How to Master SEO with Penguin 4.0, Google's New Real Time Algorithm Update

Managing Director
Opace Ltd
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There’s great news for small businesses or anybody who works in (ethical) SEO.  Many businesses around the world have been awaiting for the release of Google Penguin 4.0. As we reported in our blog post here, Penguin is now part of the core Google algorithm and is therefore applied in real-time. So, this will be the last “announced” Google Penguin update ever and in the future Penguin updates will be “business as usual” to Google and applied on a day-to-day basis.

So is this good news for everyone?

Well, the reality is many sites will rise and many sites will fall in ranking. The Google update appeared to hit us a little later here in the UK, with many of the sites that we monitor here at Opace only showing a notable change just prior to last weekend, around Thursday 6th October.

What we can say is that having now carried out many post Penguin 4.0 checks, sites that were penalised and have cleaned up their backlinks, as well as those that weren't penalised, are seeing a huge increase in rankings and overall Google visibility. In some cases we're seeing an increase of 30% in in overall rankings across and

Throughout this article we'll be looking at the factors which will determine the winners and losers from this Google algorithm update.

Anatomy of winners and losers post Penguin 4.0

The list below shows the “anatomy” of winning and losing websites post Penguin 4.0:


  • Winning sites will obtain backlinks relevant to their genre, with relevant content and relevant anchor text
  • Losing sites will post anywhere and not concern themselves with the relevance of the site, the content, anchor text and where the link is to

Anchor text diversity:

  • Winning sites will have diverse and natural anchor text, not heavily keyword optimised and will be entirely organic
  • Losing sites will have Anchor text that is too often similar and heavily keyword optimised. Looking through backlink portfolios anchor text will appear unnatural

Backlink removals / disavowments:

  • Winning sites will manually review their backlinks for quality, probably on a regular basis and request removal of any bad links from the sites in question. Where needed they will disavow poor quality links
  • Losing sites will not have a “grip” of their backlinks and will have neither asked for the removal or disavowment of bad links

Approach to backlinks:

  • Winning sites will adopt a “less is more” approach and seek to obtain links on only the best sites and in natural ways
  • Losing sites will adopt a “scattergun” approach and therefore obtain a backlink profile of variable quality (which will still include some good links)

Traffic levels:

  • Winners will experience ranking rises and traffic level increases
  • Losers will experience drops in rankings and traffic levels will fall

When looking at each heading it’s easy to see that the winners operate in an entirely polar opposite way to the losers, as you would expect!

Is Google Penguin a Penalty or an algorithm?

Of course Google Penguin is an algorithm and it’s a myth that it’s a penalty. The reality is that by taking the right actions website owners can stay on the right side of the Google Penguin algorithm and be a winner. It’s all about running well-planned, natural marketing campaigns and being relevant. Winners will include anchor text is diverse and ensure that toxic links are either removed or disavowed. Owners also need to ensure that only links to quality sites are obtained.

Our analysis here at Opace has shown that there are as many sites which are winners as there are losers following Google Penguin. After all for every site which falls there is likely to be a site which rises. Where a website falls in the rankings (and therefore traffic), it’s not a case of being “hit with a Google Penguin penalty”. Instead it’s about not complying with Google guidelines, especially those relating to backlinks and the requirements of the Penguin algorithm.

The Google Penguin algorithm, history and ethics

Google Penguin or the “over optimisation algorithm” (as Google initially called it) was created to help Google target sites which were not following their webmaster quality guidelines, in particular the guidelines section relating to “participating in link schemes”.

Google Penguin V1.0 was rolled out on April 24th, 2012 and caused devastation to the ranking of website's homepages, removing their overnight ranking positions and the traffic that came along with them. This was compounded further with V2.0 which took Penguin site-wide on May 22nd, 2013. Subsequent Penguin releases have continued to impact the traffic and ranking of those sites which continue to disregard Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.

Google Penguin controversies

Since Google Penguin was first introduced the algorithm has been surrounded by various controversies, some of which we will discuss in this section:

a) Lack of notice

Controversy has reigned since V1.0 of Penguin with many complaining that notice of the algorithm changes should have been given in advance before the algorithm was applied. Google would argue that the guidelines have been around for some time and that this was notice enough of what websites needed to do!

Everybody wants to be #1 on Google, don’t take shortcuts to achieve this

Everybody wants to be #1 on Google, don’t take shortcuts to achieve this

b) Unfair to punish sites – it’s an agency issue

Many site owners have argued “it’s unfair” to punish their website as it was rogue practices by SEO Agencies that had caused the issue and not direct action taken themselves. Whilst this seems unjust, ultimately the accountability for the actions of a website has to rest with the owner! The SEO Agencies were punished in the sense they deservedly lost business as the impact of Penguin was felt by clients.

c) Time taken to process disavow requests

Another controversy was the (perceived) complexity of disavowment requests and the time that Google took to take corrective action. Many SEO experts have said that the purpose of disavowment files was to help Google in their quest to identify rogue websites. This is almost certainly true, after all if websites are constantly reported in disavow files they must be bad – right? The time to process disavowment requests and link requests has been largely disappointing; especially the time take between V3.0 and V4.0 of 23 months. Most experts feel the gap between V3.0 and V4.0 was to make Penguin real time from now on, which is a major step forward and well worth the wait!

d) Negative SEO

There has been a lot of controversy around negative SEO, which has been proven to be a problem with Google Penguin. This is the tactic of damaging competitor’s rankings by flooding them with toxic links, often thousands at a time. Whilst Google has recognised some of these toxic link attacks, testing by SEO experts has revealed that many attacks are successful to the perpetrators. Whilst this negative approach is totally immoral and regrettable, website owners need to accept that it’s a cost of website ownership to defend themselves from negative SEO attacks. It’s the “clicks and mortar” equivalent of investing in intruder alarms or CCTV as examples.

The bottom line of managing Google Penguin

The bottom line with Google Penguin is that, first the algorithm needs to be understood by organisations. Secondly the algorithm needs to actioned upon. This is an ongoing task rather than occasional in nature. Google were right to target websites which were paying for links, these websites often added little value, could be temporary in nature and created an entirely separate economy for link farms and in many cases rogue websites.

Recent changes to a more balanced SEO strategy where the focus is on the creation of deep, rich content within an owner’s website, has to be good. This in itself creates link-worthy content which will usually create a high proportion of natural high quality backlinks.

Be an overcomer – recovery from a Google Penguin penalty

Having a positive approach is important to recovery for websites which have experienced negative changes due to the Google Penguin algorithm.

Become a Google Penguin algorithm overcomer

Become a Google Penguin algorithm overcomer

How to master SEO and overcome a Google Penguin (backlinks) penalty post 4.0?

In this section we discuss various principles to adopt and overcome Google algorithm and Penguin penalty issues:

a) Familiarity with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines

Prevention is better than a cure where SEO is concerned. It’s important for all website owners and people in an organisation associated with the website understand and practice to the Google webmaster quality guidelines. It’s possible to prevent future negative SEO changes just through having awareness; infact appreciation of these standards and adhering to them will see rankings rise. Most website owners will not knowingly practice self-harm on their websites.  The guidelines are not only applicable to Penguin, but other algorithms too – Panda and Hummingbird, etc.

b) Subscribe to backlink tools

To analyse your backlinks you will need a minimum of one (and especially for larger sites) preferably two or more backlinks tools. Five popular tools to use in addition to Google Search Console are: AH RefsMajesticOpen Site ExplorerSEMrush and SEO Spyglass. These backlinks tools will provide the most complete picture of a website’s backlinks and then decisions can be taken as to which links need to be removed or disavowed.

c) Analyse backlink portfolio

An important task in Penguin algorithm recovery and general backlink good health is to analyse the backlink portfolio on a continual basis. It is recommended that review is monthly with new backlinks added being monitored and tested through pre-defined criteria as to whether the link should be accepted or removed/disavowed.

d) Remove or disavow backlinks

It maybe that professional advice is needed to determine link selection criteria and also to perform the task on a monthly basis, but where poor quality backlinks are identified it’s always advisable to try and get them permanently removed in the first instance. If this doesn’t work, then Google’s disavow tool can be used.

e) Ongoing, not occasional

The spirit of managing the Google Penguin algorithm (and all the other algorithms and webmaster quality guidelines) is to treat them as ongoing tasks and not just occasional. It’s recommended that these are managed as a monthly tasks so that adverse changes can be corrected ASAP.

f) Talk to SEO experts

If in any doubt at all, the best advice is to contact SEO experts with demonstrable experience in SEO, especially those who have experience in dealing with backlink analysis and can provide client case studies of customers who have recovered from adverse Google Penguin algorithm effects (penalties).

Here at Opace, we have a proven track record in Google penalty recovery and agencies such as ourselves will be able to advise you on the all-important task of which backlinks should be removed, how and why. We hope you’ve enjoyed this 'How to Master SEO with Penguin 4.0' guide. In closing it’s worth mentioning the importance of being ethical, purposeful and committed with a sound approach and strategy to SEO, do this and you’ll have a competitive edge to drive your website’s traffic and rankings higher.


Image Credits: Indu Gupta and Matt Hamilton


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