Google Reveals How Penguin 4.0 Works

October 14, 2016 Rachel Ann Custodio

Penguin 4.0 Comes With More News

Penguin 4.0 Update

All graphics by Rachel Ann Custodio


It’s been three weeks since Google released its Penguin 4.0 update. During this time, Google has revealed some interesting information about its web spam update.

Penguin rollout now complete

First off, Gary Illyes confirmed that Penguin is completely rolled out as of Wednesday, October 12. Webmasters who have been waiting for recoveries from any of the previous Penguin refreshes should be seeing an impact on their rankings by now. Those who have yet to see an impact may need to continue cleaning up their backlink profiles.

RELATED: Penguin 4.0 is Here

Penguin looks at link source rather than target URL

Illyes also explained how Penguin looks at the source of a link rather than the link itself. Penguin goes beyond anchor text and URL, and reviews the entire page from where the link is derived. In an interview with Barry Schwartz, Illyes said backlinks from empty profile pages or forum profile pages might be considered a Penguin link.

Links are labeled internally

Speaking of Penguin links, Google revealed that they label links internally. If you’ve been doing SEO for a while, you know certain links hold more PageRank than other links. For example, footer links don’t pass on as much credit than contextual links. However, we never had Google confirm that they categorize links as such until now.

Footer links are links found in the footer, or bottom, of the page. Since they’re part of the design template, footer links are present on every page of the website. Contextual links are links placed within a sentence via relevant anchor text. Unlike links in the footer or template, contextual links only live in the places they’re mentioned.

Contextual Link vs. Footer Link

An example of a contextual link and footer link.


Aside from “footer” links, Google also attributes “Penguin real-time” and “disavow” to links that are impacted by Penguin or are found in the disavow file, respectively. Links in the disavow file are backlinks that you want Google to ignore because they’re spammy Penguin links. Google has a Disavow Link Tool where you can upload a list of links you don’t want Google to count toward your website’s PageRank.

The use of labels helps Google’s manual actions team decide if they should send a webmaster a manual actions penalty.

“If the manual actions team is reviewing a site for whatever reason, and they see that most of links are labeled as Penguin real-time affected, then they might decide to take a much deeper look on the site and see what’s up with those links and what could be the reason those links exist,” Illyes says. “And then maybe apply a manual action on the site because of the links.”

Penguin devalues rather than demotes

Penguin links will be devalued rather than target pages being demoted in the SERPs. Previous Penguin versions would demote, or rank lower, an entire website if link schemes were detected. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore. This leads me to the next tidbit Google shared with us.

Google doesn’t use machine learning in Penguin

Google doesn’t use machine learning (ML) in its Penguin algorithm. Almost exactly a year ago, Google deployed RankBrain—its machine-learning artificial intelligence system. RankBrain is part of Google’s core algorithm and is one of the top three ranking factors. Given that Penguin is now part of Google’s core algo as well, it would make sense for Google to use some machine learning to filter out web spam. However, we’re not there yet.

Despite the non-use of ML, Google has confirmed (twice!) that it’s prepared to combat link manipulation. There has been much chatter about reverting back to old link building techniques that had proven to work in the day, but are now spammy. Some SEOs have been wondering how they can manipulate Penguin now that the chances of their websites being dropped from the SERPs are much smaller.

It hasn’t even been a full month since Penguin 4.0 went real-time and there’s already so much transparency from Google about how the algorithm works. With the recoveries set in place, rendering a somewhat clean slate for everyone, it’ll be interesting to watch Penguin 4.0 in action.



Rachel Ann Custodio

Rachel Ann Custodio is a freelance SEO Strategist and UX Designer based in Los Angeles. Contact me.

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