Well, it had to happen sometime. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably have heard that Penguin 3.0 just rolled out.
Hopefully, you just heard about it instead of feeling the painful effects of this Google algorithm update. Make no mistake about it: Regardless of how much Google likes to downplay its impact, Penguin 3.0 will hurt many websites, just in the same way earlier roll-outs of Penguin unleashed damage throughout the internet.
Any superficial or shallow reading of internet marketing forums and blog posts would give one the impression that people are treating this update pretty much like how they treated other updates.
A lot of people are in denial. Many SEOs are saying that it doesn’t really hurt them or their rankings actually improved. Don’t believe the hype.
The reality is that Penguin is brutal. I know of businesses that got completely decimated by Penguin 3.0.
In fact, one of my closest friends’ blog networks completely got destroyed by Penguin. Before, his network used to make 2000 dollars a month off Google AdSense. Now, it’s not making any money at all. That’s how brutal Penguin is.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that Penguin 3.0 is supposed to be just a refresh. What does a refresh mean? Supposedly, it’s basically just incorporating all the previous updates and tweaks to Penguin, and rolling it out on a uniform and timely manner.
This way, instead of incremental changes to Penguin, thanks to Penguin 3.0, all future Penguin effects will be in real time. At least that’s my understanding of Google’s official pronouncements regarding this update.
Why is this good news? It’s good news if you’ve been using the Google Disavow Tool in Google Webmaster Tools and can’t see any improvement in your rankings. Supposedly, Penguin 3.0 is supposed to factor in disavowal requests in real time.
If you’ve ever filled out a Disavow tool and you feel that Google isn’t really paying attention to you, this is fantastic news. At least, there is a silver lining to this very dark cloud indeed.
Regardless of how you see it, however, Google Penguin 3, just like previous versions of this update will inflict a lot of pain, which brings us to the very important question: how do you avoid Penguin penalties? How do you prevent your website from getting brutally hammered by Penguin in future Penguin updates?
To Avoid Penguin Penalties, You Have to Understand Penguin
To understand how to avoid Penguin penalties, you must first get a clear understanding of what Penguin is and how it works. First and foremost, at the risk of sounding like I’m stating the obvious, Penguin is all about links.
Penguin doesn’t care about the content on your pages. Penguin doesn’t care about the stuff on your site.
All it cares about are the links pointing to your site. I can’t emphasize that enough. There are just too many fake internet marketing gurus saying that Penguin factors in stuff that’s happening on your pages. It doesn’t.
All Penguin cares about are the links pointing to your site. It’s completely off-page. I hope that’s clear.
With that out of the way, Penguin really boils down to two factors: backlink quality and backlink patterns. Penguin is paying attention to the quality of links that your website is earning.
Notice that I use the word “earning” instead of “link-building”? I used that term because after Penguin launched, the only real ethical way to generate backlinks with Google is to earn them.
If you’re going to build links like in years past, you are going to get hammered, and you are going to get hammered hard by Penguin. You have to focus on backlink quality.
The next factor that Penguin pays attention is the pattern of your backlinks. If there’s any one word you need to wrap your mind around when it comes to backlink patterns, it is this word: natural. That’s right. Your backlink patterns must look like a natural footprint.
In other words, if left to its own devices, your website should be able to learn backlinks in a way that normal human beings would actually link to your website.
The problem with these two factors is that one of them is very hard to define. Thankfully, the second one is to easier to define. I’m going to tackle that first.
Natural Footprint Is Easier to Define
How do you define “natural”? Here are some common sense definitions. I think everybody would agree regarding these link patterns.
First, natural backlink footprints happen over time. You don’t get a huge amount of footprints overnight. They happen over time. In many cases, they happen in dribs and drabs.
Second, there are different volumes of links over time. In other words, like next week, you might get ten, the week after that, you might get two, next month, you might get none, and then after that, you might get five, so on and so forth. There’s this randomness to the appearance of your backlinks all over the internet.
Third, the links that your website is earning would look natural if they come in different types. There are many different types of backlinks. You can get backlinks from blog comments, you can get backlinks from links inserted in blog posts, you can get backlinks from lists of websites, so on and so forth.
There has to be many different types because that’s how people naturally link to websites. There’s no rhyme or reason regarding the type. It’s highly suspicious when all your backlinks are from guest posts or from blog comments.
Next, it also helps if you get back links from different sources. This means different types of websites. Of course, Penguin is paying attention to niche relevance, so if there is a healthy percentage of links coming from websites in the same or similar niche as yours, you should be safe.
Another factor to keep in mind when it comes to natural-looking backlink footprints is the placement of the links from different sources. It’s really suspicious if all your links are site-wide. Do you see the problem?
Finally, natural backlink footprints must of course use a wide range of anchor text. This is what destroyed a lot of websites with Penguin 1.0. Penguin 1.0 basically eviscerated websites that used pretty much the same anchor on their backlinks.
As you can tell from the list above, determining what constitutes a natural backlink footprint is fairly easy to define because it’s fairly intuitive. It falls within the realm of common sense. The problem is determining link quality.
The Problem of Link Quality
The problem of determining “quality” when it comes to backlinks is the fact that it can be very subjective. What’s quality to you may not be quality to me. In fact, you only need to visit the many different SEO forums out there, and you would get thousands of definitions of the word “quality.”
This is why it’s very hard to come up with a definitive definition of “quality.” With that said, we can arrive at a list of link features or types that people can agree doesn’t fit most definitions of “quality.”
At the Very Least, Avoid the Following:
Here’s a short and by no means exhaustive list of the kind of links your website should avoid if you want to steer clear of Penguin Penalties.
Obviously Paid Links
Google hates paid links. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Black Hat networks out there that are aggressively selling links. They’re very easy to find. You only need to go to certain well-known Black Hat forums and they’re basically crawling all over the place.
Avoid these link-sellers. If they are that obvious, you’re basically just rolling the dice with your website. You really are.
Public Blog Networks are nothing new. The problem is when they try to sell links aggressively at Black Hat forums and Webmaster forums, they’re very easy to pick out.
Even if they say that they run a completely private network, don’t believe it. The fact that they’re advertising at a public place should be a massive red flag for you.
PBNs You Don’t Control
Public PBNs are bad news. I think we can all agree with that.
However, even if you deal with somebody who deals with a completely private PBN network, you should still be very cautious. The reality is that unless you have full control over the PBN, you don’t exactly know who else they’re selling links to.
They might be so careless regarding who they sell links to that their own network gets penalized. Bad idea. Don’t deal with such sellers.
Dropped Domain PBNs
I know you’re probably alarmed by my inclusion of this type of PBN on my list.
However, it doesn’t really take a genius to realize that it’s only a matter of time until PBNs that use dropped domain names with page rank will be penalized by Google. You have to remember that the moment you use a dropped domain, you are on Google’s radar.
Why? The domain dropped. It really is that simple. It really is that basic. Even if it wasn’t allowed to drop, by let’s say GoDaddy or at the Registrar’s, there’s still a record of it. That’s a red flag.
Low Quality Guest Posts
As you probably already know from the past several months’ guest post crackdowns, Google isn’t playing around when it comes to low quality guest posts.
I am of course talking about low quality sites. These are sites that basically automatically give you a guest post link. They are also very aggressive in putting your link right in the body of the guest post.
Most of the time these websites just want your money, and they don’t really have any editorial controls. Those are red flags.
The Usual Suspects
In this list, I’m just going to list out the most spammed and most common easy link sources. The reason I’m listing these is because these are spammy sources of links.
Anybody underdog can get a backlink from these places. Not surprisingly, they are being penalized by Google. It’s just a matter of time until Google starts using the Disavow List.
What do you think will be in the Disavow List? You got it, these types of websites.
Avoid Penguin penalties by not using these types of link sources: link directories, article directories, social bookmarks, Web 2.0 sites, blog comments, profile links, and forum signature links.
I think I’ve got that all pretty much covered. The bad news is that these are about 90 percent of all SEO service spam you’ll get.
If you get those annoying e-mails saying that they can rank your website for 10 bucks a month, run for the hills. Chances are very good that they’re using these spammy link generation methods.
So What do we do Now?
There’s really only one rule when it comes to dealing with Penguin in the future. The rule is this: the harder it is to get the link, the better it is.
That’s the rule. So if you have to go to many editorial hurdles, you have to go through all sorts of edits, or you really have to work your network to get your link published somewhere, and your competitors can’t get published there, chances are you’re doing well. You’re doing good.
Keep that rule in mind. The harder the link is to get, the better it is. Use your imagination, use your creativity. The good news is that this is actually more common than you think. Don’t think it’s impossible.
It really boils down to the quality of your content. If you produce only the very best content that actually adds real value to the lives of your readers, you will get high quality links.