How to Favorably Position Your Website for Google’s Recent Update: Penguin 4.0

Before I dive into it, let’s me first briefly explain Penguin history and the importance of this update. In April 2012, Google came out with a new ranking factor called Penguin, adding to its long list of 200+ ranking factors; and according to the SEO community, Penguin is among the top 5 most important ranking factors.

Penguin is a periodic filtering process that analyzes websites’ linking approaches (such as the number of links from, to and within the sites) to detect unnatural linking schemes which Google’s regular spamming system might not detect. Penguin updates help Google’s search engine de-rank websites with apparent link schemes and/or spammy links, while also helping to up-rank good SEO websites.

Although Penguin is still a young ranking factor recently named (since April of 2012), its DNA goes all the way back to the beginning of Google company (now changed to Alphabet). At that time, Google’s founders used links on and among websites to determine how their search engine would rank websites. It has taken two years to formulate and release Penguin 4.0 (since it was last updated as Penguin 3.0 in October 2014) and is now enabled to run in real time. That is a great effort accomplished by Google. This fact further confirms the importance of Penguin in Google’s ranking decisions.

In the past, Google took a while to release new Penguin updates, but going forward that will no longer be the case. Google now says Penguin is real-time processed within its core search algorithm. In other words, Penguin now constantly filters linking activities on and among websites as Google crawls the web. Again, since Penguin is one of the top 5 ranking factors, and now running in real time, we shall see web pages’ and websites’ rankings change more often than before.

So, what might cause this Penguin update to hurt your website’s ranking?

The Top Key Factors Google Uses To Rank Your Website
The Top Key Factors Google Uses To Rank Your Website

Penguin’s task is to filter links; and to Google, natural links are often given voluntarily to relevant, valued and unique online content. Therefore, if your website has a small number of web pages with an average quality content, but somehow has 3,000 links pointing to your website (from some type of SEO campaign), that will seem unnatural. To Penguin, that seems to be an SEO linking scheme, which in turn will be penalized by Google.

That said, you should be careful when selecting a SEO provider for your internet marketing campaign. Don’t fall for the cold-call promoters who offer $99/month SEO services to push your website into the top 10 of Google searches for unlimited keywords. That’s a scam.An authentic, capable SEO company will never offer that type of cold-call service. They are much too busy getting SEO campaigns done right and delivering positive results for their clients, who primarily come to them from Google’s organic searches, referrals and other social networking channels. Besides, the rate those promoters quoted is not a realistic rate anyway. To the people who are familiar with SEO, that type of promotion is like saying: “You paid us $99/month and you can fly with any airline, at any time, to anywhere, unlimited.”

Here’s a fact: once you sign up with an SEO scam center, if they do any SEO for your site, their shortcut, black- hat SEO tactics will most likely cause your website to be penalized by Penguin for unnatural linking schemes and/or spammy links. Then it’s going to cost you much more to hire a good SEO company to fix the damage prior to restarting a campaign that will go in the right direction.

Here is a common example of what might hurt your website besides Penguin updates, which you should be aware of. Say, your content management system (CMS) website has about 20 web pages with relevant, quality and unique content. This is good, but a number of plugins on your website were out of date and spammers were able to sneak in to your site through code loopholes. They then added spam codes as well as outgoing links to other spammy sites. Now, your website becomes a spammy website and will be blacklisted by Google. To minimize this, here are two things you should do:

First, you should find CMS website designers who specialize in the type of CMS platform your website was built on. For example, if your website was built on a WordPress platform, find a provider who specializes in WordPress and has built a fair number of WordPress websites. This specialized provider will be able to update your plugins correctly and help expand your website when needed.

Second, look for a web hosting provider who also includes plugin updates for your website in their web hosting plan. Such hosting plans may cost a little more, but that cost is much less than paying the hosting provider to clean out the spammy codes on your hacked website, and then hiring a qualified SEO company to solve the problem of your website rankings caused by Penguin penalties. Just imagine, while your website rankings are dropping, which in turn causes lost revenue, you also have to pay for all the costs previously mentioned.

That said, don’t go for cheap web hosting. Besides loading your website very slowly during high traffic hours, cheap, shared hosting is highly prone to bad hackers (there are good hackers) due to the lack of CMS website updates. These essential updates are not included in the budget package. Once you discover the necessity the hard way, you will need to pay your way out of it.

Today, without enough SEO and web hosting knowledge, most website owners are not aware of these issues and don’t know where to look for advice. All the cheap SEO and hosting services along with their cherry promises easily trick the average customers into assuming everything is covered, until they reach the rude awakening down the road.

How do I position my website favorably for Penguin updates?

Google strongly recommends us to produce content and layouts for our websites that are tailored to the viewers’ expectations. In other words, your website should present the type of unique, quality content about your business, value, products and services which your target audience is expecting to find on your site.

In addition, your on-page links and outgoing links should direct the viewers to the right web pages that contain the content visitors expect when they click on those links. Otherwise, people will exit the web page as soon as they arrive, producing a high bounce rate. Google would count that high bounce rate as a signal of irrelevant content. You don’t want this to happen to your site.

Today, a majority of people access the internet from their mobile devices. You need to make sure your website is user friendly. Without this, people will quickly exit your website from their mobile device because your site’s layout is not mobile friendly.

Here are a few additional articles that discuss ways to position your website favorably for visitors and search engines:

  1. [Infographic] Effective Business Websites: Key Features That Make a Difference
  2. How to Boost Your Chances of Being Selected by Customers Online
  3. How to Strengthen Your Brand and Website Reputation

Overall, here is how the Penguin real-time update will affect your website rankings compared to your competitors. Let’s say there are five keywords where your website is ranking well in organic searches. Those keywords help generate a fair number of customers to help increase your bottom line numbers. In the past, for your competitors to out rank you at those keywords on, they had to try a number of link-building tactics for many months until the next Penguin update was rolled out to show them whether their approach was any good. Then they had to adjust their approach accordingly and try again. This was a time-consuming, hit-or-miss process.

Now, your competitors don’t have to wait for months to see their results, but only weeks or even days to see the results of their approach before they adjust and retry, again and again. What is your anticipation then? My point here is not to scare you, but to show you how to establish a user-friendly and search-engine-friendly website to position your business successfully online. Be sure to read the three articles I mentioned above. They’ll help steer you in the right direction for better results with your online marketing efforts.

I hope you find this article (and the other three related articles) helpful. If you do, please share them with others so they can benefit as well. Thank you for your interest in this important and ever-changing topic.

Phong Nguyen

BA from St. Olaf College
MBA from University of St. Thomas
SEO from "the School of Hard Knocks."

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