Google is always on the lookout for sites that use spammy, unnatural and low quality backlinks to boost rankings, and it regularly evolves its core algorithm to keep on top of those spammers. Any changes to this aspect of their algorithm are called Penguin updates.
In October 2012, Google launched the disavow tool, which gave webmasters the ability to filter low quality links. For webmasters who used shady linking practices in the past, the tool offered a way to identify the bad link to the search engine and to swear to Google that such strategies would not be repeated.
What’s New for Penguin?
On September 23, 2016, Google rolled out Penguin 4.0, and critics are already saying it’s one of the smoothest launches. Gary Illyes announced the update, declaring that Penguin’s data will now be refreshed in real time.
Real Time: In the past when Penguin penalized a site for spamming, that site’s webmaster would take all necessary steps to improve and rectify reported issues. But Penguin was slow to acknowledge that site’s improvements and changes. With the Penguin 4.0 update, Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page.
Illyes also declared that this update will make the algorithm more precise and granular. Penguin is getting smarter and is no longer working in one foul swoop — it now devalues spam by adjusting rankings based on spam signals, rather than penalizing the rankings of the whole site.
In a discussion with Barry Schwartz, Gary Illyes confirmed that Google will devalue the bad links rather than demoting the rank of the entire site.
Demote Vs Devalue
Demote: This would mean demoting an entire site based on bad links. In the pre-Penguin 4.0 scenario, if Google discovered that a site was using shady links to rank, they just penalized or de-indexed (in extreme cases) the site altogether.
Devalue: Google will now just make sure that the shady links won’t boost or affect a site’s rankings. The site as a whole isn’t demoted — they just ensure that the bad links are devalued. This ensures that only content that deserves to rank ranks.
And now for the Question & Answer portion of this post:
How will Google automatically classify and devalue the spam links?
The answer is: it’s not new for them. There are many signals that Google can understand including relevancy, frequency of links built, percentage of exact match anchor texts, quality and trust of link root domains etc.
I’d like to think this as automated disavow process, it was really a nightmare for all webmasters to audit and document each backlink.
Does this mean there won’t be any penalty for sites that have spam links?
You seriously think Google will just be devaluing links instead of penalizing you for all the bad/spam links you build? Gary Illyes has confirmed that if a systematic approach to build such links is caught by the manual actions team, then a harsher action against the site will be taken.
Does this mean an algorithmic penalty for spam links is removed?
I am not an official Google spokesperson to have a say on this. But this is one tricky question and nobody has discussed this yet. I’d personally like to think it’s been removed, but it will come to light in due course.
Also by granular, they mean the individual page’s existing ranking will get adjusted after the spam links are devalued.
How does this change benefit webmasters?
In short, it can be considered as good news for webmasters who aren’t deviating from Google’s guidelines, particularly those that have spam links built by their competition in order to demote their site.