By Marc Purtell | Director, SEO
Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm change set online marketing universe ablaze with commentary and speculation. Many digital marketers were left reeling in its wake, cleaning up link profiles and adjusting their search and SEO strategies in response. Those hit with penalties following the Penguin 2.0 rollout have been working around the clock to dig through link profiles, reach out to damaging link hosts and plead with Google through re-inclusion requests. The extent of this process varies but it is always a daunting task.
Meanwhile, their counterparts that have not been negatively affected are going about their normal daily activities and maintaining a full head of hair. It’s not only the aftermath of Google updates that cause panic; it’s also the time leading up to them after Matt Cutts makes a formal announcement that raises the stress levels of SEO practitioners around the world.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear about a pending update and just brush it to the side because you are confident that you will not be retroactively reversing SEO “quick fixes” that were inevitably going to be attacked by Google at some point? That can be the case by acting proactively and considering the direction Google has been moving in order to stay in line with future updates.
Common Penguin Themes
Thus far, there have been some common themes in what Google is going after via Penguin refreshes including:
- Over-optimized anchor text
- Links from low quality content
- Sponsored links
- Links from irrelevant content
- Multiple links from the same source
Understanding these themes and the motivation behind them can help us not only clean up past efforts that could be putting our Web properties in danger, but also give us guidance on what types of efforts we can employ moving forward in order to maintain momentum of organic search performance.
Just because your Web properties were not negatively affected by Penguin 2.0 it doesn’t mean you are in the clear. There may be existing links that violate Google’s quality guidelines but simply haven’t been detected by Penguin within its current algorithm. As future refreshes roll out, Penguin will continue to get smarter and more militant causing some of those spammy links you already have to become an issue.
The majority of those who have fallen victim to the latest Penguin refresh are undoubtedly cleaning up their link profiles, but this exercise shouldn’t be limited to those already hit. In order to safeguard against future issues, it is necessary to ensure that your current link profiles are free of harmful links, and if they are not, those link profiles must be cleaned up.
There are many tools that can be used to analyze link profiles including Open Site Explorer, MajesticSEO, Ahrefs, and Link Research Tools. By pulling and analyzing a site’s backlinks, you can begin to look for the following issues that can potentially lead to future Penguin issues:
- High percentage of keyword anchored links
- High percentage of links pointing to a handful of target pages
- High number of links from the same domain(s)
Identifying these issues and adjusting your link development strategy to reverse them will lead to a much safer link profile as Google continues to roll out Penguin refreshes.
Removing harmful links is another step in making your link profile safe. Link Research Tools subscribers have access to the Link Detox Tool, which is a good starting point for identifying potentially damaging links. After running your link profile through this tool, it will return a list of links that are flagged as “toxic” and/or “suspicious”. These links should be investigated further and if they are indeed an issue, correspondence should be made with the hosts of the links requesting they be taken down.
What to Avoid
Looking at the relationships and commonalities of the types of links Google has been going after informs some guidelines to follow to safeguard against the general direction Google is moving. A go-forward SEO strategy should avoid acquiring inbound links that qualify for any of the following:
- Overuse of keyword-targeted anchor text – over-optimization of money keywords in anchor text is a definite red flag for Penguin.
- Low-quality guest posts – poorly written content with little traffic/engagement value linking to your site will not fuel it with authority. If this is done regularly, it will certainly signal Penguin.
- Article directories – submitting to article directories will not only inflame the issue of having many links from the same source, but having links from all that duplicate content is not going to provide any value.
- Advertorials – posts that say “sponsored” or “advertisement” and contain follow links (no-follow links are OK but won’t pass PageRank) are a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines and make it easy for their crawlers to pick up on paid links.
Safely Improving Off-Site SEO
We have an idea of what not to do in order to avoid getting penalized by Penguin, but none of these tactics will necessarily improve the organic search performance of a site. Rather they will prevent decreased performance. While effort needs to be made to maintain performance, effort also needs to continue to be placed on improving it.
Here are some safe ways to improve the authority value and therefore organic performance of a site without making it susceptible to Penguin attacks:
- Content marketing – publishing high-quality content that will provide real value to consumers, and is relevant to your business is a great way to generate healthy links.
- Natural anchor text – stop using keywords in anchor text; rather use anchor text as a directive to find more information.
- Relevant context – only generate links from pages (and sections within the pages) highly relevant to the content of the destination page.
The most important thing to keep in mind to ensure safety from Penguins is to avoid going for the “quick wins” when it comes to link building. Any tactics employed to increase a website’s authority should aim for long term success. The latest spam technique that can improve rankings because Google hasn’t caught on yet is dangerous ground and it is inevitable that they will catch on eventually. If you are looking for long term success, your SEO strategy should focus on just that.