Link building 2012 style – Making friends with the Penguin

by Peter Young on July 11, 2012 · 23 comments

Since Panda and Penguin first exploded into the SEO scene earlier this year, the SEO scene has been abuzz with how to best deal with the array of new challenges that Google have thrown our way. I have been surprised at just some of the people that have been affected, with Penguin taking no prisoners if you fall foul of the confines in which it operates. In particular a number of platforms have seen a significant decline in popularity such as

  • Article Marketing
  • Directory Submissions
  • Enterprise Level Link Networks
  • Footer Links
  • Links and Resource pages

It is not just the source that many of these links have been found on that has been affected. The new ‘Googlesphere’ has provided a framework in which new concepts and ideas can flourish and we have seen a number of new ventures such as Quaturo enter the marketplace offering a more content centric approach to SEO . This isn’t a new concept, certainly we have seen the likes of Rand Fishkin discussing the concept of Inbound Marketing for a while now – and one has to feel this is the way the marketplace is going now – and that can to a certain extent only be a good thing for the industry.

With the new landscape however has come a number of new approaches and adaptations to link building.

Quality over Quantity, Style over Scale

There used to be a day when I could rely on scale, and significant scale to produce the results I wanted. I used to do it – and I am pretty sure a far number of people who read this blog will have done too. Scaled SEO did work – and it didn’t have to be squeeky clean to be effective. There has though been a mindset change across many in the industry over recent month, that those days are dead, and modern day SEO has to take into account other significant factors. Site Authority, social amplification and the like all play a part in our modern day link building psyche – and the days of scaling low quality high volume link building are certainly numbered if not nearly extinct (although I would suggest not completely dead yet).

Where scale is concerned these days, its certainly not as link centric as it once was. Where scale can come into play is very much in a social context however one still has to balance a degree of authority when one considers scaling the social side of SEO.

Understand Anchor Text Distribution

I cannot emphasise enough how much I think this has and will continue to be a factor moving forward. The days of 80% exact match non-brand anchor text are dead – and the sooner SEO’s start adapting to this the better. I will caveat that with the fact that most good agencies have always used the blended ‘phrase match’ approach to link building – so much of this is not really a shock, however changes in April/May to the algorithm regarding anchor classifyers really did bring this to the fore.

Getting a good understanding of where your link profile is not particularly difficult these days particularly if you are reasonably adept at manipulating Excel. A simple overview of your target phrases within the profile will give you a good idea of whether your exact match targeting is getting towards a red flag scenario – and this is one area we have spent some time analysing in greater detail.

Building links using a high % of exact match anchor texts means you can expect to trigger both an unnatural links notice and in all likelihood set your site up for a possible Panda or Penguin data refresh slap.

With this in mind, make sure to vary your anchor texts by using a variation of techniques to maximise your link building activity. I like to compare much of the revised approach to moving from a exact match to a phrase match approach to link building – using your brand name, direct page specific URLs, qualified target phrase targeting and call to action based terms. I would however add I would be wary of overdoing the final aspect as many blogs have suggested as in my opinion such a manouvre done too quickly only raises yet further flags. Knowing what that profile looks like at all times imperative.

Next, keep the percentages within reason. Use a tool like Link Detective or Majestic SEO to import and analyze the breakdown of your site’s current anchor text distribution. If your top anchor texts (on highly specific exact match phrases) are showing more than 5-8% on-average of your backlink profile, I would suggest some remediation should be considered.

Thinking Local

As I have said before, in my opinion Venice had one of the most underestimated impacts on SERPs here in the UK impacting on sectors as diverse as Law to Retail to Food. With Google increasingly tying much of the platforms together, we have to be aware of the role Local will play in our search campaigns moving forward particularly if local is a particular issue.

It should be noted at how few companies look local for links. Many don’t consider opportunities such as their local chamber of commerce, suppliers and customers. Other options such as local business events, sports teams, or contests are often overlooked or not exploited.

Further more local press is in decline – and many of these publications will readily accept good quality content for their sites. These opportunities are as natural a link as you can possibly get. Not only will they not trigger an unnatural link notice, but they improve your offline reputational profile as well. It’s win-win situation for all.

Get rid of the shit
Lets be honest, there are a lot of sites out there that had been heavily reliant on crap links. Yes they scaled well – however they were often built of bad foundations and if one actually had a serious long term view on them – you probably would have certainly used them in moderation.

In particular we have seen a lot of big networks fall foul of recent Google algorithms. Reliance on any single platform is stupid to say the least – no matter how well ‘built’ the network would appear to be. If you are an investor,would you hedge all your funds in one group of companies – no probably not – so why would you do it in SEO.

Much of Penguin/Panda would only serve to further accentuate that argument. One has to think like a serious investor when approaching link building post Panda/Penguin. Don’t be lazy – if I am being honest – you can include some lazy in there and get away with it – but don’t be reliant on it. Spread your risk – use a variety of partners and sources, and the likelihood that the recent escapees from the Google Zoo will come looking for you slowly decreases – and if so that slap is likely to be far less severe.

Get to grips with Guest Posting
With Google really pushing ideas such as Authorship – the guest post concept is something you should really be pushing as part of your any link building campaign. Old school article marketing is limited – and as a brand the ideal of using content marketing to push your brand is one many Marketing Manager’s will readily buy into – particularly if this can be used to compliment or co-incide with your social media activity.

Content writers are fairly abundant these days – and good ones at that. Sites such as myblogguest can be a good place to do so – however a quick look around Linkedin will normally bring you up a couple more (If your really struggling drop me a line). Getting the balance however with the content normally takes a bit of testing – however as a rule of thumb quality in my opinion here is fundamental to success as is the appropriate approach to potential sites. I own a number of sites, and I will readily admit any good quality content is readily received so what ever you do – don’t sell in rubbish and what you will find is that most webmasters will embrace content .

I can assure you that a single good guest post on a quality, niche-related blog with a link back to your website is worth 100 pre-Penguin/Panda article links. Scale that and you really are on your way to success.

Google+ Comments

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Adrian Land July 11, 2012 at 8:33 am

This might be the year of “back-to-basics”. To stop trying to hard to play the game and actually get on with it and work for a decent site. Then hope you get seen! Its the hope part that those who get it maybe able to live with, but when pressure comes on from snr mgt for results and there is a lot at stake – human nature is to try and win, quick. They are interesting times for sure.

Peter Young July 11, 2012 at 8:40 am

I agree with you. I have found personally with a number of affiliate sites I work on its no where near as easy to make the sites work as it used to be. Its requiring increasingly more work to make them work efficiently.

Its interesting to see how Google are attempting to address things with regards to link building. I have to say, part of what I think has helped them is the constant flux and change – not allowing people to really work out a sweet spot before something changes again

Chris Taylor July 11, 2012 at 10:50 am

Common Sense – That is the key.

If you can’t show a link to a client, then you shouldn’t be getting it – Is there something fishy about the site? or is it just pure filth?

I also believe that when you get a new client, the hardwork is to get to know your link profile and then the competitors. What have they got, that you haven’t and visa versa.

Yes it is much harder than it ever use to, but I feel it is more rewarding and you have to be so much more creative, isn’t that what we all crave for?

Great blog post, thanks Pete.

Al Mackin July 11, 2012 at 11:07 am

Some great advice all wrapped up in one article – I thought volume over quality died years ago, amazing to think that relevancy/topic and strength aren’t being considered. I still think the richness and texture of your own pages are important for direct reasons and for improving the visitor metrics.

Peter Young July 11, 2012 at 11:15 am

Completely agree there Al . I still find it amazing the volume of dross that is in some link profiles- and people actually wonder why the heck their sites aren’t performing well on the search engines when these big algorithmic updates happen. If you are actively targeting loopholes – dont be surprised when Google closes them – its the risk you take.

@Chris – Thanks for the feedback. We at Mediacom always use ourselves as the yardstick, if we won’t put our names to a link approach then why would you do it to your clients.

Simon Wharton July 11, 2012 at 11:53 am

In summary, “You know that shit we said you should be doing? We weren’t kidding”. Not only for ranking but also for the experience of the viewer. If you don’t have a great experience on the client site, you fuck off elsewhere. The whole SEO thing should be bang in the middle of the customer experience conversation as it naturally draws assets together to work on that all important conversion.

Peter Young July 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

Completely agreed. You only have to look at those doing well in SEO – and how intrinsic it is within their organisations to appreciate how big a part of getting it right this is

Pragati July 12, 2012 at 5:32 am

You are right and greetings for one more great article on SEO after penguin. Penguin update has once again focused more and more on natural SEO. The things that were white hat some times back in Google’s eye are now things of past. Software like Automatic SEO and buying the links services have no importance now and people should really avoid them. One more thing, one should also avoid any shortcut of SEO that is today white hat but may become black hat very soon.

Jasjot Singh Bains July 12, 2012 at 7:43 am

“Reliance on any single platform is stupid to say the least – no matter how well ‘built’ the network would appear to be”

I couldn’t agree more on this. Just imagine building a brand over the years on one platform only and expecting it to last out till eternity, and suddenly Matt Cutts wakes up one day and burns the platform to ashes..putting all eggs in one basket is not a wise move when you are expecting your brand/website to go a long way. Diversifying is the key to sustained success.

Simon July 12, 2012 at 8:23 am

Hi Pete,

I agree with what you are saying here. However I think that links from resources pages that are relevant / on topic will remain popular and may even increase in popularity as the standard of link building improves?

Also I am still seeing some pretty blatant spam working (apologies as I know everyone harps on about this!). In particular pingbacks from .edu blog pages. Also it seems if you spread your spam across a wide enough net, e/g use lots of networks and vary the anchor text correctly you can still dodge a penalty or filter. Of course you do always run the risk of one day being caught but it can still work in the interim.

Peter Young July 12, 2012 at 11:32 am

I guess thats the thing Simon – ones propensity to risk . AT the end of the day, loads of shit link building techniques do work – that does not mean they will in the future, so I would suggest you need to balance the potentially opportunity with regards to ‘spam links’ and the risk associated with using them both short and long term.

At the end of the day, you are right , there is still a lot of crap out there working very well. Google isn’t a perfect beast. They do very well at sorting the wheat from the chaff – however I doubt whether they ever will get this 100% boxed off as – as soon as they get things sorted out and settled, somebody will work out a ‘loophole’ and we will be off again – thats just the nature of the beast

Muhammad July 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm


With the “Guest Posting”, do you mean Blog commenting?

Peter Young July 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm

No I mean guest posting.

Sebastian July 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Hi Pete,

Couldn’t agree more with pretty much all of your points, it’s great to see a lot of bad practices being left to hang so to speak. Great when you’re working on established businesses and clients but I will admit that I’m struggling with the affiliate side of things as it’s not as simple as getting a good site ready and plowing a few $$ worth of backlinks in to it anymore but I finding that guest posting is a strategy that when executed correctly can result in increased organic profile as well as an increase in authorship strength.

John Trimble July 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm

One of the biggest challenges i feel the recent updates have created is communicating the change with clients who have been conditioned to view link building as quantity game. This is at it most difficult at SME level, when explaining to clients that rather than providing 200 article submission a month (compared to the previous supplier) you’ll be focusing on building a few guest posts a month and lasting relationships which benefit the brand.

Effectively the have client education process has now more than ever become key to success of any campaign.

Lee Wilson July 18, 2012 at 9:45 am

A good practical read – thanks for this! For me the key to link building is any activities that you are doing (and I really do mean ‘any’) that make you flinch slightly stop doing them now. Write some great content and look after than content by getting it in front of people who will read it and appreciate it. Writing low quality, scraped content will put you in the mindset of getting low quality, spammy links. Adding links to your content should enhance the user experience and as such should by nature alone mean that you have a wide variety of natural anchor text used. Being aware of link anchor text ratio’s is fine but getting into the mindset of just naturally linking when it makes sense to the article has to be a better approach and a greater value add approach.

Peter Young July 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

Completely agree. Its not a pure scale game imo any more though scale comes into it. We need to think about what, where and how our content is produced and seeded. All in all I think its a ggood thing for the industry.

Rob Henry July 27, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Great read – New Link building down to a T. Myblogguest is a great shout as I use for my clients current link building. Just generate great content and recieve a link from a website related to your chosen industry. Does anyone have any more ideas on ” looking local for links.”

Sammy October 20, 2012 at 4:37 am

hey nice article, IMO penguin is targeting off page SEO…so the cure is when building links have good link diversity, anchor text variation and the variation of the source of backlinks. In short variation is the key. By launching updates after updates i believe google is on the path of self destruction, because they are “assuming” to destroy internet marketers…and the irony is it were internet marketers who made google what is today.

Marc A. Donald January 27, 2013 at 11:36 am

making interviews now is one of the best techniques in making link building. people love to hear the information from professionals and that’s another thing that will lead them to visit this professional’s website to know more about him and know how this successful website run. it’s one of the techniques that will be used in 2013 along with Guest posting.

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