How to achieve the best out of SEO after Google’s Penguin update

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  • October 2, 2012
John Iliopoulos

John Iliopoulos

Search Strategist

The last couple of years have seen the world of online search turn upside down. Sites that once rode high in the SERPS were sent crashing down, and countless webmasters have seen their traffic slow to a crawl as their sites were dropped from their former heights.

The primary cause of this chaos, of course, has been Google. The search giant’s on-going battle against black hat techniques and low quality sites has changed the face of SEO, and if we’ve learnt just one thing from the massive Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, it’s that Google is serious about changing the way it decides which sites are worthy of promotion.

The question every webmaster is asking is simple:

How do I succeed in a post-Penguin environment?

Opinions are varied as to the best way to move forward, with many SEO ‘experts’ recommending just more of the same tired old tricks, but almost 19 months since Google first rocked the Internet with the Panda update, it’s time to accept that the old tricks are dead.

If we want to survive and thrive in this new environment we need to accept that many of the old tried and tested SEO techniques not only don’t work anymore (and never will again) but may even be counterproductive, attracting penalties from the major search-engines.

Understanding Penguin

Before you can move on and adapt to the new landscape, it’s important to understand just why you need to change your SEO techniques, and a good example of that can be found in the Penguin update.

One of the major changes introduced in Penguin was the way Google looks at our inbound links.

This has been something they’ve been developing for many years now, so it’s no surprise that they’ve started to get serious about it. Back in the good old days, of course, the strength of a page determined by off-site SEO was simply a factor of the number of external links it had directed to it, along with the page rank of the link sources. It was a simple system, and the trick to beating the competition was simply to create, attract or buy more incoming links than them.

In recent years, though, this simple formula has begun to break down. First the concept of Page Rank took on a reduced significance, then we were told that our incoming links should be tightly related to our subject matter, and finally we began to see that keyword stuffing our links didn’t work as well as it used to. Now with the Penguin update, Google has gone one step further. It has begun to learn how to identify unnatural patterns in a link profile.

In short, Google is learning. It’s getting smarter with each update, and you can be sure that the old SEO techniques won’t be effective ever again.

How to Survive Penguin and Move Forward?

A lot of SEO experts will offer a list of maybe ten things you can do to recover from the Penguin update.

They’ll talk about altering the density of keywords, adding Facebook ‘like’ and Google+ buttons to boost social signals, updating your sitemaps and removing non-relevant backlinks to create a healthier, more natural profile. I could deliver the same lecture here, but we all know that you can find those tips anywhere on the Internet.

Instead, here’s a single tip to help you not only recover from the Penguin update, but to survive through any future updates, of which there are sure to be many.

Here it is, quite straightforward and simple: Make better sites.

This is all you need to know, and it’s clear to anyone who has been online and awake over the last decade or so.

How can you make your site ‘better’?

    • Avoid focusing on specific anchor text phrases:
      If you want to rank for technology newsand all your links have that as the anchor text, you will not rank highly under that keyword. Modify your anchor text to match as many related terms as possible, whether they are the brand name of the company, what it is they do, partial matches, or non-descriptive links. The more organic you make your links and backlinks, the better off you’ll be.


    • Gather natural backlinks:
      As previously mentioned, old techniques such as link stuffing are officially over. You must earn your backlinks. The social web is now king and you’ll want your links to relate to your audience as much as possible. Cover the range of topics your audience is interested in, and purge any old or dead links that are no longer relevant. Techniques such as guest posting have become even more important. Having your links shared and tweeted will help boost your rankings as well.


  • Diversify your brand portfolio by building social media pages:
    It used to be that Google was the one-stop-shop to find your site. These days you can lean on Facebook and Twitter to create followings outside of the Google fold. Producing great content and products that people want to share on social media networks will generate buzz, and you can also study what your fans and followers are saying for article research and future products. Plus, it allows you to future-proof your brand against further Google updates. 

Google is becoming smarter, sharper and less forgiving with each new algorithm update, and in the long term it simply isn’t a sensible business model to hope that tweaking your keywords and tidying up your link profile will allow you to survive the next one – or the next dozen.

The future is clear to see, providing you’re not wearing blinkers. Black hat techniques are mathematically certain to become more difficult and less effective as Google learns.

Traditional SEO will become much more challenging, and the only people who will survive the next decade will be those who not only understand the basic rules of clean, simple SEO, but also possess the ability to create compelling content that visitors really want to see and socially share.

It would be much easier to claim that Penguin is beatable with just a quick play around with your Meta tags, but the truth is always better than fiction. SEO is getting harder. The sooner you learn the new rules, the sooner you’ll learn how to succeed.

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