For all you SEO pros out there, it’s been a long, slooow two years… For the rest of us, it’s not been too bad, but it’s here – drop everything – it’s finally here.

It’s Google’s Penguin 4.0.

The much-awaited algorithm update has at long-last arrived. At least, it should be fully live in the next few days or so, but it’s certainly been rolled out already. In the company’s typical covert fashion, Google hasn’t actually told us how long the rollout might take, but we’re predicting it should be finished pretty soon – Penguin 4.0 was released around 23rd September.

It’s already about a week old! Some SEO sleuths swear they saw the rollout a day or two earlier, but Google wouldn’t confirm nor deny that. No surprise there. This little fluffy fella is actually the fourth major release, giving this version the badass-sounding name ‘Penguin 4.0’ (starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. anyone?). This blockbuster also comes with a hint of finality, as it’s the last release of this type.

But why? Where’s the sequel? Well this time folks, Google has stated that this is are far as they’re taking Penguin, as it’s actually now a real-time signal, processed within its core search algorithm.

So what do we need to know?

If you’re not 100% sure what we’re taking about, Penguin is not a cute little fluffy guy from Google. It’s actually a type of filter, designed to capture sites that are spamming Google’s search results. It was introduced back in 2012, and has since then worked on a periodic basis.

Basically, if you ran a spammy site, you might be ok for a while – until Google ran Penguin. Then, your site would be penalised (knocked down or completely off rankings) and remain in the sin-bin until the next time Penguin ran – even if you improved or completely changed the site.

The last Penguin update, Penguin 3.0, happened on October 17, 2014. Any sites that suffered then, have had to wait until now for the chance to redeem themselves. Suitable punishment for spam or black-hat SEO? Or seriously ouch tactics from Google? You decide.

Penguin 4.0 goes real-time

Search professional or not, there are a few basics you need to know about Penguin 4.0.

Previously, where penalised sites would have to wait years to redeem themselves, marketers would experience very long delays to find out if they’d fixed their ways. According to Google, these delays are now thankfully a thing of the past, as Penguin 4.0 works in real-time.

As Google recrawls and reindexes pages — which happens constantly — pages get evaluated by Penguin. Pages will then be appropriately caught and/or freed by the filter as part of this regular process, so changes will be visible much faster.

Exactly how fast remains unclear, as typical Google have been characteristically vague about the whole thing, saying that changes will ‘take effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page.’

This basically means that we’ll see rankings fluctuate a lot more. Remember our post on sugar-rush rankings and how not to get caught up on them? Same rules apply.

What else is different?

After the rollout, marketers were climbing over themselves to call Penguin out for being ‘page-specific’ rather than site-wide. This is actually a great new feature – penalties are no longer domain-wide, and only individual spammy pages will be penalised.

Google were quick to release a post filled with ‘Googlespeak’. It called Penguin “more granular” rather than using the term ‘page-specific’. When pressed for clarification, Google said:

“It means it affects finer granularity than sites. It does not mean it only affects pages.”

Fortunately, our SEO team took a course in Googlespeak a few years back. A few of them are now fluent, and say that this statement is likely to mean that… Penguin will probably impact specific pages of a site, plus entire sections of a site, whilst other pages may remain completely unaffected.

What is ‘spammy’? Do I need to worry? Am I spammy?

Google tends to judge a site as ‘spammy’ when it’s been over-optimised for a particular key phrase. Penguin 4.0 will be targeting over-optimised sites – so if your SEO has been white-hat and full of good intentions, you’ve no need to worry.

Over-optimisiation can be interpreted as two different things. It’s either an overuse of keywords that have been unnaturally placed into – marketing agency Manchester – copy on a web page. Get it?

Or, it’s the over-optimisation of link profiles, where you have too many links from external sites pointing to the same keywords on your page. A.K.A paid back-linking strategies. A big no-no in the Penguin’s eyes.

If you’re concerned about either of these things, it’s time to call in a good, SEO-friendly copywriter, or utilise your link disavow tool before you get a punishment from Penguin.

How to stay in Penguin’s good books

Penguin is a good guy, so it’s pretty easy to stay on his right side. 4.0 will only penalise sites that aren’t doing SEO by the book – so if you’ve been doing things well and building a genuine online authority within your niche, it’ll be a pat on the back from Penguin.

If you’re thinking about taking shortcuts for short-term rankings, don’t bother. He’s real-time, so will catch you out very quickly – and you can kiss goodbye to any positive effect on your rankings.

Unlocking the power of Penguin 4.0

Over the years, SEO has become much more sophisticated. These days Google is much faster at spotting unnatural tactics, noticing errors and, after Penguin 4.0, adjusting your rankings accordingly.

To make Penguin 4.0 really work for you, you need to be updating your SEO strategy regularly, keeping a constant eye on your site, its content and backlinks. This isn’t just so you can remain compliant, but will help to ensure your site provides the most useful, valuable and enjoyable user-experience as it possibly can. And all under the watchful eye of Penguin 4.0.