It’s long been the case that not all links are created equal in the eyes of Google. That principle is only going to be emphasized more assuming reports of the upcoming Google Penguin update hold true.
While there is little official information coming from Matt Cutts of Google, it’s safe to say the Penguin update will have a heavy focus on devaluing “unnatural links” and penalizing sites that have clearly abused the link building process.
With that said, now is the time to get ahead of the update, because anticipating Google’s next move and adapting is much better than having to work your way back into Google’s rankings.
So, how can you prepare yourself for the Penguin update?
Finding and Removing Unnatural Links
Over the past year or so, Google has been handing out warnings to webmasters about “artificial or unnatural links.” Unfortunately, this is the dirty part of the process of cleaning up your website’s backlinks and it’s potentially very time consuming.
Dixon Jones on the Majestic SEO Blog wrote an outstanding post discussing how to pinpoint and remove unnatural links using a handful of tools.
Adjust Your Linking Mindset
In an interview last April, Matt Cutts was asked if he thought link building is a problematic concept in and of itself. Cutts’ response:
It segments you into a mindset, and people get focused on the wrong things.
This comment from Cutts highlights the problem with a mentality so heavily focused on hoarding links. Instead of focusing on link building, it’s best to focus on the concepts of creating incredible, link-worthy content and building relationships with others who would likely link back to your content in a natural way.
Of course, this is easier said than done when you’re trying to meet goals and expectations for clients, but at this point it’s a necessity to ensure your clients understand why hoarding links regardless of their quality is a strategy that will hurt them in the long run.
What Links Will the Penguin Update Focus On?
With no official statement from Google, it’s difficult to say what the focus of the next update will be. However, looking at the SEO landscape, we can speculate with decent accuracy what link building tactics will be targeted. Below are a few tactics I and many others think will be subject to scrutiny with Penguin.
The problem with infographics is they often don’t strongly relate to the site they’re being posted on and those who are republishing them usually aren’t actually endorsing the page the infographic links to. It’s hard to say what will happen with infographic links, but there’s a possibility they will be devalued to some degree.
Keyword Rich/Exact Match Anchor Text
When someone links to your site, do you think they go out of their way to make the anchor text full of keywords or an exact match to your targeted keyword? Probably not, because that’s an unnatural way of linking content.
When Google sees a significant majority of links pointing to one page or site with very rich or exact match anchor text, it raises a red flag.
For those who have made guest posting a primary ingredient in their SEO strategy, you may need to do some backtracking. While Google isn’t going to knock guest content overall, there is potential for guest posts with overly-optimized author bios to have links devalued. There is also a good chance that guest posts with links only loosely tied to the content will see a strong devaluation and the site being linked to possibly facing penalties.
Neil Patel of Quick Sprout wrote a great piece about how Penguin will likely impact guest posts.
Link Building Networks
Google has been targeting link building networks (most recently BuildMyRank.com) for a while and that’s not going to change. You can expect more link networks to be shut down in the future as Google continues cracking down.
This isn’t a revolutionary suggestion: Skip the easy link building methods and play by the rules. If you do that, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
- Focus on creating exceptional content that people want to link to.
- If infographics are an important part of your SEO strategy, make sure you always combine them with quality written content and be selective with what sites you allow to re-publish them.
- Be selective in where you guest post and make sure the blog doesn’t link out to spammy sites.
- Link naturally. In the past, a lot of people suggested anchor text such as “Click Here” was bad for SEO, but that’s not the case. Google doesn’t expect to see keyword-rich anchor text on every link; in fact, they expect a healthy ratio of links with keyword-rich anchor text and anchor text that isn’t stuffed with keywords.
Unfortunately, if you’ve built your ranking using abusive or easy link building tactics, you’ll need to spend some time and effort cleaning up your backlink portfolio before your site is penalized. Don’t wait, because Google isn’t exactly forgiving when it comes to getting your site resubmitted in rankings.
Read More: Google Update Coming: May 2013