Penguin 4.0 Update: Here’s What You Need To Know (FAQ-Style)

Penguin 4.0 Update: Here’s What You Need To Know (FAQ-Style)

Last Updated on March 1, 2017 by Alex Miller

Google Penguin 4 Update
Unless you’ve been on an epic bender since last Friday, you’ve probably already heard that Google released a long-awaited update to their Penguin algorithm. (Look how proud this Penguin is!)


Should you still use the disavow tool? 

This has been a popular question since the launch of Penguin 4.0

Here are our thoughts:

  • If you have a lot of low quality links pointing to your site (i.e. hundreds or more) then it makes sense – to us – that you would disavow those links.The reason for this is Google have said that with Penguin 4.0, even though they will ignore links that they don’t want to count, sites can still receive a manual penalty if they have a lot of link spam.

    Of course, we don’t know the definition of “a lot of link spam” but if your backlink profile contains hundreds/thousands of low quality links, we suggest disavowing them.

    If you’re in that situation, don’t take the risk of getting a manual penalty? Instead, show Google that you are recognizing the spam and that you don’t want those toxic links counted.

    This could avoid a manual penalty which is not something you want to go through.

Those are our thoughts on the disavow tool at this moment in time! Use the tool if you find a lot of low quality backlinks!


This article re-confirms what I said below in my Sept 28th update. This is a big deal.

“However, while those spammy links do not count, they also don’t give your site an extra demotion on top of not counting. They simply are devalued, they don’t count for good or for bad.” – Gary Illyes, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst


There has been a MASSIVE update from Google about the new Penguin 4 – please read every word of this!

Google have stated, via Gary Illyes, the following info about Penguin 4:

Penguin 4 Update - Devalue vs Demote Links
This is an eye-opening conversation between Gary Illyes (from Google) and Barry Schwartz from SELand. Source:

Bottom Line:

Google is telling us that unless your site is being aggressively spammed, that low quality backlinks will simply be ignored!

They’ll just ignore them.

SEO’s have waited for this day for a VERY long time. This is incredible news.

This tells us several things:

1. Google is evidently VERY confident of their ability to detect high quality and low quality links.


Well if they weren’t, they absolutely would not release an update like this because they know by doing so, SEO’s will become a lot more aggressive in their link building “overnight”.

SEO’s will throw a lot more at a site just to see if it will boost. Because – as long as they aren’t super aggressive, there seems to be very low risks here.

This of course could expose big holes in their algorithm, unless they were very confident of their new technology.

This is most likely why they moved away from this model for so many years.

And – it’s likely why it took TWO years for them to update Penguin and bake it into their algorithm. They had to be sure.

2. It tells us that without question we can be a lot more confident with our link promotions now.

This is a HUGE update – hard to put into words, really.

It’s time to relax your belt and ramp up your content marketing and link building efforts.

But – I’m not for one second suggesting you fire up Scrapebox and order links from – I’m talking about doing more of the same high quality link building to maximize results.

This means we can up the ante with 2-4x’ing our efforts.

Here’s What We Suggest To Boost Results (& Combat Any Issues):

1. Keep rotating anchor texts, keep your links varied, stick to the same linking techniques – this isn’t pre-2012 SEO guys.

This also isn’t an excuse to drop the quality bar, it’s instead the perfect way to do more of the same.

You can ramp up your link building efforts.

Again – your link building should still (and always) be high quality, but you should now be doing a lot more of it. If you don’t, it’s guaranteed your competitors will.

Why wouldn’t they?

We predict that this change will ramp up link building budgets across the board because the “fear” will (largely) be swept away. SEO’s will get more aggressive.

Aggressive doesn’t mean shady. It simply means “more of what you’ve already been doing”.

2. Disavow links IF you see lots of them coming in.

If you’re constantly seeing large volumes of backlinks that make your lip curl or you look at your existing backlink profile and see a ton of crap – do yourself a big favor and disavow it…it’ll avoid any sort of penalty against “spam” which is what Gary mentioned above in the image.

3. If you see declines in rankings…

It’s very likely that Google has “ignored” some of your existing backlinks. Remember Penguin updates will constantly roll out (and tweaks to what they think is a “good” or a “bad” link) and so – if you see declines in rankings then they have downgraded some of your backlinks most likely. (on-site issues aside).

What you’ll want to do is replace that lost link equity instead of spending all your time trying to find out which links might have caused the issue etc. Get your link juice back – and build on top of it.

Overall, this is quite possibly the best news in SEO for many, many years. The primary reason is that it should completely relax you when it comes to link promotions.

You don’t have to be so obsessed and concerned over every single link that is built – there’s a lot more flexibility now! I mean – Google just told us that 🙂

More on this coming soon folks…exciting times!

-Alex Miller

Tuesday Sept 27th 2016 (Original Post)

Here’s everything you need to know about Google’s recent Penguin 4.0 update; we’ve decided to do this in an “FAQ-Style”

Q: What does “Penguin” do exactly?
Penguin focuses on the links that point to your site. Most importantly, Google is concerned with the quality (or value) of the links pointing to your site. The more high quality links you have, the better you’ll rank (all else being equal).

While “good” links can help boost your link equity, links Google identify as unnatural or spammy will ultimately penalize your website (via Penguin) if you have too many of them…and I’m not talking about a manual penalty, either. Even though you won’t have any messages in Search Console/GWT, these low-quality, spammy links will still deteriorate, or hold back, your rankings. It won’t always be obvious, but ultimately your rankings will suffer to some degree.

Bottom Line: Immediately disavow or remove any low-quality backlinks you have pointing to your site. Moving forward, you’ll want to stay on top of things as best as possible.

Q: What is the single biggest change with the most recent Penguin 4.0 update?
The Penguin algorithm is now a part of Google’s core algorithm. In the past, the Penguin penalty updated on a certain date determined by Google. The last such update was in December of 2014, meaning any site that was penalized on that date had to wait until just recently to recover from any penalty they suffered from. That’s a long time to wait, so it’s great new that now, just like Panda, Google’s Penguin update is going to be updated in real time, meaning both penalties and recoveries can be almost instant.

Basically, the next time Google crawls your site (and backlinks), the penalty can be lifted.

Q: Google has been saying that for a while now. Were there any other major changes?
Penguin is now more granular. In the past, Penguin, like Panda, affected the entire site equally. Moving forward, that’s not going to be the case. While Google has not been very clear on their definition of what “more granular” is, their official blog post stated that:

“Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting the ranking of the whole site.”

While open to interpretation, the SEO community thus far has taken that to mean the penalty won’t be applied across the entirety of the site equally, but instead, would be applied on a case-by-case basis (individual pages, types of pages, categories of pages, etc.) should they find them to be spammy. Therefore, a drop in rankings for a specific term or group of terms could now indicate the need for a thorough Penguin analysis of that specific page as opposed to the site overall.

Q: Are there any kinds of sites that are going to be hit the hardest?
Anyone using short-term, quick win SEO tactics to rank their money sites (PBNs, grey hat links, aggressive link), as well as “churn and burn” strategies is going to feel the squeeze the most thanks to these most recent changes to Google’s Penguin algorithm.

Since Google will now react in almost real-time to the accumulation of low-quality, unnatural and spam links, anything other than a true, long-term view of link building and SEO is going to ultimately crash and burn faster than in the past, leaving the ROI margins on these tactics razor-thin.

Q: Has the update already started? How long is it going to take to rollout?
While Google did state the most recent Penguin update has already started to be rolled out, there won’t be a timeframe for this update since it won’t ever be done rolling out. Unlike previous Penguin updates, this most recent Penguin 4.0 update is a real-time one, meaning the signals being incorporated into it are constantly being updated.

As Google crawls and re-crawls, indexes and reindexes pages and links, Penguin will find new pages to score and make the necessary adjustments to react accordingly.

Q: In the past, I could figure out which penalty hit me because my traffic would drop with each update. Is that still the case?
No. As we said, Penguin is now real-time just like Panda. As Google adapts and updates Penguin according to what’s happening in real-time, the pages affected by it can either improve or decline depending on which side of the “adjustment” they sit on.

For example, Google might becoming wise to webmasters who are using a particular type of link or source of link in order to gain an SEO advantage. While this link or type of link might not have been on their radar in the past, as Penguin learns and adapts (through AI), these kinds of links could be added to the list of links Penguin finds to be unnatural or spammy and any site or page with these kinds of links could be downgraded as a result.

Q: What’s the single biggest takeaway from the most recent Penguin 4.0 update?
Since you’re going to feel the negative effects far faster than before, it’s important you stay on top of things so there aren’t any surprises.

Most of our Infinity accounts have their clients setup to run our Backlink Cleanup service at least 2-3 times per year and now, thanks to these recent changes, they’ll likely want to stay on top of things even more. We have clients who are checking links on a monthly basis to catch “bad” links fast before they cause issues – smart!

In terms of best practices, backlink monitoring and cleanup should be done on a constant basis. That’s true now more than ever before thanks to these recent changes.

If you’re not already a tool like to analyze your link profile so you can build your own disavow file – or aren’t ordering our Backlink Cleanup service where we do all the work for you – you’re going to run the risk of being surprised by a Penguin slap.

While it’s not going to take as long as it would in the past to recovery from a Penguin penalty, you’re better off being proactive instead of reactive and our Backlink Cleanup service is the best hands-free way for you to do that.

Let our team figure out which links are the good ones, which ones are the bad ones, and give you the disavow file you can upload so Google knows exactly which links you want them to ignore!

Overall we LOVE the fact that it’s real-time because it means that if your site slides into a penalty, upon the next deep crawl of your site & backlinks…you can recover! It’ll also clean up even more sites out there that don’t deserve to rank well.

Finally – what are your thoughts on this new Penguin update?

Talk soon,

-Alex Miller

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  • Great article and this update will hit the black hat SEO guys big and I am glad that this is taking place. I work hard for my clients and provide a value to SEO services, happy to see this taking place to help us real SEO experts get jobs and long term clients.

    • @Brian – I’m personally not concerned about it because as long as you are regularly monitoring and disavowing incoming low quality links, your site won’t be affected. Now if you’re not monitoring your links, then problems will likely arise…yes. As time goes on, we’ll see how “fast” this new algo is too…and whether it truly is as live as Google are claiming.

  • I Have some links from citations that is not a spammy links , but they are from sites with low autorithy..this can be a problem? Until today I NEVER use disavow tool if I dont have any drop in my rankings, even if I found some weird links, if not down my rank, I dont use disavow tool, but looks like now I have to change this behavior?

    • @Vitor – if you’re concerned about multiple links being low quality, I’d really recommend a disavow (especially if you’ve never done one). Disavowing ANY low quality links will only have positive effects on your site – and it’ll avoid you getting penalized which is never a good time.

  • Hi Alex Miller,

    Thank you for your detail information about the updates, could you tell us more how to defined the link are consider “SPAM”?
    I have many types of the link such as: social profile, forum profile, share doc, blog comment, guest blog….

    Could you show some sample spam link?

    • @Novage – I don’t think the blog is a great place for me to showcase examples of spammy links, it’ll be incomplete and raise a lot of questions. Spammy links are on domains that fall into many categories. For example – links from sites / pages that are not even indexed in Google (a very bad sign, and this occurs often); links from domains that have absolutely zero rankings in Google despite having lots of backlinks; links from domains that are clearly content farms and aren’t looked after; links from domains that link OUT to very low quality sites, including adult sites; links from dead forums that never get crawled (or hardly ever)…this applies to sites as well (crawling is a big deal). And much more. There’s a very long list and if you’re even slightly concerned about your profile you really need to run a disavow…now more than ever!

  • Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the insightful article.

    Are you suggesting that PBN links will no longer work? Even if I publish quality articles that add value to people and have a link that’s connected to my money sites naturally?


    • @Edmund – not saying that PBN’s can’t work, but most are run appallingly with no thought behind the setup and no effort on maintenance. Small, controlled PBN’s can still be very effective if they’re run well.

  • Hi Alex,

    Just curious what your thoughts are on this in regards to boosting guest posts with products like Posirank’s High PR Squared.

    If it is true that Google is becoming more sensitive and responsive to spammy links, especially at the page level, could this not weaken boosted guest post pages and consequently, our link from these guest posts?

    I don’t think anyone would argue that High PR Squared links would qualify as spammy given that there is an explicit warning not to point them directly at your site. And the fact that you guys only allow a couple anchor text variations doesn’t help… for the larger package, you’re essentially getting a bunch of spun posts, with exactly two links in each one all pointing at the same page using the same 2-4 anchor texts.

    Do you see this potentially having any negative effect? And given that the High PR Squared product seemingly hasn’t changed since I think before Penguin was even a thing, do you guys have any plans to update that product to maybe minimize any potential footprints and negative effects?

    Great article and thanks for the update!


    • @Simon – all great points. As these links are simply boosting authority pages / best backlinks, they’re never going to cause an issue for your money site. From our data pool, we’ve never seen an issue. Ever. And you’re totally correct, the product needs a refresh and we’ve been planning this for the past month or so. Some changes will be coming! It’s still an effective product for sure, just track the metrics (PA) of pages you boost pre & post High PR2…you really can increase the strength by 50-200%+. Stay tuned for updates! Also, see the update to this blog post above which should ease any concerns too 🙂

  • Thanks for the clear breakdown. I think this is actually going to make life easier for SEO Agencies. Quality links, straight to quality sites is always the smartest way to use links to build a business.

    What effect do you think this will have on link signals from social media sites?

    • @David – Great question and honestly, I’m not sure at this stage what impact (if any) it will have on link signals from social media sites. That’s something we’ll be closely monitoring and will report when we know. Thanks David

  • So links from Fiverr should be questionable then? We were going to get into providing SEO services but haven’t found any services that we can outsource with big enough profit margins.

    Someone sent us information about a company called WL several months ago but haven’t contacted them yet.

    Thanks for the great article.

    Jason S

    • @Jason – I’d personally never build links from a Fiverr gig to my money site, I’d steer very clear of them! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

  • @ Jason S, re: SEO profit margins.

    The key is to sell results that benchmark to the client’s ROI. Don’t sell SEO as a commoditized service unless you want to compete with platforms / suppliers.

    Disclosure: I’m PosiRank’s Marketing Director.

  • I’m not buying the whole we just devalue bad links, I have a few pages on several sites where med comp keywords fell 10+ pages from page1, if they only devalued certain links they would had only fell a page or two. Heck the keywords ranked page 5-6 earlier this year with ZERO back links so why page 10+ now. Since there’s only a handfull of links to those pages I’m going to remove all the links and see if ranking goes up. It’s odd though as I have other pages on the same sites that are heavily seo’d that didn’t budge or even went up so it’d definitely done on a page level.

Rob Andrews

Since 2007 Rob Andrews has worked in the SEO and Content Marketing fields and is an established writer and trusted provider of thought-leadership for hundreds of SEO, advertising and marketing agencies worldwide. Read More

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