Google revealed today that it has rolled out Penguin 4.0, the first confirmed Penguin update in nearly two years.
Google’s announcement of the long-awaited release confirms what many in the SEO industry have long suspected (and hoped for). Penguin is now running in real-time. Additionally, Penguin is running at a more “granular” level, meaning it is looking at individual pages, rather than holding a single url’s link spam against a whole site.
The current MozCast forecast, which helps measure day-to-day changes in Google’s algorithm, is 82 degrees and raining. The MozCast average is 70 degrees and sunny; the more fluctuation Moz sees in search results, the higher the temperature and stormier the weather.
For reference, on April 22, 2015, the day after Google’s feared Mobilegeddon update, the temperature registered at 79.8 degrees. However, on September 11, it was a scorching 111 degrees, due to an unnamed local shake-up. So, we are seeing some movement, but not any of epic proportions.
A part of the core
Uncovering which signals Google uses to rank web pages and determine website quality has always taken some guesswork. Google claims that it incorporates over 200 ranking factors into its algorithm. Some are relatively well-known, like inbound link quality and mobile-friendliness, while others are more technically obscure, like use of schema markup or HTTPS.
Some of these ranking factors are a part of Google’s core algorithm. But what exactly does that mean? In its usual fashion, Google itself has some trouble explaining how a ranking factor becomes core. The best explanation seems to be that once a piece of the algorithm becomes so well-tested and has been used so long that engineers just know it works and that it is not going anywhere, it becomes a part of the core algorithm. It can basically run on its own. RankBrain is part of the core algorithm, as is Panda and now Penguin.
According to senior search quality strategist Andrey Lipattsev (video link), the question is, “Do we still think this is an experimental thing, it is running for a while and we aren’t sure how long it will last? Or is it like PageRank, it is part of it, it will always be there, at least in the foreseeable future and then probably call it in certain context part of the core algorithm.”
Unsurprisingly, Penguin isn’t going anywhere.
Running in real-time
This aspect of the update is likely where firms will see the largest impact, and it is the change many website owners have been eagerly anticipating. Before this roll-out, Penguin ran periodically. Under this framework, if your firm’s website had suffered a Penguin-related penalty, you would have to wait until Penguin refreshed to see any relief. You may have immediately investigated the problem and removed or disavowed spammy links. However, if Penguin did not run again for several weeks, you would have to wait to recover from the penalty.
Now, Penguin’s data is refreshed as events occur. As soon as you make a change and Google reindexes the page, you should see the positive effects of your efforts. Web pages that have been hit with a Penguin penalty should recover more quickly, as Google takes efforts to improve the page into consideration shortly after they are made.
According to Google this new page-by-page analysis makes Penguin more granular. That is, Google will adjust page ranking according to spam signals; the spam will not affect the entire website.
Imagine, for example, that long-ago someone suggested you purchase links. That page of spammy links had been forgotten, but its existence was still counting against your whole site’s quality. Now, Google claims that it will adjust that page’s ranking (down) individually without docking the whole site.
What law firms can do
As is the case with most updates, major or not, the most important thing to do is not panic. It generally takes days to weeks (sometimes months) for the full effect of a change to be realized, and any initial movement in search results may not be permanent.
Additionally, these changes should be good news for websites that have been following the rules. They should also be good news for firms that may have had a few spammy pages on their sites, which have been updated. Recovery from link-related mistakes, past or present, should be expedited.
Continue to focus on producing quality content that answers questions your potential clients are asking. Build links strategically, with an eye to website authority and content relevance. Try, as always, to offer something of value to your visitors.