular. This means that a single page or a folder can trigger a penalty. You could also get a penalty on two subfolders or your whole subdomain. Everything is possible.
This is not only about URLs, but also about keywords. Your top money-keyword that brings you the most traffic could also drop. This is also what we understand by granularity.
Other changes that came with Penguin 4.0
Q: What’s your opinion about Gary’s (Gary Illyes) statement, that now the bad links no longer hurt you, but will simply be ignored?
Some links may be ignored, but Gary also said, that we should continue using the Disavow tool.
Q: Does the Penguin 4.0 only affect Money-Keyword-Links or are Brand Keywords also important?
That depends on the standards in your niche. Money-Keywords are not automatically bad, but you need to consider the money-keyword ratio of your competitors, too.
Q: How important is Artificial Intelligence in the new Penguin update?
Google uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine learning in their RankBrain algorithm. RankBrain calculates different rules for each country, market, keyword, etc. for their search results AI was always important.
Q: If a link is disavowed by many webmasters but not by me, does Penguin start to ignore that link eventually?
Actually, the data quality of most disavow files is really poor in many industries. Google can’t use disavow files alone because they are not covering the whole world. Many webmasters don’t use disavow at all. Of course, it is helpful to find patterns and train the Artificial Intelligence, but using it that way would be just too simple.
Q: Does the fact that Penguin 4.0 is now part of Google’s Core Algorithm mean we have to focus more on On-Page-SEO?
On-Page and Off-Page SEO always went hand in hand. Content and links go together. Google said that they want webmasters to focus more on amazing and unique content. While this is true, John Mueller also confirmed that Links are really important to Google. You should care about On-Page just as much as you need to care about Off-Page.
Q: What about links from foreign websites? Do we already know if these links will be more important with Penguin 4.0?
Not really. You can check how many backlinks from foreign websites your competitors have with the Competitive Landscape Analyzer (CLA) to be on the safe side. Also, make sure that these links are from countries connected to your business. Otherwise you may be dealing with a Negative SEO attack.
Q: What about the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) effect? Isn’t it only available for sites with news and partner dash?
No, this has changed with the new update.
Q: In the future: what would you say could change with a Google “Penguin 5” update?
There will be no further Penguin Update. Google announced that this update is now part of the Core Algorithm. They will still change things in the future, but won’t announce it any longer.
Q: How do you determine if you've been hit by Penguin or Panda?
Now with the Panda and Penguin signals being in the Core Algorithm, it’s very difficult to spot the exact issue that caused the rankings drop.
For detecting a Penguin penalty, you can run a Link Detox report for the specific page or subfolder that dropped. If the DTOXRISK is high, then you need to disavow the bad links and use Link Detox Boost to make Google re-crawl everything faster.
Q: Do you have any interesting examples of drops or recoveries like in the previous updates?
Right now you can’t give examples because there are not such definite winners or losers like in the last updates. That’s exactly what Google wanted to achieve: That the changes happen as softly as possible.
Q: When will the recoveries start?
This update is not an update as it was in the past where from one day to another thousands of rankings changed. Penguin is now part of Google’s Core algorithm. That means that Google now processes links and redirects and Rel-Canonicals and content differently than they did before the official rollout.
We can already see recoveries, but also drops. Every day and every hour you can see tweets or feedback from users and experts, confirming that rankings are changing.
Finally seeing some real gains after penguin. Also some nasty drops for certain websites. #penguin4
— Tim Grice (@Tim_Grice)
Post -penguin improvements continuing in the UK this morning.
— Anthony James (@ThisIsAJames)
Just got an email from a client that has been suppressed by Penguin for years. Wow. This is beautiful. pic.twitter.com/hSVIlalDWX
— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes)
Q: Is there a feedback from the SEO market already? A poll?
According to a poll from Search Engine Roundtable, only 12% said they saw ranking improvements after Google Penguin 4.0 and 15% saw a reduced ranking. 73% did not witness any changes.
Q: Can you talk about the Google local shakeup that was in the beginning of September?
We did not look into that too much because it was all related to the existing changes in the rollout of Google Penguin. The local shakeup was probably the beginning of Penguin.
Q: I recently saw someone complaining about negative SEO against his website. After disavowing and six months later, the website went up with the exact anchor texts that were targeted by the negative SEO attack. What’s your thought about that?
The more aggressive negative SEO would target the keywords you actually want to rank for and make it look like you wanted to (over)push rankings yourself and then make you drop for it.
The fact that you went up after disavowing the spammy links is because you probably had some other links and the page was targeting those keywords.
Q: I have a client who got a huge algorithmic Penguin penalty last week. I've done quite a heavy Disavow yesterday, and he is complaining that there is no recovery today. What should I tell him?
The new Penguin 4.0 Update is now Real-Time. This means that changes in your rankings will start as soon as your backlinks are re-crawled by Google. If you have a lot of low-quality links in some old forums, it will take a lot of time for Google to re-crawl those links. Also, it takes Google about 48 hours to send your Disavow File to all of their crawlers. This is why we recommend using the Link Detox Boost 48 hours after uploading your Disavow File.
Q: How can Link Detox help with Penguin 4.0?
Our business is link analysis and understanding which parts of your backlink profile are good or bad. Link Detox is superior to any other SEO tool out there because it combines 25 link data sources.
We show you the full picture of your backlink profile by pulling data from 24 different link sources including MajesticSEO, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Facebook, Twitter and more. We then analyze this data for you and estimate the risk of your website getting a Google Penguin penalty.
Since Penguin 4.0 is now more granular, single pages or subfolder can now get penalties. For detecting a Penguin penalty, you can run a Link Detox report for the specific page or subfolder that dropped. If the DTOXRISK is high, then you need to disavow the bad links and use Link Detox Boost to make Google re-crawl everything faster.
Q: What is the advantage of Link Detox when compared to Google Search Console?
Link Detox helps you see all the links. We connect to Google Search Console and get some links out of there, but have 24 other link data sources we also get links from. We then combine all the links to analyze the backlink profile. Google does not give you all the links in Google Search Console, especially when links are on penalized pages or domains, they are not listed. Our goal is to give you the most comprehensive backlink profile to analyze the total risk.
Q: About Competitive Link Detox: What if my competitors have a high DTOXRISK, but have already disavowed the biggest part of their links?
The higher the risk that we calculate for your competitors, the higher the chance, that they disavowed already. Nowadays you have to consider, that everyone on the first result page is disavowing a lot. We asked that question ourselves for our machine learning, but don’t want to give out too much information at this point.
Q: Should I really wait 48 hours before I use Link Detox Boost?
Yes, because as far as we know, 48 hours is how long it takes for the disavow file to be sent to all the crawlers Google has.
Q: If I disavow a whole domain, will Link Detox Boost only boost the homepage?
Yes, when you disavow a domain we will only boost the starting page because we expect Google to take the whole domain out of the index afterward. If that should change with the new Penguin, we are going to revise this tool.
Q: What SEO metrics should you consider for evaluating unnatural links?
Q: Are links still important to Google?
“Links, in particular, are really important to Google because that’s how we discover the rest of your website.” - John Müller
The web is content and links. That’s what Google always said. Links are the web. The web consists of hypertexts, hypermedia, and hyperlinks.
Q: Do internal links have any value?
Yes. Internal linking is important and has value. This is why we do have keywords inside our page linking to other pages. You can manipulate the link graph and push rankings by optimizing these internal links as well. But don’t overdo it and have all internal links pointing towards one page.
Q: Is Google still looking into Follow and No Follow links for ranking?
Yes! Every link you get from Wikipedia, for example, is a No Follow but will help you big time. This means that No Follow links can not only help rankings but also hurt rankings. Just because a link is No Follow does not mean it does not count at all. The link passes trust and traffic, so why should it not count?
Q: Can too many No Follow links hurt you?
That depends on the Follow / No Follow ratio in your market. With the Competitive Landscape Analyzer (CLA), you can see what ratio is natural for your market.
Q: Any change regarding Exact Match Domains (EMD) and Keyword Density in Penguin 4.0?
Keyword stuffing was always bad and it still is. Keyword stuffing makes the text very difficult to read. A very high keyword density makes any piece of content look unnatural.
What’s very important to have in mind in regards to Google Penguin 4.0, is using money keywords anchor text in moderation when it comes to your links. That can get you into trouble.
The Exact Match Domain (EMD) filter launched by Google in 2012 to prevent poor quality sites from ranking well just because they have words that match search terms in their domain names. This update is not connected to Google Penguin or Panda. Having match search terms in a domain name will most likely not hurt the rankings of a website that has high-quality content. But it will not make it rank better either.
Q: If you are in a niche where there are a lot of affiliates, it’s very natural that you have more No Follow links than in other niches. Why is that?
Affiliates tend to be more aggressive in doing online promotion. That’s why you need to do competitive research. There is no one-size-fits-all, but a natural ratio for your niche.
Q: Is there a minimum amount of backlinks pointing to your URL or folder after which Google starts to consider them toxic or not?
No. The number of links is meaningless. Both a website with millions of backlinks and a website with hundreds of links can trigger a Google Penguin filter.
What’s important is that you always compare your backlink profile to your competitor’s backlink profiles. Every niche is different, and your backlink profile doesn’t need to stand out too much. Learn more about competitive analysis and why it’s important for your SEO work.
Q: Do I need to worry if I get backlinks from websites having high PageRank?
You don’t need to worry about PageRank at all. Since Google officially buried the toolbar in April 2016, no SEO should consider PageRank as a metric any longer. Whenever you get a new backlink, you should check the link’s DTOXRISK. You can receive notifications for new backlinks to your Domain using the Link Alerts (LA).
You should also check your backlinks for good Power*Trust. Links with a Power*Trust near zero are usually not worth keeping. Also, links with very high Power and low Trust could also harm your website.
Q: Are links in catalogs generally bad?
Yes, you should treat them with caution.
Q: Does participating in link or traffic exchange programs affect SEO?
Yes, it does affect SEO in a bad way. If you are doing this now and already dropped in traffic, you probably have a problem. We suggest running a Link Detox as soon as possible and disavowing links from this link exchange program, especially if they have a high DTOXRISK.
Q: Which link building habits that worked until now will be penalized with this update?
According to Google, link directories are a thing of the past. They probably improved on the foot printing of link directories and now do not give out penalties, but completely ignore them. That means you are no longer able to use that type of links for any kind of Negative SEO or SEO in general because these links would be ignored immediately.
Q: Which personal advice can you give now for building links?
You can use the Link Opportunities Review Tool (LORT) to quickly review and evaluate potential links before building them. Based on the proven technology of Link Detox, LORT is very easy to use.
Your benefit: you can quickly decide which links are good for your website and avoid building risky links.
Q: Which new SEO strategies do you already see for Google Penguin 4.0?
- Blur link quality: this means, for example, you could add a few good links to a directory with lots of bad links to make the overall backlink profile look better.
- The PPP “Partial Penguin Penalty”: thanks to the granularity you can now take more risks and look for regularities step by step.
- Easier negative SEO: because of the faster responses of Penguin to links and on page content, pages full of keywords can lead to penalties more quickly. We recommend the use of Link Alerts.
- Reputation management gets harder: until now you could place cheap links on a highly authoritative domain to push your rankings. If Google now looks at those links separately and devalues them, the old reputation management techniques won’t work any longer.
Q: How much stock would you place in the fact, that a link is now penalized, rather than the receiving websites rankings being penalized by a bad link?
According to Google, they will completely ignore links they consider as spam. While they may ignore some links, it’s still good to use the Disavow tool, especially if you know that you have high-risk links. Gary Illyes also confirmed that webmasters should continue using the Disavow tool. Don’t rely on the fact that Google ignores the bad links.
Q: Do we know anything new about 301, 302 and 307-redirects?
At the moment we assume, that 302-Redirects are the most stable, while the 301 lose power over time. This could be the reason, why so many migrations are performing so bad right now. When you consider the whole web, this could mean the total power of links will decrease with every redirect. We’re still testing how different types of redirects perform in different situations. Register here, to get our full SEO tests report.
Q: So do 301 redirects lose over time?
According to our recent tests, they do. We analyzed links from pages powered by ONLY a 301, 302 and 307. We measured „anchor text passing power“ of outgoing links. The Target page is on an authority domain. The results point out that you can lose rankings pretty soon if you choose to do 301 or 307 redirects. Site migrations via a 301 might “die slowly”, while the 302 redirects powered ranking is pretty consistent.
Sign up to get a complete report about our SEO tests here.
We’re still testing; it will take some more time for all the tests to be conclusive, but we will let you know when we publish updates on our research.
Q: How often do we need to disavow?
Penguin 4.0 now detects spam signals in real time. This makes Link Risk Management, the practice of proactive link audits and disavows, even more important for your business – and we always recommended to do it at least on a weekly basis. Just have in mind that Google crawls the web daily.
Q: Does it make sense to upload a new Disavow file at this point?
We always recommended disavowing at least on a weekly basis. Just have in mind that Google crawls the web daily. So at this point, it would make sense to upload a new disavow file if you haven’t already.
Q: What are your thoughts on Google getting rid of the disavow tool? With no disavow, how will webmasters combat malicious black hat linking to your site? Is this now part of the Google algorithm?
Google never said that it will get rid of the Disavow tool. Gary Illyes confirmed that they still have the tool and we should continue using it. In his statement, he only commented, that Google has “less need” for users disavowing bad links.
@BruceClayInc we haven't changed our recommendations for the disavow tool with this launch
— Gary Illyes (@methode)
We still think that using the Disavow Tool, now that Penguin is part of Google’s core Algorithm, is very important.
Q: Are disavows as effective as they were before Penguin 4.0?
Google will process the disavows just like they did in the past – when they crawl the links. From that point of view, nothing should change. The question is: will your links get crawled faster? Probably not. This is why we recommend using Link Detox Boost. We built Link Detox Boost to help you push the Google bot into re-crawling the low-quality links you have already asked Google to disavow.
Q: With disavow, how important is it to manually contact webmasters to get bad links removed?
Our recommendation was always to first disavow and then reach out to people to have those links removed. Quite often webmasters will not get back to your link removal requests, but it’s always worth a try. We’ve seen some Penguin penalty recoveries without having any links removed. But have in mind that you need to have the links removed especially when your website has a Manual Action.
Q: Should all the URLs with DTOXRISK = high be disavowed even though the websites look okay at first sight?
We always recommend reviewing all the links to see if they have any value to you and also check which SUSP rules they trigger. It is up to you if you want to disavow them or not. Also, have in mind that we take into consideration the theme of the website when calculating the DTOXRISK. If your website is about gambling, you need to specify the right theme when starting a Link Detox report. An online gambling link can have a high DTOXRISK for an e-commerce website, but it may have very low DTOXRISK for a gambling website.
Q: Will I have a drop in rankings when disavowing toxic links?
Disavowing Links can always mean a drop in rankings. On the other hand, you risk a Penguin Penalty if you choose not to disavow the high DTOXRISK toxic links. The SEO has to decide, whether to disavow links or not. We recommend using CDTOX and check, which risk level is natural for your market.
Q: When I have a site with very little links in a very “clean” market, should I be extra careful with disavows?
If your market has a very low risk, you should disavow exactly enough to have a Risk on a similarly low level.
Q: When I have a domain like domain.com/language (/en /de, etc.), where should I add the disavow file. On the main Domain or on the /en?
In Google Search Console you can add multiple domains, subdomains, and subfolder as properties. We recommend uploading the disavow file to all of them. We also recommend that you have separate properties for http and https and uploading separate disavow files for each.
Q: We have a lot of spammy links called e.g. thiruyada.xyz – what shall we do?
You should disavow the entire domain. If you continue to get spammy links from this domain, then Google will not count them in the future if you disavow the whole domain.
Q: I have a disavow file with about 110 links. What would be the best product to make Google re-crawl the links in it faster?
We recommend the Link Detox Boost, which is available starting with the Superhero-Account.
Q: I have a big disavow-file: Should I upload all at once or split it into parts?
Google only supports a single disavow file. You should start with the riskiest links and then update the disavow file on an ongoing basis.
Q: Are spammers still getting around it with private link networks?
Spammers or SEOs in general (remember that SEO is about pushing rankings and influencing Googles results? Google tends to call them Spammers, not to confuse with E-Mail spammers) have always been trying and testing with “private link networks” and will continue to do so.
The success will depend on how good those networks are setup. One popular off-label use for Link Detox from aggressive SEOs is actually to “proof” their networks and reduce the number of factors found in unnatural link networks with it.
Q: How will the real spammy sites be affected (or benefited) by the little “Pengy 4.0“?
The “real spammy” varies on a level from “not spammy in Google’s, but user’s eyes” to “very aggressive link spam”. Many SEOs will benefit from the faster responses and higher granularity, which both allow SEO tests to work better.
Q: Everybody talks about the "real time" factor of the new Penguin. But, what about the more granularity? Will toxic links be less contagious?
We assume that for massive spamming actions still whole site penalties are possible. After all, “whole domain” is also a granularity, similar to page-level or directory level. Luckily Link Detox supports all of those granularities already since 2014.
Q: As Google Penguin targets websites with a number of unnatural links, wouldn't this be a great opportunity for Negative and Black Hat SEOs?
Black Hat SEO used to be only spamming and jamming, sometimes hacking websites.
Google also refers to Black Hat SEO as building unnatural links from artificial networks or private blog networks. These are more aggressive SEO strategies that worked before 2012. If today, you would build a highly artificial link network for a subpage and this subpage would suddenly drop in rankings, you will see that you have overdone it.
When referring to the spamming and jamming towards competitors, then yes, this will just get bigger and bigger now.If you now you get a faster response on link spam, that opens a whole new set of opportunities and risks. This is why we recommend running a Link Detox report on a regular basis. In very aggressive markets, maybe even on a daily basis.
Q: If intruder site A links to my website but to a non-existent page, does this create a "Bad Backlink" in my database?
Since the site links to an error or 404 page, this will probably not affect your rankings. For all the good links to error or 404 pages, we have the Link Juice Recovery Tool. This tool finds links going to 404 pages, which you can redirect to existing pages to recover link power and trust.
Q: Have you seen a successful Negative SEO attack?
In the future, we will see many partial penalties, and we expect to see many Negative SEO attacks focused on Subpages or Subfolders. We’ve seen Negative SEO attacks in the past. Our LRT Certified Professional Ashley Turner wrote a case study about a Google Penalty and Negative SEO attack recovery. Read the full case study on our blog.