Is Google Rolling Out Penguin 4?

The weekend (Jan 8 – Jan 10th 2016) saw an unexpectedly high spike in the volatility in the Search Engine Result Pages on Google, with SERP monitoring website Algoroo reported volatility at ‘3.74 Roos’ on its in-house scale. The sharp spike in SERP’s positions has had SEO experts posing the question, “Is Google rolling out Penguin 4?”

The sharp jump in activity makes the effects of the change bigger than Penguin 3, with the only update having a greater impact on search results being the Pay Day Loan update in May 2014.


What is the Major Google Update?

It appears that the new update (which started to roll out on 8th January) has touched on a wider range of parameters than in some of the past penguin updates. Whilst there is no official word from the Big G, the update is likely to be the expected Penguin 4. Alternatively, it may be that (rather unusually) multiple updates rolled out at the same time or in close proximity to an update of Penguin 3.

With no official word and a huge amount of data to process, the jury is still out on what the update actually is. There is still a high level of fluctuation in the SERPS according to Algoroo. Whilst the rate of change has reduced from the peak, the site is still showing a value of 2.24 roos for today (11th Jan). A few factors have also appeared that suggest that there are further changes due to roll out shortly.


Following the Clues on the Google SERP’s Fluctuations

One clue to this future activity is the presence of anchor text manipulation and link networks in the search results (see below) suggesting that at the very least, a bout of clean up activity is on the way to remove some of the black hat activity that has sneaked its way back in to the SERP’s.

Whilst the introduction of rogue links and black hat link building activity into the SERP’s seems similar to the effects of previous Penguin updates, there have been a number of other changes that have occurred alongside this update that is causing speculation in the SEO community about the true meaning of the changes.

A number of users have reported seeing other issues:

• Snippets

Whilst we at DOM Marketing (here in the UK) have not seen this effect ourselves (yet), some people are reportedly seeing longer snippets that do not appear to be based on Meta Description data.

This issue has certainly been mostly occurring for people in the USA, but it is not yet clear if this is a real rollout of a system to provide more information in the snippet or a test. However, it does give an idea as to how Google may use this information in the future, so it is probably worth making sure that your sites contain something worth reading in the top few lines of the copy.

• International Roll Out

One thing we are sure of, even at this early stage, is that the update has been carried out globally (although, it still appears to still be rolling out in some markets.

• Localisation

In some markets, websites are now showing up twice, once with the standard listing, and again with one that appears to be geared to the local area. Clearly, for the end user there is no real benefit in seeing both results, so we can assume that this is part of a change and that this effect will eventually fade. However, SEO’s would be wise to avoid running ranking reports over the next few days.


The Return of Black Hat Links to SERP’s

Whilst it is frustrating for those of us who play by the rules to see the rise of sites with large numbers of black hat links (and in some cases the appearance of the links themselves), it is likely to be a temporary part of the rollout of this update.

At least we know that Google has catalogued these unnatural patterns, which likely means that they will shortly be removed. However, in the meantime, a number of sites are profiting from their black hat backlink profile. Major winners seem to be sites linked to the online pharmacy industry and to migration and immigration visas, whilst some high performing sites, such as the Guardian Newspaper appear to have taken a knock.

SERP Watch UK Winner and Losers for 11th January 2016

serpwatch Mobile
serpwatch Mobile


SEO Consensus and Advice on Google SERPS Changes

The general consensus among SEO’s at this time is that it might be better to sit back and wait before making any major changes to sites or trying to capitalise on, what could be, a very short-term opportunity.

Whilst the scale of the change has already been large, it seems unlikely that any search engine will leave results littered with spam for a long period, so more change must surely be on its way, imminently. This is particularly true for Google, which has been pressing SEO experts for better content for many years. Once things have settled, however, it may well be worth evaluating the changes that have taken place in your rankings.


Despite all this activity, the Google Webmaster Central blog has yet to make any comment on the supposed update. DOM Marketing will be keeping their eyes peeled for an official announcement.