Anti-Penguin Link Building Plan

by Jason Acidre on May 3, 2012 · 76 comments · Search


The Penguin update or Google’s webspam algorithm update, which was launched last April 24, did create massive impact to many online marketers and webmasters’ mindsets on how they should be performing search engine optimization from now on. It’s indeed another game changer, knowing that the update collected several negative reactions from webmasters around the world.

The Penguin update was aimed towards spam tactics, and was said to have affected at least 3.1% of English search queries on its first roll out. It’s expected to grow more as Google will certainly be implementing more changes around this algorithmic update, which is quite similar to the Panda update that lasted for over a year for its enhancements.

So how will you know if you’ve been hit by this update? There are a few things that you can do to see if this update has burned your site:

  • If you’ve experienced sudden loss or meltdown in search traffic (especially if there’s a dramatically decrease in your top keywords’ rankings) on and after April 24, 2012.
  • If your site is not ranking for its brand name on Google’s search results.

If you haven’t been affected by it, or if you’ve seen some increase in search-related traffic, then it might just mean that your competitors were the victims of this update, which made your site rank higher than its previous search rankings.

Penalized sites or sites that have been affected by this new algorithm update are still in Google’s indices, which mean that there are still ways to get back in the game! However, this will surely take time to get your site back in top form.

Disclaimer: Everything that I’ll be stating below are just several options that I’ll personally be implementing in case I work on a site that has been hit by this recent Penguin update, wherein most are based on my own understanding of how search works, and everything listed here are theoretical and I’m not saying that they will certainly work.

From what most experts have observed, Penguin is an algorithm/ranking factor update that is more focused on link behaviors that allows them to easily identify spam and manipulative signals. Dr. Pete Meyers discussed some of these possible factors on his recent post on SEOmoz:

  • Aggressive exact-match anchor text
  • Overuse of exact-match domains
  • Low-quality article marketing and blog spam
  • Keyword stuffing in internal/outbound links

My hunch is that this update is not yet stable (for sure) and will more likely be upgraded to total devaluation of low quality/spam/unnatural links to somehow neutralize the growing fear of Negative SEO. Not allowing these links to pass any value will decrease the rankings of those who have benefitted from it in the past, and will also protect those who might get abused by unethical link attacks in the future (building crap links to competitors).

Anti-Negative SEO

Knowing that link spams will generally be the basis of this recent update from Google in determining sites that are violating their guidelines, Negative SEO will certainly be a growing challenge, as people might take advantage of this loophole to gain and outrank their competitors.

The best way to protect your site from this uncharted territory is through your already existing link profile, especially if you already have obtained great and high value links pointing to your domain, and adding more of these types of links to your site to make it more solid in the eyes of Google, given that they are more to assess your site’s percentage of good vs. bad links based on their historic index.

Eric Siu from Evergreen Search also wrote an in-depth guide on how to protect your site from Negative SEO, you might want to check it out.

Study your links’ anchor text distribution

There are many tools out there that you can use to determine how your links’ anchor texts are distributed and/or well-varied, such as Majestic SEO and Open Site Explorer.

In using Majestic SEO (paid version), you can download/export all the inbound links directing to any of your site’s pages stored in their historic index into an excel spreadsheet:

In this case, I used Affilorama’s link profile as an example, wherein out of the 2,500+ links extracted through Majestic SEO only 147 links were only found using exact match anchor texts (for the keyword “affiliate marketing”) – which is around 6%. This means that the site is pretty much safe, given that the target keyword wasn’t overused as an anchor text for its incoming links.

There’s also a simpler way to do this analysis, by using Open Site Explorer (on the anchor text analysis feature of the tool):

If you are sensing that you might get in trouble with the amount of the exact-match anchor texts that your site’s main pages have, you can then start adjusting your link acquisition campaign to target other keyword variations, such as focusing more on branded anchor texts or other industry head terms.

Identify the link types that your site has

Download your site’s link profile from Open Site Explorer in CSV format and run it on Link Detective. This browser-based tool will show you an approximate division of the type of links your site has acquired in the past.

The sample given above is from a site that has been hit by the first roll out of Penguin (and is not from the first sample I’ve given). As you can see, this site has used several manipulative tactics (blog networks, massive directory submissions, etc…) for their past link building campaigns.

With this data, you are given with a clearer view of the types of links that you have to beat in terms of percentage and of what methods to use to cover these links that could be pulling your site away from the SERPs.

Study your links’ attributions

Use Ahrefs.com to analyze the attribution of the links pointing to your site (the tool has a free version that allows you to access almost all the important details you’ll need from your site’s link profile).

The tool will allow you to see the numbers of text-based, image, framed, nofollow, as well as redirected links to your site. Assessing this will enhance your link development’s precautionary measures, such as:

  • Balancing or increasing your site’s amount of incoming nofollow links
  • Decreasing the amount of redirecting links to your site (as some might be fetched by search engines as a manipulative scheme to pass through PageRank to the site).

The pro version of the account provides more access to your site’s link data, wherein you can also download it in CSV format and easily track the redirecting links to your site.

Put Balance in Everything

Once you know what your site’s link profile looks like, it’s then time to put balance in everything that you have already built and you’ll try to be building next.

It’s best to start with the things that you have control of or can be controlled, like the links from sites that you have personally contacted to acquire a link from to remove or modify your links (link networks, sitewide links, sponsored posts, etc…) and let go of those that you have no control of, because it might just waste your time and resources (approved blog comment spams, link from a scraped content, etc…).

Tip: don’t modify the links hosted by authority domains/sites that have exact-match anchor texts and have good link placements.

Modify existing links that could be harming your site

To efficiently balance your link profile, particularly to those who have overused their main targeted keyword(s) as anchor texts, you can always start by modifying your old links. Here are some ideas on what to do with your links:

  • Vary your old links’ anchor texts using partial match anchor texts and/or branded anchor texts.
  • Change obvious paid and manipulative links to nofollow.
  • Modify and balance your internal links’ anchor texts, especially internal links that are pointing to pages that have been heavily hit by Penguin. You can use Open Site Explorer to track your internal links’ anchor texts.

Find sitewide links that could be affecting your site’s rankings

Find sitewide links to your site that might look suspicious to Google and get them out of your way by requesting for removal (in case the linking site is topically irrelevant to yours) or modifying its anchor texts (branding) or changing their link attributes to nofollow.

Sitewide links that aren’t bringing you referral traffic might not be worth of having them, preferably links placed on low-traffic and low-quality sites. There are many tools that you can use in finding sitewide links that can be trouble like Google’s Webmaster Tools or Majestic SEO.

Majestic SEO recently published a post on how to use their tool in investigating unnatural links, and finding bad sitewides is one of them.  The great thing about their site explorer feature is that it allows users to find the most linking domains to their site, along with the each linking domain’s Alexa rankings.

Basically, you can easily track poor quality/traffic sites that may have sitewide (footer, blogroll or sidebar) links to your site based on the Alexa Rank (as Google might just have flagged these sites linking to you as spam or unnatural).

You can also find these sites through Google Webmaster Tools, by checking the domains that have many links to your site.

Make a list of those you think would be more-likely be flagged by Google as spam/manipulative/unnatural, and see if these sites have brought traffic to your site in the past months through your Google Analytics account. If they haven’t, then you might want to start removing those links.

Continuously Acquire Good Links

Getting hit by Penguin doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the game, that’s why building more quality links is more important than ever these days. It’s the best way to get back to the game! Here are few more reasons why acquiring solid links is your best way out to this drastic update:

  • It will cover the bad links your site has previously built, and eventually develop more trust signals to your site.
  • Build a stronger brand presence for your site, which obviously what Google is seeking nowadays.
  • It can protect your site from Negative SEO (in case someone will try to pull you down from the search results in the future).
  • Good links can get you referred traffic, so while you’re striving to get back your loss rankings, you’re still generating traffic to your site.

Mindset is imperative in this shift of the game. Always think of getting links that will not just help you get better search rankings, but links that will also help you build a better brand for your business, and links that will get clicked from relevant and high traffic sources.

Some of the link building methods that you might want to focus on these days:

  • Editorial link building or content based link building
  • Authentic community contributions (on highly relevant forums, blogs, social networks and Q&A sites).
  • Content distribution (guest blogging, news creation, infographics, etc…) that will help you build more social signals for your brand.
  • Getting link opportunities from authority sites that are linking to your competitors.

You can also check out my post on scalable link building for more link building tips and strategies this year.

Build more solid support content

Create and publish more explosive content in your site that will generate social signals, and then internally link them to the pages that are designated with your keywords affected by the Penguin update.

Explore more of content marketing, because it can certainly bring more positive results to your site from both SEO and lead generation perspectives. You can also read one of my old posts on how to get more social shares to your site’s content.

Final Tip

If you’re worrying that you might not get better search rankings for your target keywords (exact match) if you’ll focus on getting more partial anchor text links – do not. Let the page’s content deal with the keyword targeting. Make the content speak for itself and be genuinely more relevant to the search query it’s targeting for it to achieve better search rankings.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed, follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

Image Credit: JigglySama

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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