What Is the Penguin Algorithm Update?

The Penguin Algorithm Update is an update to the original 2012 webspam algorithm update that Google coined “Penguin.”

No one knows why it’s called Penguin, but it’s likely related in some way to the person who created the code.

The most recent Google update to Penguin—also known as Penguin 4.0 or real-time Penguin—was confirmed on September 23, 2016.

Penguin 1.0

Before discussing the new update for Google’s Penguin, let’s jump in our time machine and go way back to the year 2012 to near pre: Penguin times.

Then the head of webspam Matt Cutts announced the original data refresh and coined it “Penguin” on Twitter:


What Is the Penguin Update?

That was the tweet that began it all. And of course, webmasters scrambled to find out exactly what this new Google algorithm update was.

Penguin—also known as the webspam algorithm update—was an update to Google’s algorithm that punished sites who used black-hat link building strategies.

Before Penguin, website owners could use a ton of spammy links to build their rankings and no one was the wiser. Except, of course, their visitors. Penguin was the first of Google’s search updates designed to end this deceptive practice and penalize low-quality websites.

Link Webspam Example

When Google first announced Penguin, it provided the following example of the kind of unnatural link building the algorithm change would be targeting:

The search giant seemed to acknowledge that this is an overly simplistic example. They went on to say that not all sites targeted by Penguin will be “easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise.”

The Evolution of a Penguin

Since Penguin was first implemented back in 2012, it has undergone several updates and refreshes.

Our buddy Matt Cutts kept us all up to date over the years with his tweets about Penguin. This included tremors:

And quakes:

The most earth-shattering of these were rolled out in September of 2016.

In this most recent Google update to Penguin, it became part of the search engine’s core algorithm rather than simply an extraneous filter. Google wrote a blog post explaining the changes:

Major Penguin Update: Penguin 4.0

Along with the integration of Penguin into the core algorithm, Google also made some tweaks to Penguin in 2016. This final iteration of Penguin is also known as Penguin 4.0.

The biggest updates for this new version according to two Google are two-fold: It’s now real-time, and it’s more granular. Let’s look at what each of these things means for Penguin.

Penguin in Real-Time

The most obvious change to Penguin with this new update for Google is that it now functions in real time.

Whereas before it refreshed at a turtle-like pace, it’s now faster than a rabbit. But it’s still a Penguin (well, for the most part.) Bear with us. 😉

The fact that Penguin is now real-time is a double-edged sword for webmasters. If you’re using bad links, this means you’ll be penalized right away.

Ouch. However, the real-time nature of Penguin 4.0 also means that this penalty will be lifted in fairly short order after the bad links have been removed.

A More Granular Penguin

When Google released Penguin 4.0, the search engine announced that it had made the original version of Penguin more “granular.”

As with a lot of things that Google says, this description could have you scratching your head thinking “What does that mean exactly?”

Basically, a more granular Penguin means that the entire site won’t necessarily be affected if spammy links are found on a single page of the website.

With the original Penguin, webmasters who used black-hat linking practices were hit by a site-wide penalty. With Penguin 4.0, this isn’t always the case.

Typical of Google, the search engine has left themselves a little wiggle room here, though.

When asked point-blank about whether a Penguin 4.0 penalty would affect an entire site, Google’s trends analyst Gary Illyes said the update to Penguin means that “it affects finer granularity than sites. It does not mean it only affects pages.” Thanks a lot, Gary.

How to Avoid a Penguin Update Penalty

Webmasters are known to have a flair for the drama. No offense, but you tend to overreact to every little blip on the radar when it comes to Google algorithms and updates.

Don’t Panic

Penguin is more than just a blip, but there’s still no reason to panic. This is especially true if you prefer white hats over black when it comes to your SEO garb. As long as you’re putting your visitors first and whistling the tune to the “content is king” song while you work on your website, then relax—you’re good.

Don’t Be a Jerk

Image From: http://miftyisbored.com

Despite the fact that Penguin is now faster and rougher, you can still avoid it easily by doing or in this case, not doing one simple thing: just don’t be a jerk.

In other words, don’t use deceptive SEO practices to try to manipulate search engines.

This is not new advice. It’s just more relevant now because Google is getting smarter at detecting webspam like unnatural links. Your visitors never liked this practice anyway, by the way. It’s always been a jerk move. Now, it’s just a riskier jerk move.

How to Recover from a Penguin Penalty


If you’ve been a jerk but you’re now realizing the error of your ways, there’s hope for you too.

Because of the 2016 update to Penguin making it a real-time function of Google’s core algorithm, you can recover from Penguin in fairly short order. All you need to do is remove the offending links from your site.

The (Useless?) Disavow Tool

Google has recognized that there may be rare circumstances in which a webmaster may need to formally disavow a link. So they’ve created a handy tool to accomplish this task.

The folks at Google went out of their way to let you know that you probably won’t have to use this super helpful disavow tool, though:

So, there’s that.

According to the search giant, there will be no more formal announcements about refreshes to Penguin. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be other actions taken to target webspam.

Check for Google updates and more SEO news on the regular to stay clear of any other algorithm changes that may affect your rankings.