Google’s newest search algorithm update is here. Earlier this year, the world’s largest search engine released the newest iteration in its long tradition of cutely named but impactful updates. And, as has been the tradition with these types of changes, Google Penguin 4.0 affects your small business SEO efforts in a variety of ways.

What is Penguin?

You might have heard about the black hat tactic of buying links to enhance your search profile. As the thinking behind this strategy goes, if Google’ considers a large number of backlinks to enhance a website’s credibility, why not buy these backlinks to shoot up the rankings?

Penguin’s first iteration, in 2012, was specifically designed to squash this unethical tactic. It punished marketers seeking to take advantage of an algorithm that was in reality designed to ensure that the most relevant (and credible) websites would occupy the highest rankings.

The result was both immediate and impactful. A first sweep of the new update impacted 3.1% of English language search queries. Since then, a number of updates have refined the code with less impactful, but cumulative results in the same direction. Which brings us to this year’s news.

The Real-Time 4.0 Update

Penguin 4.0 has been anticipated for a while in the SEO community. The last update to the algorithm had dropped in 2014, so it was due for an update. That finally came this September, and brought with it significant changes.

Above all, Penguin is now real-time. Previously, the algorithm had been separated from Google’s core search algorithm, and was refreshed only periodically in order to find new websites that tried to game the system.

That is no longer the case. The new update means that sketchy links will now have an immediate impact on your website’s rankings. Google no longer waits for a refresh of the Penguin code to evaluate the link profiles of websites, but does so each time a crawler hits the site.

The Granular Benefits of Penguin 4.0

In addition to being rolled into Google’s search algorithm, Penguin 4.0 also has taken on a more granular nature. Search Engine Watch notes that “Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site.”

In other words, rankings penalties will only apply to the individual page to which spammy links point, not your entire domain. This more focused approach should make it easier to both stomach and clean up links that have the potential to depress your rankings.

How Penguin 4.0 Will Affect Your Small Business SEO

The real-time nature of Penguin could mean one of two things depending on your current link profile:

  1. As Rand Fishkin explains at Moz, sketchy links now have an immediate, negative impact on your SEO. Instead of having the time to clean up your link profile before a refresh, the ranking penalty can occur much more quickly.
  2. At the same time, you can now lift present and past punishments more easily. Once you remove sketchy links, your ranking improves as soon as Google crawls your page, and you don’t have to wait until the next Penguin refresh to see your penalties lifted.

Both potential outcome mean one thing above all: be mindful of your link profile. Sketchy links now have immediate, negative consequences for your SEO efforts. At the same time, cleaning up those links can result in positive consequences with the potential to be just as successful.

Google also noted in its release that it will no longer comment on future releases. Given the integration into its core algorithm, that makes sense. We may have seen the last of Penguin, but its impact will be felt for years to come. For more information on building a high-quality network of inbound links that will help, not hurt the website of your small or medium-sized business in the age of Penguin 4.0, contact us.

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