Last Friday Google confirmed the fourth major update of its Penguin algorithm, “Penguin 4.0”. The news comes nearly two years after the previous update, Penguin 3.0, which on release in late October 2014 affected around 1% of UK/US search results.

Alongside the update Google has announced that Penguin is now part of its core algorithm, effectively meaning that Penguin 4.0 is the last update webmasters will see.

What is Penguin?

First launched in April 2012, Penguin is designed to stop websites seen to be using “spammy” techniques from appearing in Google’s search results. The algorithm looks to identify and penalise sites using “bad links”, which have been bought or acquired in an attempt to boost ranking positions.

Sites caught out by Penguin typically see a sharp drop in ranking positions, with recovery only a possibility after a number of steps have been taken to remove links seen as toxic.

Even after these steps have been taken, a site might not see recovery until the next refresh of the Penguin algorithm. As Penguin has traditionally been refreshed manually, many site owners have faced a long wait for improvements to be seen.

However, with Penguin 4.0 come two important changes.

Penguin 4.0 runs in real time

As part of the core algorithm, Google has said that Penguin will now run on a real time basis, in contrast to the manual refreshes typical of previous updates. This means that if a site is affected by the algorithm, and efforts are made to rectify any issues, then recovery of rankings should take place fairly quickly; basically, as soon as a site is re-crawled and re-indexed.

As Penguin is effectively now running constantly, Google’s Gary Illyes has stated that the company is “not going to comment on future refreshes”. Although not the end of Penguin, this marks the end of the algorithm as most webmasters have come to know it.

Penguin 4.0 is granular

Previously, the Penguin algorithm affected sites in a blanket way; even if only one page had one “bad link”, the whole site could be penalised.

Now, Google has said that Penguin “devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site”. Rather than a whole site being negatively affected, Penguin will now look to penalise on a page by page, or folder by folder basis. This means that whilst some pages, sections, or folders may receive penalties, others will not be affected.

Google has yet to confirm whether the Penguin 4.0 has been fully rolled out, with many predicting that the full update is likely to take place over a few weeks. Although webmasters could pre-empt any negative effects by performing a link detox, it’s positive for webmasters to know that any sites penalised will no longer face a long and frustrating road to recovery.