On or around April 24th, 2012, Google released its latest algorithm change titled the Google Penguin update. Webmasters immediately felt the effects of this update as thousands of sites completely disappeared from the rankings while bunches of others inexplicably rose to the top.
Perhaps one of the strangest results of the Google Penguin update was the appearance of very low quality and unrelated websites coming up for high volume search terms. Meanwhile, authority sites with completely white hat backlinking strategies were sent into the abyss.
How could Google put out an update that actually penalized what most would consider high quality sites and reward paper-thin spammy sites? Isn’t that the opposite of what Google should want?
Needless to say, the webmaster community was and still is up in arms and the SEO community is scrambling to figure out what to do now.
Many people have already publicly exclaimed, “SEO is Dead!”
An understandable reaction, but it is just that… a reaction. The smart SEO’ers out there know that there will always be change, but with change also comes opportunity.
So do you think that the Google Penguin is beatable? I mean look at that little guy, he looks a lot weaker than a panda if you ask me, and many people thrived after the Panda update.
I’ll tell you 3 things right now.
1) Backlinking is NOT dead.
2) Social Signals are increasingly important
3) On-Site optimization and Content is more important than ever.
These 3 facts form the foundation of just how we will beat the Google Penguin update and claim our rightful spots at the top of the search results.
It is my belief that backlinking will still play a very large role in how well sites rank, but the types of backlinks are much more important as well as how the backlinking is done. Certain backlinking methods will still work very well while others may actually penalize your rankings.
Frequency and diversity of backlinking is very important now as well. If Google sees an unnatural backlinking pattern to your sites, they are much more likely to catch it with the Penguin update. So we will talk more about that in the next couple of chapters.
The key thing to remember is that while the Penguin update may seem like it is a major blow to the SEO industry and our ability to rank sites, the reality of the situation is that really not a whole lot has changed at the core of the matter. Backlinks are still important, on-site optimization is still important and social signals are still important.
Certain things have just taken on much greater importance and with the knowledge you will gain here, we will adapt, thrive and crush the Google Penguin update.
By the way, do you know what the main predator of the Penguin is? It is the Leopard Seal.
Do you want to attack this situation like a Leopard Seal or cower away and become a victim like a little sardine?
I’ll assume I know the answer, so let’s move forward.
In order for us to thrive and crush the Google Penguin update, we first must adapt our SEO techniques. Don’t even think about blog comment spam or using large private blog networks. And don’t bother with blasting out 1000 backlinks a day using some automated software like SENukex. The penguin update was designed to notice this type of backlinking and will penalize it.
There are 5 key points that I want to go over that you must adapt into your SEO techniques if you want to thrive. Each of these points is very important and all put together, they will help you to crush the Google penguin and get to the top of the search results for your keywords.
Do not take any of these for granted. They may seem a little silly or inconsequential at first glance, but if you take them to heart and really use them, you will be miles ahead of the SEO pack.
Ok ok, you get it, so tell you the 5 things! I know, let’s quit beating around the iceberg and get right into the meat of it.
The 5 Penguin Adaptations
1) Strong Anchor Text Distribution Is A Must
2) Utilize Authorship Markup
3) Backlink Variation is Uber important.
4) Social Signals Are Vital
5) On-Site Optimization + Content Content Content
I’ll talk briefly about each of these here but I bet you are probably thinking hey, I have heard of doing all of these things, this is nothing new. Well just doing them isn’t what is important. What is important is HOW you do them.
I have to re-iterate that the SEO game really hasn’t changed all that much at its core, but it has changed in exactly how you implement the core principals. You will find that having an SEO plan in place before going all crazy and getting random backlinks from all over the place will be a lot more effective and save you a ton of time and heart-ache.
So my advice to you is to take these 5 key points and adapt them to how you currently do your SEO. Or perhaps these are so different from what you currently do you will want to change completely to something closer to this. The choice is ultimately up to you, but take this knowledge to make the best possible choice you can.
The following is my best advice on how to go about each of these 5 adaptations for the best results and to achieve the best rankings.
1) Strong Anchor Text Distribution Is A Must – What do I mean by strong anchor text distribution? Well most people in the SEO industry learned somewhere along the way that the anchor text of a backlink tells Google what the site is about. So in order to get a site ranked well in Google for a specific anchor text (keyword), it only made sense to use that same anchor text for every single one of our backlinks.
And it worked really well for a long time! However, Google appears to have finally caught on and has begun taking into account when websites have an abnormal number of identical anchor texts pointing to a site. Or in terms we are talking about, sites with very little text distribution in the links pointing to them.
So how can we effectively rank websites for specific keywords now if we can’t make all of our anchor text keywords the same? The first thing is we can use the idea of Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) when choosing anchor text.
Let’s say that your main keyword that you want to rank for is “dog training”. LSI keywords for that would be keywords like animal training, dog classes, dog teaching, classes for dogs, training for dogs, and so on. See how these are all keywords that basically mean the same thing but are different.
However, using the idea of LSI alone is not enough. One of the biggest things Google is looking at now is natural looking SEO. So to look as natural as possible, you want to mix in some anchor texts that aren’t so keyword targeted that a normal person might use.
For example, a person might find a site about dog training and would name the backlink “dog training website” or “pretty cool dog training site”. Imagine how people would share links on social media type sites and you will get a good idea.
So in summary, you want to use the idea of LSI as well as take into consideration what would look natural to Google to come up with a couple of dozen anchor texts that are all related around your main anchor text. Use your main keyword as anchor text 10% to 20% of the time and then mix in the rest of the keywords you come up with when creating your backlinks to create a powerful and natural looking linking profile.
Not only will Google be much more likely to give you some love, but you will have a lot better chance to rank for long-tail keywords and additional keywords you may have never thought to target.
2) Utilize Authorship Markup – Authorship markup is a fairly new technique that Google has been pushing for people to do and is actually quite a powerful addition to your site. Basically what it does is claim the content of a site as yours by using a special tag that looks like this: rel=author. There are a couple of ways to set this up, some easier than others. I will cover the one I think is easiest.
The benefit of using authorship markup is that if done right, your site may start showing up in the search results with your Google+ profile picture next to it. This adds a lot of credibility to your result in the searchers eyes.
Using authorship markup is also a huge plus in Google’s eyes as it shows them that you are creating unique and original content and helps keep people from stealing your content since you have told Google you are the original author.
The easiest way to setup authorship markup that I know of is to first login to your Google+ account and add your blog/site to your “contributor” section. Once that is there, you need to put a link back to your Google+ profile from any piece of content that you post on your site. Most people do so with a sort of author bio box and it would look something like this.
You just need to make sure you put in your Google+ profile address and put something similar to this at the top or bottom of each post that you want to claim. It is as simple as that.
If you are using WordPress, there may also be a plugin you could use to simplify this process. Very recently a promising plugin came out for free that could simplify the entire authorship markup process for you, but I have just played with it a little bit. It is called Author Sure and can be downloaded here:
At first glance, it looks to simplify the process of setting up authorship markup which is awesome.
There are a couple of additional setup items to get the About information as well as the picture in. In order to get the picture in, you must setup a gravatar.com account and upload the picture you would like displayed. You will also want to fill out some of your profile information on Gravatar as well. The other thing is to go to your profiles section inside of your WordPress blog and write a short profile under the “About” section. After that and setting up the plugin, you are good to go. It takes less than 5 minutes and will add a ton of SEO value to your site(s).
I may do a video walkthrough showing me doing the setup in the near future that I will send to you free very soon if you are signed up on my newsletter on this blog.
3) Backlink Variation is Uber Important – Earlier we talked about Anchor Text Distribution. Backlink variation is a very similar concept so I won’t spend a ton of time talking about it.
The idea of backlink variation is that you want to get backlinks from a wide variety of sources. Not just different websites, but different types of websites. Sure, you can get 100s of backlinks from 100s of different article directories, but they are all still coming from one type of source… article directories. What is important is to utilize every different source of backlink in your arsenal (that Google still values).
So instead of hammering one source that you know Google values, use 20 sources. It is not too difficult and will create a much more natural backlinking profile to your sites.
If you aren’t sure what types of backlinks Google still values, don’t worry, I will be going over that more specifically in this article.
Truthfully, the types of backlinks Google values has not changed a great deal.
Where Google places the importance is in HOW you do your backlinking. 10,000 blog comments in a day or week to junk auto-approve blogs is not the best idea. But 50 to 100 blog comments on high authority and relevant sites will add a lot of value and look a lot more natural.
4) Social Signals Are Vital – Social signals have been a pretty important thing in Google’s eyes for a little while now, but they are only becoming more and more important. While the importance of massive irrelevant backlinks has gone down, the importance of social signals has gone up.
So what exactly is a social signal anyway? Basically a social signal is when someone talks about your site on a social networking site such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or anywhere else that involves a community. It can even be on forums. Or maybe they “like” an article, or “plus” a blog post or “re-tweet” a story. Those are all forms of social signals that Google watches out for.
In a sense, a social signal shows Google that other users care about your content or think that your content is useful. Why else would they re-tweet it or like it? One of the best ways to get these social signals for your site is to include the appropriate buttons in a very visible place. At a minimum, you should have a Twitter, Facebook and Google+ button on your site. I find that a vertical bar to the left of your content or a horizontal bar above or below your content is most visible.
I use a free WordPress plugin called “Slick Social Share Buttons” on most of my sites that puts a vertical bar to the left of your content. You can grab it here.
The question of how to GET these social signals for your site is somewhat of a tricky one, but the honest and most ethical way is to produce good content and share it in places that you think people would benefit from it. Also, don’t hesitate to ask friends and family to check it out and click the social buttons for you.
5) On-Site Optimization + Content Content Content – On-site optimization has gotten more and more important recently and content has been and always will be important. You might say that content is the life blood of the internet. No wonder Google values high quality, original and unique content, right?
There are a lot of tips, tricks and techniques to have high quality on-site optimization. There are long guides written on the subject even, so it is not something that I can fully cover here. However, there are a couple things I will say that are very important.
It is very important that your linking structure makes sense and that you do not have any broken links on your site.
Basically the best linking structure would resemble somewhat of a pyramid where your home page is the very top of the pyramid. Your homepage then links to each of your first level of pages and each of your first level of pages could then have sub-pages that would be linked to from the first level pages but NOT from the homepage. Take a look at the diagram below for a visual look at it.
Sorry for the crappy picture, but hopefully that gives you an idea of what I mean. If you have just random links pointing everywhere or pointing in circles, Google will not know how to crawl it effectively and you will not have a good distribution of “link juice” or “page rank” flowing through your site. Also be very careful to not have any links pointing to broken links on your own site or on external sites.
Other on-site optimizations that can be made include using H1, H2, H3 tags, bolding, italicizing, underlining, etc… in your posts and pages. Also, using pictures and videos when appropriate is important. These are some of the basics of your on-site optimization and I encourage you to Google around a little bit for on-site optimization tips. You will find that there is a lot of information out there that will really help you understand the key things to do.
But what I have talked about here should give you a pretty good basic foundation for what to do.
Now we all know that content is very important. I believe the biggest change from this Google Penguin update is that there is more importance put on longer authoritative types of articles. If your blog posts or pages are anywhere from 700 to 2000 words, then you are doing pretty darn good. So just aim for longer articles and you will benefit.
The other thing that you DON’T want to do with regards to your content is to keyword stuff. You really do not need 2 to 3% keyword density. You don’t even really need 1%. What you should focus on instead is using variations of your keyword and actually implementing the concept of LSI throughout your articles. This will be much more natural to read and Google will still figure out what your top keywords are, don’t worry.
If you do a good job on both your content and your on site optimization you will be a long ways ahead of the majority of other webmasters. Put just a little extra time in to do it right and you will be rewarded.
Conclusions: Well that concludes this detailing on what you need to do to adapt, thrive and CRUSH the search rankings. If you combine all 5 of these, you will be almost unstoppable and will likely never have to worry about another Google slap again.
It may seem a little bit daunting at first to have to do all of these things. If you have never done some of them, there might be a little bit of a learning curve. But once you get it down and understand that these are the things you must do to rank well in Google, it will just become part of your SEO routine and you will do them with ease.
Now just a quick review, these are the 5 things that you must be doing or taking into consideration to beat Google, the penguin update and future Google updates.
1) Have a strong anchor text distribution for your backlinks. 2) Implement Authorship Markup on your sites. 3) Strong Backlink Variation, the more diverse your links, the better. 4) Get social signals (aka social proof for Google) any way you can. 5) Have great on-site optimization and content.
In the next coming article I am going to talk about the 10 backlinking techniques that I see as the most reliable and most effective to use to rank your sites in Google post-penguin.