8 Link Building Best Practices Post-Penguin

Question: With Google getting ready to make Penguin part of the regular algorithm, link building is only going to get harder. Can you tell us where to concentrate our efforts in this new world? Are there some best practices we can implement and where should we be concentrating our link building efforts in 2016 and beyond?

Answer: Since Penguin waddled onto the search engine stage SEOs the world over have been forced to confront the realization that white hat and some gray hat link building practices that used to work for them can now actually get their clients penalized. What's changed?

All of the below link building techniques have either been completely discredited and will lead to a penalty or provide so little value they aren't worth your time post-Penguin:

  • Article Marketing
  • Link and Resources Pages
  • Affiliate or Network Links
  • Private Blog Networks
  • Sponsor Links
  • Footer Links
  • Free Submission Directories
  • Blog Commenting (the auto-commenting variety)
  • Advertorials
  • Forum Signatures

These Top 8 Post-Penguin Link Building Practices include the following:

  • 1. Stop Cross-Linking Between Sites: It's not a coincidence that the majority of the sites that were negatively affected by Penguin shared excessive cross-linking practicesthat may have previously seemed okay. These cross-links included both on-page footer, sidebar and in-content links that were replicated across multiple pages as well as external links to other sites they controlled.

    These external links are usually easy to spot since they tend to target duplicate exact match keywords. Avoid this by asking yourself a simple question: do these links REALLY improve my navigation or the user experience? If not, remove them or convert them to home-page only links. If you are unsure, slap the rel=nofollow tag on them and move on.

  • 2. Quality not Quantity with Directory Links: If you are considering signing up for a directory submission package because it's advertised as "safe" and "will drive traffic" don't. Just don't. Instead, read/listen to the link building rant by Search Engine Land Editor Danny Sullivan. He nailed the terrible nature of directories several years ago.

    The rant, recorded in 2012, is still relevant today. It covers why directories AREN'T the answer, and why they are NOT the #1 Google approved link building technique.

    If you want quality directories, use our recommended directory list. Finally, niche directories are where you want to focus your efforts, those still hold value.

  • 3. Embrace Guest Posting: Although guest blogging took a big hit back in 2014 when Matt Cutts came out and said it was officially dead, guest blogging is still alive and well online. The difference is that it's the "good kind," namely the kind in which you build your authority on quality blogs by providing unique high-quality content.

    For example, if you are a blogger in the very competitive food blogger niche, getting your name and brand out there is imperative. That means understanding and establishing profiles on Huffington Post and other food-related sites to support your own blog and building up your brand at the same time.

    Google has made it clear they are using a form of Author Rank behind the scenes in the form of what the industry calls EAT: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. To benefit here, means building up your expert authority by creating and publishing content on high-quality sites.

  • 4. Build Links with a Blog: Another shared deficiency of Penguin-affected sites has been their lack of a blog. Most sites didn't have a blog on their main domain and instead used an articles page to add new content. These article pages were almost uniformly stripped of value when Penguin hit the site.

    Why? Because Google's Freshness Update doesn't work on this type of content. It's the dynamic nature of a blog with its ability to ping Google & Bing when content is published, as well as pull in social media signals and incoming links more easily, that gives it a CLEAR advantage as the content generation model of choice post-Penguin.

    If you don't have a blog on your site you are missing the single greatest way to build links into your site! Read our 5 Must-Use Brainstorming Tips & Tools to Get You Blogging Like a Pro.

  • 5. Eliminate "Splog" & Content Networks: A splog or spam blog, like this example(that About Us page is a dead giveaway), along with content networks, are completely persona non grata post-Penguin. If you have been using these as part of your in-house or client-provided link building strategy, it's time to update your playbook.

    Google has increased their algorithmic detection of both paid content networks and the average splog. Worse, if you're still using article marketing, (specifically mass submission networks like Distribute Your Articles), now is the time to drop that practice completely. A large portion of these article submission networks contain splogs, which will trigger manual action penalties.

    Finally, Google has been able to sniff-out large scale PBNs (private blog networks) with a vengeance. Gone are well-known networks like Build My Rank, Terry Kyle's Homepage Backlinks, High Society and others. As fast as these go up, Google is taking them down just as they did last month with a Japanese link network. Take the hint and stay away from these.

  • 6. Understand Natural Anchor Text Distribution: If you are building in the same exact match keywords over and over and over again into your site, you can expect to trigger both a manual action unnatural links notice AND set your site up for a possible Penguin slap in the future.

    When link building into your site, it's best to vary your anchor text by using your brand name, direct page URLs, and non-money keyword phrases. Next, keep the percentages within reason. Use a tool like Majestic, or Ahrefs to import and analyze the breakdown of your site's current anchor text distribution.

    If your top anchor text is showing more than 5% on average of your backlink profile, that's a red flag that you may need to dial things back.

  • 7. Target Local Links: It's amazing how few companies look local for links these days. Do you belong to your local chamber of commerce? How about your suppliers and customers; are you represented on their pages? Did you support a local sports team, make a charitable donation or sponsor an event? These opportunities are as natural a link as you can possibly get. Not only will they not trigger an unnatural link notice but they improve your offline reputational profile as well. It's a win-win.

    If you are not gaining links from offline community support initiatives you are missing a valuable way to both replace the links lost as a result of Penguin, as well as gain new links that will remain viable regardless of future algorithmic updates.

  • 8. Evergreen your Content: Evergreen content can zoo-proof your site against Penguins, Pandas, and all assortments of algorithmic animals. High-quality detailed content pieces that have no expiration dates work to pull in links, social signals and repeat visitors like magnets.

    Also known as "submit it and forget it" content, Evergreen content can take the shape of white papers, infographics, detailed FAQ or resource lists, or even industry definitions or acronyms. Every industry has its own under-served niche community. Connect with yours, identify a need, and then construct a resource that fills that need.

Link building in a post-Penguin world doesn't have to be hard. Our eight suggested best practices above are effective, come from our own personal experience, and are fully scalable no matter your client list size. These are where we are placing our link building eggs in 2016 and beyond. We urge you to do the same.