Google launched their Penguin update on April 24th, 2012. The Penguin hobbles (with light speed) around the web looking for unnatural or spammy links, and when it sees them pointing to your website, rather than slashing the link or the benefit it’s providing to your site, the mad creature hacks your site’s limbs off, so your site falls to nowhere and can no longer climb up the SERP (search engine results page) ladder. In plain English: When the Penguin sees a link profile it doesn’t like, it kills your current rankings and makes it very hard to rank better again.
If you’ve already been mauled by the Penguin, I posted strategies for getting your site back to life at the top of the SERPs here. But what should you be doing on sites that haven’t been slashed, hacked, or stabbed through the heart by the Penguin? And what about new sites? What can you do to prevent drawing the Penguin’s attention, and his blade?
It’s All About Quality
Pre-Penguin, getting loads of spammy links from mass article submissions, crappy directory submissions, forum profiles, and similar garbage worked very well. Post-Penguin, it does not. You may still see some sites ranking with links like this, but if you do it’s probably because there are enough quality signals that Google’s Penguin either ignores the crap, or the site is considered a serious brand and has pretty thick armor. Can these crappy links still work in the short term? Maybe, but if you have enough of them you should expect to be slaughtered in the not too distant future.
Post-Penguin, you need to have a quality link profile in order to keep your head on your shoulders. That doesn’t just mean natural-looking link sources, but also natural link anchor text.
Natural Link Sources
So what’s a natural link source? It’s one that is editorially based, where a person with a real website made for real humans posts a link they think other humans will appreciate. When you add a forum profile to ThisForumReallySucksBad.com with a link to your site, no one is going to see it. You know it, and Google now knows it. When you do a mass article submission, submitting a crappy article to 500 article directories with one blast, you know no one is ever going to see those articles. Post-Penguin, Google knows that too. Think about it. Google is able to see into nearly every aspect of the web now, from Analytics to Chrome, they know which sites and pages real people are visiting, and what links they’re clicking on. They may be using that data, or they may be using some other combinations of data. The bottom line is that crappy links don’t look natural.
I used to think this video was both funny and tragic:
For better (for the web as a whole) and worse (for those of us that used some of these methods to stay competitive, and got nailed for doing so), the video is now largely irrelevant. It’s a funny example of what used to work. In all honesty, it’s probably better this way.
The bottom line is, you need to focus on quality link sources, which means those that are harder to get, from real sites and blogs run by real people. You need to reach out to people in your industry and anyone else who may be interested, and get them to understand that their visitors will be interested in what your site has to offer. If you do that well, they’ll link to your site from a page and in a location that visitors will actually see and click. That’s what you need to be focusing on now.
Keep in mind, if you don’t have a quality site yourself, this isn’t going to work. John Andrews has a great post on this. Go read it.
Natural Link Anchor Text
What’s a natural anchor text profile? In a phrase, it’s one that isn’t 90% “money keyword” anchors. In fact, it’s probably one that’s closer to 90% non-keyword anchors. There may be some exceptions, for example if your domain is a keyword domain like RedWidgets.com, you’re obviously going to be ok with a higher percentage of “Red Widget” anchors. But even this has changed since Penguin. Let’s take a look at the link profile for a big brand, Home Depot, using MajesticSEO:
See any “keyword anchors” in the top 30 links? Maybe one? The majority of their link anchors are a combination of brand and URL anchors. That’s one good example of a natural anchor text profile, and it should give you a good idea as to what Google is seeing and beginning to use as a reference for comparison.
Greg Boser put up a few excellent videos here, the first two covering the two topics above…natural link sources and anchors. They’re all well worth watching for another slant.
What About Directories
Directories have been a decent link source for a long time. Will they get you nailed post-Penguin? It depends. If you’ve paid $20 to have your site blasted out to 1,000 crappy, free directories and you’re using one or two anchors…yes, Penguin could be heading your way for some killin’. But if you’re submitting your site to a handful of high quality directories that have an editorial review process AND you’re using brand anchors rather than keyword anchors, that should be ok.
What About Guest Posts
You should know the answer already. It’s the same with guest posts. If you’re paying to get Wikipedia articles spun with a link to your site inserted, on a spammy network of blogs built only to give links…a killin’ is coming your way. But if you’re writing a quality post on a quality blog that real people read, and getting a link to your site in that post (where it is relevant), that’s a good kind of link.
The Cheap & Easy Stuff
Forget about the cheap and easy stuff. There are too many people on the web today. If you can pay a few dollars to get a link, so can everyone else. Google has got to figure out a way to determine which site is “better” than the rest, and from here on out it doesn’t look like that’s going to be based on the number of cheap and easy links with perfect keyword anchors. You need to do things that aren’t easy for competitors to replicate. You need to create something of value, and promote it to people who care. Sorry, it’s not as easy as it used to be.