Over the years, it has got harder and harder to achieve top rankings in Google and retain them long term. Amongst other things, this is due to the constant adjustment of Google’s algorithm – the most important change coming in the form of the Penguin update. After numerous announcements and a drawn-out preparatory phase, Penguin 4.0 has now been rolled out, working in real time as part of the core algorithm.
Penguin 4.0 – the consequences
The first penguin update was rolled out in April 2012 and its successors 2.0 and 3.0 followed in May 2013 and August 2015 respectively. The initial update affected approximately 3.1% of all organic searches, whilst the next two affected only around 1.0%.
In the years since, all the talk was of another new Penguin which was finally rolled out in autumn 2016 following a two-year long development and testing phase.
Previously, the Penguin filter was applied to the algorithm in order to deduce which domains should be penalized. Such domains then directly lost rankings. With Penguin 4.0, this has all changed. The Penguin now works in “real time” – meaning changes are automatically visible the moment Google crawls a URL. Nevertheless, it still remains unclear whether the Penguin filter intervenes as soon as a domain is crawled or whether the link structure is only evaluated once linking websites have been re-crawled. This means that, whilst entire domains used to be penalized, individual URLs can now be analysed.
The integration of the Penguin into the core algorithm means that the filter can be updated and adjusted automatically with no more need for further “classic” Penguin updates. For SEOs, this makes analysis more difficult and means that existing links should be dealt with and analysed much more closely and that future link-building should concentrate more on content and link structure. The following tips should help you to continue building sensible links without risking penalties.
Strategy 1: Creative link-building with useful extras and additional info
Creativity is key in link-building and is just as important today as it was ten years ago. For many webmasters, creativity means checking the content which is being linked. You no longer need to link to entire websites to place a good, usual backlink. Images, videos, fonts and other creative elements can also be linked and can also be offered for download. An important element of link-building is unique, high quality linked content.
Uniqueness is key and creatives genuine added value
Important elements include:
- Websites with unique text content (e.g., tutorials, specialist texts)
- Unique font/style
- In-house graphics and stats
- Interactive content
Such content should of course be relevant to the website and provide genuine added value for the user. Simply uploading and integrating a random photo which has little to do with other content on the page will not fulfil either Google’s or the user’s expectations! Develop a clear editorial line, even for small websites.
Tipp: Analyse the competition and aim to make your own content at least ten times better! If you are convinced that your content offers better value, Google and users will be too.
Allow and encourage downloads
Whether graphics, fonts, images or videos – online theft is an ever-present danger. But if you go on the offensive yourself by encouraging users to download and use your linked material themselves, you can reap the rewards. Any further use of your material by a second or third party will involve a credit which boosts exposure. A Creative Commons License guarantees the fair re-use of content – not just of images but of your own fonts and other material. Many websites allow links to designer websites, which brings additional link juice into your backlink structure.
Strategy 2: Do a good deed and let people know about it!
Every web project should have a certain advertising budget, part of which should be used for specific campaigns, donations or competitions to boost exposure. Depending on your industry and your website content, suitable products or services can also be offered free of charge – this has the following advantages:
- Genuine added value
- Increased website exposure
- Positive, philanthropic brand image
- Increased chance of further links
The final point is particularly valid in the age of social media and any campaigns should be planned with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram marketing in mind. If the campaign meets the expectations and imagination of the target audience, it will automatically generate new hits and links. If you have a good idea of your target audience in advance, this makes it easier to decide whether a competition, a donation or press release is best suited.
Work with industry and media partners
Additional exposure can be achieved by working closely with the right partners within the industry and the media. Ideally, identify well-known businesses or websites who are trusted and respected by your target audience – experience shows that many will be happy to place a link on their website if your content/product/service is relevant.
Important: Such actions should be aimed at generating genuine added value for users – not just with the sole purpose of generating more links. True link effects only occur when content genuinely helps the user with the result that is then shared further. Serious press releases and promotion for a campaign can also be good boosts both online and offline, and can result in reports in local press organizations/websites.
Strategy 3: Recruit guest authors to your cause!
As helpful as the tips mentioned in strategy 1 are, high quality, interesting texts and articles remain a key aspect of any serious link-building strategy. Of course, it’s not always possible – not desirable – to only ever update your blog with your own content. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to invite other authors to contribute guest articles on related topics which your readers will find interesting. Blogs are the ideal place to ask industry experts to write on current issues within the field, and have the following advantages:
- Show readers that you are well connected within the industry, creating trust.
- Reputation is important for guest authors. If they agree to contribute an article to your page or blog, it’s likely they’ll also share it on their own platforms.
- Guest contributions provide interesting extras which expand upon your own content with original thoughts from other experts. Such input can be valuable in your own day-to-day business and can provide extra inspiration.
- The process of searching for guest authors is a great networking exercise within the industry. Even if some authors ultimately reject your offer, you will nevertheless have won valuable personal contacts for the future.
Quality is paramount when it comes to guest articles. It should be immediately clear from the opening few sentences that the author is a specialist in his or her field. The more helpful and reliable the content, the more likely readers are to share and link.
Don’t just focus on your own blog … get yourself out there!
Link-building through specialist articles works both ways. As well as hosting guest authors on your blog, getting your own page linked from other websites and portals is also helpful! When choosing websites or blogs to write for, make absolutely sure that these are serious, relevant and reputable portals. If in doubt, go for smaller platforms and websites with clear, specific topics rather than large portals which feature articles on everything under the sun. A bit of prior research can help identify ideal sites – search for your own niche, your own specialization or your own service or product and find similar businesses and experts. Once you have identified potential partners, always ensure that anything you have to offer contains your own unique take on a subject – don’t just follow the crowd!
The days of simply playing loads of links all over the place to guarantee top rankings in Google & co are over. Link-building gets more difficult by the year but with professional, well-planned strategies, good rankings can still be achieved. Webmasters just need to be prepared to invest a certain small portion of their budget and time to focus on generating high-quality links to content which other users will find genuinely interesting. Produce good, unique, exciting content, whether in text, image or video form, and the links and traffic will follow!
Google’s principal aim is always to provide users with the most helpful and relevant answers to their searches. If you can produce the sort of high quality content that Google users are looking for, you will be able to continue generating valuable backlinks, whatever the future may hold. And better backlinks equals higher rankings.