Remember that potential Penguin refresh that we wrote about last week? Webmasters and SEO professionals had spotted changes they pegged as the long-expected update, but Google denied that the observations reflected anything more than daily variations.
Turns out that claim was misleading at best, because just a few days later Google announced that yes indeed, the latest version of Penguin was in play. In their blog post, Google admitted, “After a period of development and testing, we are now rolling out an update to the Penguin algorithm in all languages.”
The clear shift shown by tracking tools and observed in site search ranks did represent modifications to Penguin after all. Experts had picked up on the differences during the testing process, which clearly was conducted across many English-language sites. The update isn’t fully live everywhere yet, and it’s likely that the filter is still being calibrated. You can probably expect Penguin 4.0 to be in place and stable within the next couple weeks, however, unless your site is indexed quite infrequently.
Though some SEO profs are annoyed by the minor deception, the update itself brings good news to lots of site owners who had been penalized for what seemed like far too long, with no chance of reprieve. Penguin 4.0 is equipped with two major features that should significantly reduce the possibility of long-term penalization that persists after errors are corrected.
- Data is refreshed in real time. Each time a Google web crawler indexes a page, the rank factors assessed by Penguin will be recalculated. This is a big deal, since in previous versions of the algorithm you only got one chance. Any negatives persisted until the algorithm itself was refreshed, which in this case was almost two years! Sites that took a big hit because Google considered them spammy remained low on the list, tagged with the internet equivalent of a scarlet “S” until the next Penguin update even after the offending links or language were removed.
- A more granular formula limits negative rankings. In the past, when a page was tagged for spammish tendencies the entire site was affected. Unintended or unseen backlinks that Google didn’t approve of could make your accounting firm’s whole site into a virtual pariah in terms of search rank. Google says, “Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.” That doesn’t necessarily mean only the page in question will suffer though. Search Engine Land contacted Google about this point and learned, “It means it affects finer granularity than sites. It does not mean it only affects pages.” Still, it’s a welcome improvement.
There’s one more key element to the latest refresh. Penguin 4.0 is baked into the core ranking algorithm. From here on out Google won’t be announcing updates – it’ll just be a slight shift in the giant eye that distinguishes between the digital sheep and goats. Any rank changes will be part of an ongoing reassessment process.
If you’re one of the many who watches SEO updates and agonized about the long wait for the new Penguin, take a deep breath. It’s here, it’s more granular and it’s the last one you have to wait for, since 4.0 functions in real time. Now go have some fun!