Link building has always been an important part of search engine optimization; links indicate authority, which in turn dictates how sites can rank in SERPs for relevant keyword terms. The Penguin update, which was originally released in 2012
, overhauled how optimizers viewed link quality, and subsequent iterations of Penguin helped to shape the "Penguin era," demanding intelligent, relevant link building instead of link spam and forcing optimizers to reevaluate their previous strategies.
Now, we may be entering an entirely new era of link building, thanks to a major change in how the Penguin update works. This is the post-Penguin era, and your link building strategies should change with that distinction.The Last Penguin Update
In September of 2016, Google released what became known as Penguin 4.0, an end cap to the regular, iterative Penguin updates. According to MultimediaX
, the biggest takeaway here is Penguin's incorporation into the "core" Google algorithm
, and the resulting process of Penguin-related data to update in real-time.
What does that mean? Previously, Penguin existed as a separate algorithm that worked in conjunction with Google's core. Data refreshes occasionally updated information in Google's index about specific sites, but those refreshes weren't exactly consistent.
You might find out that your rankings dropped due to a link you built two months ago, or fail to see your rankings recover for months after you initially made changes to your link profile. Now, those refreshes happen constantly and automatically, so any actions you take will have a nearly instant impact on your performance.
In addition, Penguin 4.0 introduced a change to how penalties work. Previously, if a formal penalty was applied, it would apply to a full domain
. It still might apply to an entire domain, but in some cases, it may only apply to a specific page. However, it's still bad to get a penalty, no matter what.How to Build Post-Penguin Links
So are links still important? Absolutely. It's almost impossible for any site to rank without first building authority--and you need inbound links for that. Let's take a look at how to build links, now that Penguin is officially part of Google's core algorithm:
Is There a Future for Penguin?
- Focus on "natural" links. Even though Penguin is now part of Google's core algorithm, the standards it set for link quality still remain. If you want to avoid getting penalized, you'll need to build "natural" links, which means the links pointing to your site shouldn't look like they're intended solely to pass authority to your domain. In practice, there's an easy rule of thumb for determining how natural the link appears: ask yourself if a user encountering this link would find the link valuable. If they do, it's probably okay. For example, if you're writing an article about the importance of getting new tires for your vehicle, a link to a site with tire reviews would be helpful to readers while a link to a bowling alley would not.
- Use strong content as an anchor. Instead of focusing on building links, focus on writing fantastic offsite content. Your content should take priority, and your links should be secondary. Establish guest posting profiles on multiple offsite sources, and do your best to contribute material that those publishers want to see. You'll make the publishers happy and the readers happy, and whatever links you can fit into your content will look natural and add even more value to your already-valuable content. Plus, if the content's good, it will bring your brand some reputation value even without a link.
- Check your rankings weekly (at least). The biggest change that Penguin 4.0 offered was the constant state of refresh in monitoring backlinks. That means your rankings could change within a day or two of a new link being considered as part of your backlink profile. Accordingly, you'll want to keep a close eye on your rankings, checking in on at least a weekly basis. Doing so will help you identify any problem links proactively so you can remove them before they do any more harm.
It's unlikely that Google will revisit Penguin, now that it's joined Panda as part of Google's core
. However, Google may update the way it evaluates authority in the future.
Over the past few years, Google has made moves to incorporate things like user reviews, ratings, and appearances in third-party review sites like Yelp. It's also incorporated more apps (including streaming app content) in search results. If a new authoritative score emerges in the future, it may come from one of these areas.
Until then, links remain your best way to improve your site's authority and overall rankings--as long as you comply with Penguin's standards.
May 9, 2017
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.