Google has confirmed that it is not too late to review your backlink profile for your website and remove any bad backlinks (i.e. disavow) before the next version of Penguin (4.0) being released before the year is out.
This point is important due to how the Penguin algorithm works. As it is not real-time, Google will use a snapshot of data and then use that to run the algorithm, and then once run it will roll out the results into the SERPs. The snapshot could be a month or two before Penguin being released, and with Penguin predicted to roll out this year it doesn't leave much time to fix your backlink profiles.
The question came about in response to a rather cool tweet from Sha Menz, who asked: "If my disavow file were an icicle & it fell in the Arctic, would it be too late for a Penguin to hear it?". Gary Illyes at Google responded that "no, it's not too late."
Next Penguin Update to be Realtime by the End of the Year
Earlier this month we covered news that rather than Penguin using a Snapshot (as discussed above) the next update will transfer Penguin to be updated in Realtime. The response by Gary Illyes could just be referring to the fact that fact, and that with the new update it will never be too late to review your backlink profile.
Gary Illyes has also recently confirmed that the new Penguin 4.0 will be likely to be launched by the end of the year:
@Andrew_Isidoro yes— Gary Illyes (@methode) October 28, 2015
While we are almost sure that Penguin will be real-time with the next update, you can never be 100 percent sure when it comes to Google Updates. As a result, we would still recommend reviewing your backlink profiles as a matter of urgency.
How to Review your Backlink Profile
The scope of this article does not intend to go into very much detail about how to check and if necessary disavow your backlinks. Essentially, though, what you will need to do is collate all the data from Webmaster Tools, and other third party services (i.e. Moz, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs) and review the quality of all the backlinks you have. You should then seek to remove or disavow all those spammy backlinks. It is a little more complicated than it sounds, but when we suffered from Negative SEO (third parties creating 1000s of low-quality backlinks pointing to our website) early last year we turned to CognitiveSEO.
CognitiveSEO collates backlink data from all the different third party services (so much cheaper overall) and then has a tool that helps you determine the low-quality links. You can then use that tool to create and submit the disavow file. What used to take days of hard work can now be done in just a few hours. You can read more about that tool here. While we do not maintain a subscription to them, we do subscribe for 2 or 3 months each year (spread out over the year) to use this tool specifically.
We will do a guide in due course about reviewing your backlink profile, but hopefully, our recommendation gives you a place to start.