Penguin 4.0 has finished rolling out, after four years. The algorithm was introduced by Google in April 2012 to deal with link quality. Gary Illyes, who works on ranking and various SEO policies and processes at Google, confirmed that the real-time spam algorithm has completely rolled out, in a Twitter tweet to Jennifer Slegg, founder of SEM Post. Penguin 3 demotions have been removed, so if sites did not recover from demotions based on prior versions the links are probably all bad, she tweeted.
Google has several link algorithms, Illyes confirmed, but Penguin 4 catches spam in real-time. As soon as Google crawls and indexes the page, the algorithm devalues the page with the spam, which will surely negatively impact voice-search query results that might serve up on Home or local search queries on mobile devices.
Previously, Google's algorithm devalued complete sites in batches monthly. This version -- the final version, per Google -- considers each page in real time. The previous version ignored the link rather than demoted it. The previous version devalued the entire site, but with this release the algorithm devalues the page in real-time, so marketers do not wait for refreshes of the crawl.
Tom Montague, client partner at Oban Digital, believes that brands can avoid being affected by telling their story through well-written and useful content and building genuine editorial links to that content -- but Peter Meyers, resident marketing Scientist at Moz, thinks it's a bit more involved, especially for those who have not recovered.
"In the past couple of weeks, we've seen many reports of recoveries from previous Penguin demotions," Meyers wrote.
But what if the site didn't recover from Penguin?
"It's quite possible that your past Penguin demotion was lifted, but your links were so heavily devalued that you saw no ranking recovery," Meyers wrote. "There was simply no link equity left to provide SEO benefit."
In this case, he writes, pruning those bad links won't help. The site needs to build new quality signals and authoritative links.
The good news, he writes, is that the algorithm processes the pages in real-time, so marketers should not need to wait months to see a positive impact of new links.
"The bad news is that building high-quality links is a long, difficult road," he explains. "If it were easy, you probably wouldn't have taken shortcuts in the first place."
Meyers also notes that marketers should think of Penguin as a "free pass on all past link-building sins" and there are still manual actions that should show up in Google Search Console, but Google will act on these bad links manually where needed.
"It's also possible that you have a very different algorithmic problem in play or any of a number of technical SEO issues," he wrote. "That diagnostic is well beyond the scope of this blog post, but I'll offer this advice — dig deeper. If you haven't recovered from Penguin, maybe you've got different or bigger problems."