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SEO Strategies to Survive Google Penguin

Nov 15 2012

Feeling the cold of Google Penguin? You’re not alone. Many businesses have noticed a significant hit to their search rankings after Google introduced the new Penguin algorithm change in April 2012. Tighter guidelines on website optimization and new rules on what constitutes spam, including changes to keyword usage and inbound links, have left many wondering if Penguin killed SEO.

Nearly every day, a digital marketing journalist proclaims the death of SEO. This is not true today, nor will it be true next year. The rules of SEO have simply changed and will continue to evolve, leaving many SEO traditionalists that are employing tried-and-true tactics dizzy from the whirlwind of Google changes. While Google is not the only player in the search game, it is the biggest player, and dictates how the industry approaches the strategy of improving search rankings. If you’re not playing by Google’s rules, you’re not in the game.

One of the biggest changes Google Penguin made to SEO was how inbound links are treated. The oft-used practice of inbound linking — helpful and contributory at its finest; useless, and spammy at its worst — will have to change. Before Penguin, rates of 40-50% exact-match anchor text were the standard, but these sites are now being penalized for “over-optimization.”

The first step to surviving Penguin’s new SEO rules is getting a list of your inbound links and identifying the percentage of anchor text from the overall inbound link profile. Anchor text that is greater than 2% of the total should be closely evaluated. Penguin will look into these first, which is a problem because they most likely contain the keywords you are targeting. To combat this, you will need to sort them and use a rank tool such as MozRank and remove all links with a value of 2% or less. To attempt to remove the links, contact the owner of the page through their contact page or using WhoIs. While it may hurt you to shed those inbound links you worked so hard to earn, this thinning is necessary.

Another area worth reviewing in Penguin’s over-optimization themed changes pertains to over-optimized title tags. Having too many repetitious keywords that look spammy can negatively impact your ranking. However, you can also be penalized for changing your title tags too frequently. If they do not appear to be causing problems and you haven’t noticed a decline on potential over-optimized pages, let them be.

There are a number of other known changes (and even more changes we don’t know about), but a general theme about how to do SEO post-Penguin has emerged from both research and the horse’s mouth, AKA Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google.

  1. Create Good Content. If you aren’t creating quality content stop here. You must be creating content that people want to consume or the following won’t make much of a difference. This doesn’t necessarily mean elaborate infographics and in-depth industry white papers (though they certainly can’t hurt). Being active in the blogosphere and leaving high-quality comments on articles, forums, and threads can be a great and start to building more diverse inbound links from influential blogs in addition to actually getting involved in a community that can help to amplify your content. With the high SEO value placed on social signals, this is now more important than ever.
  2. Diversify your Inbound Links. Get Penguin-friendly inbound links by doing the following:
    • Create social media news releases
    • Comment on relevant blog posts
    • Start or join industry forums
    • Repurpose content on social media channels: Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, etc.
  3. Be Natural. Google is respecting websites that are acting respectable. Brands who are active in social media, creating engaging original content, curating content in a manner that improves user experience (i.e., Pinterest, VividWall, etc.), and adding value to the community and/or niche are doing better than ever. This doesn’t mean you have to be everywhere at once, but go out and explore and add value as you travel.

SEO is not going anywhere, but the game has changed. Hopefully our online experience will be the better for it. Have you come up with any post-Penguin SEO strategies that seem to work? We’d love to hear about them.

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