I spent most of the weekend thinking about and laughing at penguins, after seeing a promo for Dreamworks Animations’ Penguins of Madagascar (shown above), a hilarious animated comedy set to debut in November. However, on Sunday, when I saw it was confirmed that Google had launched the long-anticipated Penguin 3.0 Update, there wasn’t much laughing to be heard throughout the Internet marketing world.
In fact, for SEOs and digital marketing firms, news of the update likely made for a bad weekend, as everyone prepared for a rough week ahead when they’ll certainly hear from client’s who fear their sites were nailed by what many consider the most punitive of Google’s penalties.
These Penguins Are Anything But Funny
The Penguin algorithm is Google’s way of punishing unscrupulous link builders for spammy, typically bought, links. Getting hit by the algorithm is bad enough, but the difficulty of recovering from the penalty is what makes it so dreaded.
“When you get hit by a Penguin, you are done. Toast,“ says Stone Temple Consulting’s Eric Enge. “Not only that, if you go through a link cleanup project to try and position for yourself for recovering in the next release, and you miss it, when will you get another chance?”
It’s very common for SEO and content strategists to work with clients who’ve purchased links. The links and link networks are quite easy to spot, and if the client hasn’t been hit by Penguin yet, you don’t so much count yourself lucky as much as you see yourself working against the clock to remove as many of those spammy links as possible.
It can be a scary time, especially when you’re working with a clients who are desperate for links and who, because they have yet to be nailed by Penguin, are reluctant to remove as many links as needed. The same can apply to client’s who have been hit by the update, for often they don’t truly understand the difficulty involved in getting the website back on its feet—if it happens at all.
Focus On Building The Right Links Through Quality Content And Outreach
I’ve worked with clients on both sides of the aisle, and I can say firsthand that avoiding the penalty is a hell of a lot easier than recovering from it for all but the luckiest of companies.
The sanest and most effective approach I’ve been a part of worked primarily because it entailed the SEO and content teams working closely together to right the listing ship: SEOs handling link removal, link disavowing and Reconsideration Requests; content team members working to prepare, produce and share quality content, while at the same time expanding the brand’s outreach and honest link building efforts.
Working alongside some great SEOs, and through having clients who were willing to be open-minded, forward-looking and, most of all, patient, I developed a strategic approach that’s easily replicated:
1). Identify quality sources for links: Many of the links I’ve seen get companies into trouble weren’t bought. They were crappy, low quality and totally unnatural for the brand. Take the opposite approach: Look for link building opportunities in and around your category and from high quality sources.
Let’s say you’re a lawn care company based in Fort Worth, Texas. Since the region is gripped by drought, and because of it entire communities are struggling to deal with water restrictions, why not contact the local and regional newspapers with a pitch of being interviewed for their online edition on how to smartly water lawns, the best plants to select or how to re-sod a lawn under such conditions? Better yet, ask about penning a monthly column for them. You could make a similar pitch to national websites, offering free advice to their audience while gaining a link and enhanced authority in the process.
Also, reach out to current and potential vendor partners, offering to share content, deliver presentations or be a part of sponsored activities, all of which would earn your business a link, either as part of a directory or on each vendor’s website.
The key here is looking for natural opportunities for links.
2). Step up outreach efforts: Many businesses dove into content marketing without much hesitation, but also without much instruction of how to properly build links. What that led to was a lot of content being produced without having any clear objective.
To build links effectively and sustainably for your business, you need to think of any piece of content you produce as being potentially link-worthy, in addition to being share-worthy.
If not, why create it at all?
This quote from Moz’s Rand Fishkin says it all.
My best advice for content marketers: if you can’t answer the question “who will help amplify this & why?” don’t publish it.
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) October 14, 2014
To make this work for your business, use a tool like BuzzSumo to see what types of content in your vertical are (a) being shared and are (b) popular. Most important, use Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and the like to identify who is sharing the information, and what others are saying about it.
Use social media to reach out to some of the most active, engaged participants on the topic and either ask them to be a part of the content you’re in the process of creating, via interviews, or ask them if they’d help you share the content across multiple social platforms.
Those who take part in creating the content will assuredly throw you a link to their site, and the rampant promotion increases exponentially the likelihood of the content getting additional links.
3). Focus on creating quality content. One of the best ways to ensure sure spammy links are a thing of the past is to make quality content a frequent arrow in your quiver. Content quality is synonymous with link-worthy content, and a sizable percentage of the content you produce should fall under both umbrellas
If your business creates four blog posts per month, make one of them a long-form, meaty piece that tackles a hot topic in your vertical. For example, a realtor might do a simple Google search for the “biggest concerns for first-time homeowners,” then peruse the top three pieces of content in the SERPS.
She could then set about creating a more thorough, nuanced piece of content than those she found, taking the time to add visuals and to massage the text until it’s as polished as it can be. Once the content is posted to the site, she could begin the outreach process, including sharing the information with magazines and websites in the vertical, in addition to reaching out to engaged active communities on social media to enlist their help with sharing the content. (Hopefully, she’s already a member of these communities.)
And because she’ll have at least one of these meaty pieces per month, it increases the likelihood that link building becomes a part of her mindset and the frequency of links to her site should continue to increase over time.
I’ve seen these techniques work firsthand.
What I’ve come to love about this strategy is it forces business owners to think of links as an outgrowth of delivering quality to prospects and existing customers, which results in more shares and links, but fewer Penguin visits.
Plus, once a business owner adopts the quality content-links mindset, it’s far less likely that they’ll fall back into the old habits of buying links or attaining crappy, low quality links
How does your business keep Penguins away?
Image courtesy of MoviePilot.com