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The Real Time Penguin algorithm is coming soon. Here’s what to do to prepare

By Alexandra Gavril - October 12, 2015

Update: Google has recently confirmed that a real time Penguin refresh will be rolled out before the end of the year. With this refresh, you could get a Penguin penalty very quickly but if you act fast you can also recover from it just as quickly. Owners of sites that have been affected by previous Penguin updates should follow the steps outlined below to recover.

There is rarely a dull moment in the world of search engine optimisation (SEO). Haven’t you heard? A huge Google algorithm change is on the way. And it’s an exciting one!

Back in June, Google’s Gary Illyes announced that Google was working on a continuously running Penguin update as they knew just how slowly Penguin is running. They’re now reworking the algorithm so that when it rolls out it can update by itself in real time, instead of having to manually refresh new data. And it seems the moment is getting closer. Illyes said at Search Marketing Expo East that he’s hoping they will release the real time version of the Penguin algorithm by the end of the year.

Understanding the major implications of the new Penguin update is critical to your site’s success in Google’s search engine results so today we’ll explain everything we know about the next update, how it can affect your website and rankings, and what you can do to prepare.

What is the Real Time Penguin refresh all about?

Google’s Gary Illyes has been actively discussing and answering questions about the next Penguin algorithm, which he says is going to be:

  • Updated in real time, instead of manually
  • Faster meaning sites impacted by Penguin or sites that have fixed bad links will see ranking changes immediately
  • Continuous

What does this all mean? It means that the moment Google discovers that a link is removed or disavowed, the Penguin algorithm will be able to process it in real time. There is a positive and a negative side to this: you could get a Penguin penalty very quickly but at the same time if you act fast you can also recover from the penalty just as quickly.

When will it be released? There is no exact official date for when webmasters can expect this change since it requires reworking a big part of the algorithm. However, in a Google Webmaster Central hangout on September 25th, Google’s John Mueller confirmed that the real-time Penguin update will be released soon, hopefully before the end of the year.

Here is the video:

As you can probably tell from all the buzz on the web, the real-time Penguin refresh is expected to be a major update. Not only will Google be able to run the algorithm quickly but also those impacted by Penguin won’t have to wait too long before seeing a refresh.

In other words, those who have taken measures to clean up their backlink profiles should (in theory) be able to recover more quickly than in the past.

Can a penalised site improve its rankings without an algorithm refresh?

Definitely! Back in 2014, Google’s John Mueller said that while a Penguin refresh is required for an affected site to recover, it is possible for webmasters to improve their site rankings without a Penguin update.

With Google using over 200 factors in crawling, indexing and ranking, Mueller said that if webmasters do their best to clean up site issues and focus on having a high-quality site rather than on individual factors of individual algorithms they may see changes even before that algorithm or its data is refreshed. That’s also all the more reason for webmasters to welcome this next update with open arms.

The history of Penguin

Google launched the Penguin update in April 2012. The purpose of this algorithm is to uncover spammy backlink profiles and punish sites that are violating Google’s quality guidelines by lowering their rankings in its search engine results.

Overall, what Google is trying to do is to catch and penalise websites that are trying to rank higher in its search results through:

  • Keyword stuffing meaning loading a webpage with the same words or phrases so much that is sounds unnatural
  • Low quality backlinks, often generated using automated software
  • A large numbers of links optimised using the exact same anchor text
  • Excessive link exchange
  • Forum comments with links added in the signature
  • And various other link schemes.

Penguin focuses on the link-related aspects of this list.

Here’s a timeline of the previous Penguin updates:

  • Penguin 1.0 – April 24 2012 (affected 3.1% of searches)
  • Penguin 1.2 – May 26 2012 (affected 0.1% of searches)
  • Penguin 1.3 – October 5, 2012 (affected 0.3% of searches)
  • Penguin 2.0 – May 22, 2013 (affected 2.3% of searches)
  • Penguin 2.1  – October 4, 2013 (affected 1% of searches)
  • Penguin 3 – October 17, 2014 (affected 1% of searches)
  • Real-time Penguin update – By the end of 2015?

What can you do to clean up your link profile for future updates?

Since the Penguin refreshes will be continuous and in real-time, you should never stop working on removing bad links. So, here are a few things you can do to prevent your site from getting penalised by a future Penguin update:

  • Do a thorough link clean-up and remove all unnatural links pointing to your site. When it comes to Penguin, bad links are usually the cause of the penalty so make sure you remove as many bad links as you possibly can and then disavow the rest. Here’s a good article with steps to find and remove unnatural links.
  • Make sure your disavow file is correct. Find out more about disavowing backlinks.
  • Assess the remaining “good” links. Do you still have enough valuable links for your site to rank well or do you need to build some more links? Don’t shy away from link building campaigns, just make sure that this time you build links on high-quality, relevant, authority sites.
  • Other common sense actions to ensure that you have a healthy website. Read this excellent article from Moz with some great advice on how to ensure your site is healthy and how to handle life after an algorithm update, whether it’s Penguin, Panda or any other Google update.
  • Don’t treat an algorithmic penalty as a manual penalty. Keep in mind that there may be other factors that might be preventing your site from ranking well, which may not be linked to an algorithmic penalty like Penguin or Panda. Check out this useful article with the complete list of reasons that may be causing your traffic to drop.

But if you do get hit, what are the signs?

Since this is an algorithmic penalty, if your site has been hit by Penguin, Google will never notify you which means that you will need to check your site’s traffic, among other things including:

  • You’re no longer ranking well for that one keyword you should always rank well for – your brand name. When this happens, it’s a clear sign you’ve been hit.
  • Your site is dropping from page one to page two or three in Google’s search results although you’ve made no changes whatsoever.
  • Your site has been removed from Google’s cached search results overnight.
  • You get no results when you run a site search (eg: site:yourdomain.co.uk keyword).
  • Google Analytics (or any other analytics tool you’re using) is showing a significant drop in organic traffic a few days after a big Google update.

Check out our YouTube video on how to tell if you’ve been penalised by Google:

So, what we recommend is that you monitor your organic traffic closely for at least two weeks after a Penguin update. If your traffic dramatically drops during this time, it’s likely due to the update. Also make sure you keep an eye on Google Webmaster Tools notifications to see if you have any manual penalties applied to your website.

If you do discover your site has been penalised, stop what you’re doing and go fix whatever it is that has caused your site to get hit.

What can you do to recover?

If you’ve been penalised by a previous Google update, we’ve got you covered with an in-depth guide on why your site may have been hit and what you can do to recover. This guide walks you through 11 things that might have caused your site to get penalised as well as specific steps to follow to help you recover after you’ve been hit.

Penalised by Google?

Check out our comprehensive guide on reasons why you got penalised and ways to recover. Make sure you bookmark it and use it in the event your site gets hit by a future Google penalty.

Meanwhile, keep in mind that there are over 200 factors that influence rankings for a site. It’s not enough to focus on one algorithm and fix those specific issues but instead look at the bigger picture. Search engines reward sites that provide searchers with the most informative, interesting and relevant content for their search queries and with the best user experience.

So while it’s ok to prioritise site optimisation and quickly fix certain issues that may arise, it’s even more important to put your users first and provide them with the best information and website experience they can ask for.

Your turn now

Are you looking forward to this next Penguin update? Do you think it will have a positive impact on your website?