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Penguin 4.0 – Google’s new web spam algorithm

05.10.2016 - by Ric Rodriguez


Woman using laptop

For a little over a week, all eyes have been on the release of Penguin 4.0, the most recent version of Google’s web spam algorithm.

For some, it was time to breathe a sigh of relief as their websites returned to prominence in search engine results after losing visibility following previous updates. For others, the change has yet to have any apparent impact, but it has certainly prompted questions.

Version 4.0 did not follow the typical pattern of a Penguin release. While it’s likely that the frequent ranking fluctuations marketers have seen over the past six months are related to the algorithm, since its launch the results pages seem to have remained fairly stable. In fact, the results of the release seem to be significantly less dramatic than any previous iteration of the algorithm.

Of course, major changes in the future can’t be completely ruled out– remember, Penguin is still rolling out – but if things continue as they currently are, it seems unlikely this will be the case.

So, what has changed with Penguin 4.0?

According to Google, the algorithm is now both ‘real time’, ‘more granular’ and ‘devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site’.

There has already been a huge amount of discussion around how to interpret this information. Below is a summary of the ideas that have proven most popular so far, with a few of our own ideas on how the changes will impact the search landscape moving forward.

  • The MO of the algorithm has fundamentally changed. It no longer demotes sites for having poor quality links; rather, it simply devalues those links to prevent them having a positive impact on visibility. This means rather than ranking down websites to counteract the positive ranking effect any spam links may have had; Google now just ignores the links it considers to be spam at the calculation stage.
  • Results are now applied at a page level and where previously whole sites had been demoted due to ‘Penguin-related infringements’, in the future, unless every page contained the same links, the algorithm will act differently for each one.
  • The results run in real time meaning that any devalued domains can quickly recover, should they take steps to fix the issues. In terms of timescales, Google has said it is most likely that the new algorithm will take effect as and when websites are next crawled.
  • Google is working to restore previously demoted domains and as such, expect to see new competitors enter the search results. Google have said this is likely to finish rolling out over the next month, so if you have been waiting for a refresh, now is the time to start checking Search Console and your go-to rank tracker. 
  • Manual penalties still exist and for webmasters that continue to attempt to game the algorithm, the manual review team will continue to take action.

The big question on this point is whether legacy links that businesses may have been working to remove or disavow should still be a focus for them. Will the new algorithm discount those links naturally, and the manual review team only focus on websites that are accruing new spam links? Or should businesses continue to clean up legacy links to ensure they can avoid penalties?

This is something that will become apparent over time. In the meantime, Three Whiskey’s approach continues to be grounded in creating great content for users that earns links naturally, while managing the backlink profile to ensure it stays clean and free from negative SEO attempts.


Penguin is now designed to level the playing field in a way that does not unfairly penalise websites that have been following the rules, but may, for reasons outside of their control have issues with their backlink profile.

Where devaluation does occur, Google has made the task of recovery far easier than it has ever been. Now more than ever, digital marketers must work in a way that is sustainable, providing value to their target audiences rather than focusing purely on search engines.

Find out how we can help you stand out in organic search – get in touch at

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