There was a lot of talk about penguins, pandas and possums last year.

These animals are talked about everywhere in the digital marketing world. We want to take some time and talk about one of these in particular: Penguin.

What is Penguin?

“Penguin” is the cute name given to one of Google’s not so cute algorithms. Penguin was designed to help clean up the search results of poor, spammy websites by reviewing backlink profiles. Many sites received penalties from Penguin, causing huge ranking losses and traffic decreases. In fact, one of our partner sites, 1Dental, received a Penguin penalty back in April 2012 when it rolled out.

Penguin has gone through a few refreshes since the day of its birth in April 2012. Webmasters have since seen Penguin 1, 2.0, 3.0 and, just recently, Penguin 4.0. We wanted to hit on a few highlights of Penguin when it first rolled out and Penguin now.

Details about Penguin Then

Unlike other algorithms (which are released slowly over several weeks or months), Penguin was released all at once and was refreshed every few months. Penalties and recoveries were all applied when the newest version of Penguin was rolled out to the public. Webmasters could wait 6 months or longer to see a recovery from a Penguin penalty. This made recovery a slow and seemingly impossible task.

Penguin used to affect a site as a whole. If you were paying for links to one certain page or a group of pages, Penguin would penalize your ENTIRE site for spammy link building.

The process to prove your site’s worthiness of recovery was extremely manual. The disavow file had to be used to submit links that were spammy if webmasters wanted Google to discount them. Webmasters also had to prove to Google that they had reached out to the site that they received the link from and requested that the link be taken down. The disavow file was important, but it was not enough to recover from a Penguin penalty.


Check out this Algorithm Cheat Sheet for more details on the old Penguin as well as a few other little algorithms like Panda and Hummingbird.

Details about Penguin Now

Google made several improvements to Penguin in 2016. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

  • Penguin is now a real-time process that is part of Google’s core algorithm. Meaning, when a site is crawled and indexed by Google nowadays, Penguin will run and penalize or boost the site accordingly.
  • Penguin 4.0 is now more granular. Thankfully, Penguin should no longer penalize your ENTIRE site for following spammy practices on a few pages. We are told it will penalize only those pages or just devalue those links. This is great news! Hopefully, webmasters will be able to use this to more quickly tell what practices they should put aside since Penguin will pinpoint the poor pages specifically.
  • Google rep, Gary Illyes, has said that Penguin no longer requires re-consideration requests. Supposedly, that manual process some of us struggled through benefits us no more. Now it is still too early to tell what Penguin truly needs to see in order to recover a site, but it is certainly an interesting prospect.
  • Penguin’s purpose to remove the impact of spammy links in search results still stands, but it does so in a different way than before. Not counting the links in the algorithm or putting less weight on links in general for certain types of sites is the new way Penguin reacts. For queries that tend to have spammy backlink profiles, Penguin may consider particular non-link signals as the most important ranking factor.


Some significant changes were made to the Penguin algorithm in 2016, and we are grateful for them. Penguin should no longer penalize entire websites for having bad links pointing back to only a few pages. Google is always working on improving their algorithm and Penguin 4.0 was a big initiative last year.

Let us know how you have been affected by Penguin. Do you have anything to add that we missed? Let’s talk about it in the comments!