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Exploring Penguin: The new link approach from Google

From: SEO: Link Building in Depth

Video: Exploring Penguin: The new link approach from Google

Early in 2012, Google released a new algorithm update called Penguin. This update was related to both on page and off page factors, both on page optimization and linking to the site. We're only going to discuss linking in this video course. In fact, as far as the linking goes, Penguin is really a continuation of a variety of changes Google have been making recently. And in fact, whether we give these changes fancy names or not, they're all part of a process that's been going on for years.

Exploring Penguin: The new link approach from Google

Early in 2012, Google released a new algorithm update called Penguin. This update was related to both on page and off page factors, both on page optimization and linking to the site. We're only going to discuss linking in this video course. In fact, as far as the linking goes, Penguin is really a continuation of a variety of changes Google have been making recently. And in fact, whether we give these changes fancy names or not, they're all part of a process that's been going on for years.

Google is simply trying to do a better job of figuring out which links are important and which are not. In an earlier video, I discussed my idea of the two basic types of links, real links and fake links and these algorithm changes are all part of Google trying to do a better job at figuring out the difference. So what are these recent changes? Well, as far as the Penguin update itself, those changes were very specifically related to Google's web master guidelines. Google stated that the update was intended to decrease rankings for sites that it believed were violating Google's quality guidelines.

And what do those quality guidelines say about links? The guidelines are mostly related to on page issues. But as far as linking goes, they say this, "Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or 'bad neighborhoods' on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links." By link schemes, Google specifically refers to these types of things.

Links intended to manipulate PageRank, which is not a particularly helpful statement really. Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web and excessive reciprocal links and link exchanging; something we discussed in an earlier video. Also, buying or selling links that pass PageRank. In other words, they don't care if you buy or sell nofollow links, but they object to the purchase or sale of follow links. That's something we're going to look at in the next section of this video course.

Another recent development is that Google has been sending messages through the Google Webmaster account warning people that their incoming links appear to be artificial or unnatural. A Google spokesperson has also recently stated that while in the past they would simply quietly distrust such links, that is, downgrade the value of the links or ignore the links entirely, they are now informing people that these are bad links, presumably to discourage people from using such links and to push the link networks out of business.

Now Google has stated that Penguin itself only affects around 3% of web searches, so most sites are really not affected, and often when a site is hurt, it's due to really egregious on page problems, such as keyword stuffing and garbage text with outgoing links, unrelated to incoming links. From a linking perspective, there's been a lot of conjecture in the SEO business about how Penguin may deal with links, and unfortunately, I think much of the conjecture is wrong or exaggerated.

Some pundits have looked at the things that penalize sites have been doing and assume that everything they do must be bad which is itself bad logic. Like saying that lung cancer may be due to smoking, but you should also give up watching TV just to be safe. Google has stated that they make it very hard for people to hurt other sites, but apparently it can happen now and then. I'm sure the guys at Google are not stupid though and realize that penalizing sites based on incoming links is simply an invitation for more spam, as the less ethical among us start attacking their competitors with spam links, by signing them up with link programs that create thousands of spammy links very quickly, for instance.

On the other hand, Google wants people to be scared of the consequences of bad links, to discourage people from using them. Is Google actually penalizing sites for having bad links pointing to them? I would suspect that in most cases the answer is no. Though some in the SEO community seem to have taken Google's rather mild statements and turned them into something quite different, and in consequence, we have seen a couple of things happen. First, some site owners are beginning to threaten other people with legal action if they don't remove links pointing to their sites.

Some are even using Digital Millennium Copyright Act Take Down notices quite improperly though the average hosting company doesn't realize it's not illegal use of such a notice. And some owners of garbage spammy sites are extorting money from site owners refusing to remove links unless they get paid. Based on Google's actual statements, I think all these maybe somewhat of an overreaction. I still don't think Google will be penalizing sites based on linking, except in really extreme cases, and in particular, when on page factors in combination with linking issues seem to indicate that a site owner is playing games.

Still, what is going on with Google's linking algorithms and how can you stay out of trouble? Well the first thing is the obvious stuff. As Google states in its guidelines, it doesn't like to see links from your site to bad neighborhoods and web spammers. By this, they essentially mean links to various kinds of link networks, systems that promise you hundreds, if not many thousands of links to your site very quickly and easily. They specifically warn about links from your site to the networks, because if they see those, they know you're involved in bad linking.

But of course, you'd be wise to avoid getting links from such networks too. So avoid any kind of program in which you have to provide links to the network in exchange for links from the network or schemes in which you pay for links from such a network and also avoid programs that create tens of thousands of links or any kind of program that shows you're involved in link manipulation. Extensive reciprocal-linking programs should be avoided too, and don't sell links pointing from your site to others, unless there are no follow links, as you could get your site penalized.

As for buying links, we'll be discussing that in the next video. You may also want to consider your overall link profile. If you get tens of thousands of links in a few days, that's a problem. If all your links are highly keyworded, that could be a problem. Yes, I know we've talked a lot about keywords and how important they are in links, but if almost all your links are highly keyworded links, in particular, if they only use one or two different phrases, that's a problem, because it looks unnatural to the search engines.

Natural linking is likely to include various different phrases with a bunch of domain links and even "click here" links thrown in. You need a wide variety of different types of links too: directories, blogs, websites, forums, social networking, and so on. If your links are predominantly coming from one type of origin; that looks unnatural, and if you get an unnatural linking message from Google, do your best to get the unnatural links removed, and if you can't, reply to the message, telling Google that the linking site won't remove them.

Overall then, use some commonsense. Thinks about the things that Google is likely to be looking for, the type of linking that is likely to be considered part of a game and avoid it, and expect more updates from Google, including ways for Webmasters to tell Google which incoming links they're willing to take responsibility for, and which may be placed by competitors.

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SEO: Link Building in Depth

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