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Meghan Burton, Director of SEO

The author

Meghan Burton

Director of SEO

At the end of September, Google announced that Penguin 4.0 had released. This new update rolled Penguin into the wider algorithm, so that webmasters will no longer wait years for their sites to recover.

Instead, link value will be adjusted based on spam signals in real time, so as new links get crawled, they may or may not count towards your site’s performance.

This means that essentially; a problem with Penguin will be signalled by consistent downturns in visibility over time, rather than a ‘hit’ when an algorithm update is rolled out.

What about recoveries?

Recoveries began rolling out a few weeks after Penguin was released; prior to this, there was very little movement. Once they began, though, it was immediately clear which sites had recovered and which had not; we’ve seen huge uplifts in visibility for sites that had been held back by Penguin.

Interestingly, many of the recoveries we’ve seen have been for sites where we’d already started to see small movement, as a lot of positive activity took place over the previous two years.

Below are the Searchmetrics graphs for a couple of clients where this has happened:

In both cases, we’ve seen very slight increases leading to the big recovery of Penguin 4.0. We were making an impact, but not nearly the impact we could have made without Penguin.

From what we’ve seen, the recoveries seem to have simply lifted an artificially imposed cap on performance; the sites where we’ve had the best increases have been ones where we’ve managed to improve everything on the site, not just earned better and more links.

Undoubtedly, the links have played a part, but as it’s been so long since the last Penguin (two years is a long time!) much has happened.

As shown in the two examples above, visibility has continued to improve post-Penguin. In fact, of all of our clients that have seen recoveries from Penguin 4.0, none of their visibility improvements have been lost.

What if you haven’t recovered?

If you haven’t seen a recovery yet, chances are that you aren’t going to. Recoveries finished rolling out a few weeks ago and the jumps across multiple client sites haven’t been seen since.

If you haven’t seen recoveries, it’s likely that others in your sector have and may now be ranking ahead of you.

All hope is not lost, though. With the removal of Penguin caps on performance, an increased investment in organic search and earning solid quality backlinks will more reliably pay off.

It may be time to put in place some of the architecture and content fixes you’ve been thinking about for some time, too.

We still may have other algorithm updates to contend with, but providing you are not violating any of Google’s webmaster guidelines, you shouldn’t have any barriers to performance. While competitors may have jumped ahead of you now, the playing field has levelled.

What’s next?

Whilst Penguin is now real time, you should still maintain your link profile as you were previously. Disavowing is the only way to ensure that a negative link doesn’t count against you, and can ensure that you understand and manage your entire link profile more accurately, as you’ll be able to better understand which links do and do not count.

As mentioned earlier, a Penguin problem will now be better signalled by a long-term dip in visibility as continued efforts in the direction of spammy backlinks consistently stop counting against you. Improving your backlink profile by earning higher quality, natural links will result in consistent uplifts instead, and is still very much worth doing.