SEO Updates

Google Penguin 4.0, Possum, And Craziness Update September 2016

By | September 23, 2016

The Google Penguin 4 (realtime) as well as “Possum” local update are live!

Article Update:

Since we released this article, some important NEW information has come out about Penguin 4.

Webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes (semi-taking the new role of Matt Cutts talking about updates publicly) has stated that the new version of Penguin NO LONGER WILL PENALIZE YOU for links!

Check out this screen grab where the Google analyst clarifies the algo:

Gary Illyes clarifies Penguin 4

Gary Illyes clarifies Penguin 4


Instead of penalizing you for links, Google will try to de-value them. This seems like great news!

What does this mean for SEOs?

It’s unclear so far. And to be honest we’re still seeing SERPS shake up, sites bouncing up and down, so this update took a while to roll out, and they are surely not done.

If you did drop in rankings, it’s possible you just need more high quality links because what once sustained your rankings is not holding up in the new Penguin algo.

Just because they said they won’t penalize anymore, doesn’t mean that you can go hog wild with your links (although there will probably be a new era of interesting tests to see how this major change really works in the wild).

They confirmed that manual actions will still exist as well, and you can also continue to use the disavow tool, you should just have less need for it.

Going forward, our recommendations are staying the same. Continue to do good onpage SEO, diversify your links, your anchors, and build quality links.

And as always, we’ll continue to keep an eye on what’s actually change in the real world, not just what Google is saying.

The HOTH Crew

And now back to the original article…


If you’re looking at your rankings this month, you might be scratching your head and saying “WTF Google?”

Since the beginning of September, the SEO community has been watching some of the weirdest search results changes we’ve seen for a while.

Sites tanking and resurrecting, local results shakeups, 404s in search console, and more.

Here at The HOTH we usually don’t respond to updates immediately – you can’t.

Anyone proclaiming they have the solution to lost rankings immediately plain and simple does not, unless they are a fortune teller.

Google Update Fortune Teller

Google Update Fortune Teller


Instead, we look at the data. We talk to our customers (many of which have hundreds of sites), we look at our own sites, we ping our high level SEO friends and put it all together for you.

Today we’re going to be breaking down exactly what has been happening in Google over the last month so we can catch you up to speed.

Let’s get into it!

What’s up with Google?

1. Google updates & fluctuations start at the beginning of September

At the beginning of the month, many of the Serp fluctuation monitoring tools displayed a large change in the search results. This happened around September 1-3 2016.

These tools generally measure how much change happens on a daily basis. Obviously serp results shuffle multiple times per day, but if there is a higher amount of change than normal these tools will show it.

Here’s what they looked like:

Serpmetrics Flux Sep 2016

Serpmetrics Flux Sep 2016


Algoroo September 2016

Algoroo September 2016


Accuranker Google Grump September 2016

Accuranker Google Grump September 2016


These seemed to correlate mostly with a change in local search results, however also we saw a change in results worldwide in core search starting on September 2nd.

Usually Google rolls out updates by country, but immediately we were hearing about different results internationally.

In regards to the local piece of this, Joy Hawkins published an article on Search Engine Land detailing what happened with what they are calling “Google Possum

(I know, when I read that I was like… are you fu^%ing serious with the animal names??)

Basically the gist is:

  • Businesses that are not in the center of the city got a boost: For a long time it was important that you had an address near the center of the city, now that seems to have loosened up a bit.
  • Filtering of local results that share the same address: If you share an office with other people, you may be subject to filtering. This may also be a way to prevent false local business verifications.
  • Searcher location / IP is more important (Results Customization): Different results are being served up based on locations. If you’re tracking your rankings in any kind of rank tracker, you’ll want to use the localized feature.
  • Long tails provide more variation in results: Different results are being served up for variations of keywords, city and state combos. This may also just be shuffling of the serps, but it’s a good idea to have all these variations in your link building and on your site.
  • Local and organic became more disconnected: Google seems to be going back and forth on this. We’ve seen previous updates where if you rank well organically, you would rank well locally in maps, but with this update it seems to regress a little bit back.

Overall, things got shuffled for local and we’re seeing how it will shake out.

2. Near the middle of the month there were more fluctuations, even big ass drops AND resurrections.

The talk of updates fired up again around the 14-16th. However, the entire month of September has been seeing abnormally large search fluctuations.

(See how the ENTIRE MONTH is orange?):

Google Fluctuations In September 2016

Google Fluctuations In September 2016


We kept asking Google whats up and they just kept denying it as “normal fluctuations

Yeah, right. Come on man.

Google obviously has been testing something this entire month, as we’re seeing big search results shakeups over and over.

Just a few days ago Charles Floate came out with a video of his analysis of the update claiming it seemed to be a Penguin update and it turns out he was right.

All this was really Google testing out Penguin 4.0 and making adjustments, which is why we were seeing big drops and resurrections.

This all led to today when:

3. Google Penguin 4 was officially announced today (September 23 2016)

Google officially announced it today on their Webmaster Central Blog, confirming that Penguin is now a part of their core algorithm.

There are a few differences in this update that are important:

1. This will be a continually rolling Penguin update.

In the past, if your site got hit with Penguin, you would have to wait until the next iteration of Penguin resurrected it after you cleaned up your changes. The last big Penguin update was actually around 2 years ago.

“whoops… sorry about that guys” – Google Team

Now, we should be able to see improvements in real time (as Google re-crawls your links and re-evaluates). Nice.

2. Certain pages on your site can be affected, as opposed to a site-wide penalty.

This is good because that doesn’t mean your whole site is screwed if you are over-optimized on your anchor text.

What this all means

With that said, looking at the sites we tracked, there was no widespread penalties with our customers.

This is good news, which means as a community we have done a really good job about keeping up with best practices and beating Google.

This was not an update like the original Penguin where there where we saw widespread losses and the recommendations that had been given for SEO instantly changed.

More and more, Google is looking for naturally good sites that match the user queries.

What to do if you were affected

If you were hit by this update or you have seen massive fluctations, it may not be doom and gloom.

First, we’re seeing lots of ups and downs – Google is still rolling out this update so it’s not over yet. We’ve seen some cases of big drops, only to see a total recovery in an overnight fashion.

Second, if you do have over optimized anchor text, then it should be even faster to see a recovery after you clean up lower quality links and naturalize your anchor text profile.

This would be a good time to take a look at your anchors in SEMrush Backlink Analytics and either clean up any links that shouldn’t be there or build some new high quality links.

What else should you know about going forward?

Recently we’ve been seeing a few trends in Google.

The first is that they want more money. (But we already knew that).

Secondly, in terms of local, Google is still playing with the relationship between local maps and organic. So you need to focus not only on improving your map ranking by getting nap citations, but also make sure you’re fully optimizing your main website and continuing to build links.

Third, mobile is always becoming more important, so make sure your site runs well on mobile.

There has been an announced update that will punish sites with popups on mobile, so make sure to disable any mobile popups (desktop is still fine).

And lastly, it’s important to continue to keep your link building natural. Don’t be afraid to under-optimize. Really change up your anchors and add in lots of brand, benign, and variations! If you need high quality links, you can do blogger outreach to beef up your link profile.


Google is always changing and we’re here to keep you updated (and we’re keeping an eye on Penguin for you).

The HOTH is keeping an eye on Penguin

The HOTH is keeping an eye on Penguin

We got your back and we will keep up our focus on awesome support, training, and updates.

If you ever have any questions about these changes or your site, were here to help – Just submit a ticket or send us a message in our chat widget.

This update is not over yet, so we’re looking forward to seeing more data as we go forward.

What are you seeing on your end?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Penguin Update Infographic

We just created this infographic if you’d like to share with your audience you can use the code below:

Share this Image On Your Site

Clayton Johnson is the CMO of The HOTH SEO company. He has over 8+ years experience in the SEO industry and has spoken at events like SEJ Summit. The HOTH has been featured in Inc 5000, Forbes, SMX, Pubcon, Content Marketing World, Affiliate Summit, Brighton and more.

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