How Penguin 4.0 affected our clients

November 17, 2016

Google ,



A little over 6 weeks ago, Google finally announced that they had updated Penguin to its newest form – Penguin 4.0.

While the last update to Penguin, all the way back in 2014, only affected less than 1% of UK/US queries, this new iteration of Penguin has rolled out across every language. Penguin has moved from a filter applied to specific areas to become a core part of the algorithm and works in real-time.

But what exactly does that mean?

Part of the core algorithm

One of the key takeaways from Google’s announcement seemed to be that Panda was now part of the core algorithm, whatever that meant.

So SEOs spent a good few days deliberating over what being part of the core algorithm actually meant. But then we got clarification from Gary Illyes, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst.

I think this is really the worst takeaway of the past few days, but imagine an engine of a car. It used to be that there was no starter ([engine]), the driver had to go in front of the car and use some tool to start the engine. Today we have starters in any petrol engine, it’s integrated. It became more convenient, but essentially nothing changed.

The last sentence there is the key part of the message. So really, being part of the core algorithm just means it’s convenient, and not much else really so we should all just forget about it.

Penguin 4.0 works in real-time

Another key point in Google’s announcement was that Penguin 4.0 works in real-time. This is very beneficial to SEOs, as prior to this, Penguin could have a very drastic impact on domains that took a long time to recover from.

Prior to this real-time update, if your site had ‘toxic’ backlinks, you had to go through all the usual methods of disavowing/removing those links. But then you also had to wait for a Penguin refresh before your site showed any real signs of recovery, which could take a long time.

However, now that Penguin 4.0 works in real-time, there’s no longer any need to wait for a refresh before your site can start to show signs of improvement. Penguin data refreshes in real-time, so any changes are made as soon as the affected site is recrawled and reindexed.

Anything else?

Well, Penguin is also now a lot more granular in its detail. Instead of now affecting a whole site, it delivers any penalties – if any – to a specific page, rather than the whole domain.

What effects have we seen?

This is all well and good, but what actual effects are there from this update?

One of the most interesting findings from this update is just how many queries Penguin 4.0 will affect, especially compared to past Penguin filters. At Harvest, we have clients of all different sizes working across many different verticals, but what is consistent among them is that the more niche the product offerings – the larger the impact that Penguin 4.0 has had on their performance.

Some of our clients have large outside influences, including seasonality and offline activity, so we’re estimating their traffic purely based on rankings, rather than their actual traffic.

Financial clients

Finance is an incredibly competitive vertical which is dominated by the continued use of affiliates and aggregators. We saw large changes in performance across our finance clients.

The biggest changes came to our clients who had very specific finance niches. We saw a consistent uplift of 115% in one client, which is an incredible uplift of traffic to get from an algorithm change.

Specialist insurance client increases 88%

specialist insurance client penguin 4 update

Specialist loan client increases 115%

specialist loan client penguin 4 increase


Amongst our retail clients, we saw a consistent increase of between 30-50% traffic. Again, this was particularly prominent amongst our clients who had very niche products.

It is worth noting that e-comm sites that apply filters as part of their set up saw a big increase in long-tail keywords. However, retailers that offer a flat content brochureware website have seen stronger increases in headline terms.

Specialist retailer with brochureware website increases 50%

specialist retailer penguin 4 increase

A specialist retailer with integrated eCommerce platform and filter set up increases 30%

specialist retailer with ecommerce platform penguin 4 uplift


B2B as a digital vertical is very different to other sectors, as it typically does not rely on rankings and instead has a heavy focus on content marketing. This explains why we did not see much uplift across our B2B clients

B2B business increases by 3% 

b2b business penguin 4 uplift


Along with Finance, Travel is one of the most competitive verticals in modern SERPs – so as an agency, we were very interested in the impact here.

What was immediately obvious to us was the fact that, like in many other areas, well-established sites and businesses have benefitted from this update. Short term affiliate companies also appear to have lost their rankings. We’ve also noticed that key destinations that were once difficult to gain rankings in the past have started to rank again in strong positions.

Traditional Ferry Company increases by 69%

ferry company penguin 4 increase

Holiday Rental Company increases 189% 

 holiday rental company penguin 4 increase

In Summary

It’s rare to be thankful for an algorithm update – but we’ve found that this one has been largely positive across our clients.

However, we can start to see how this update could potentially be exploited – especially in fast-moving verticals like ticket sales. But generally, we think that long-term businesses who invest in digital assets and haven’t cut corners will continue to benefit from Penguin 4.0.

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