Two months removed from the release of Google's Penguin update, panic and conjecture are giving way to a clearer understanding of how it actually works and how it can affect a site's SERP placement. While spam sites themselves took a hit with Panda (along with the juice their links imparted), Penguin is targeting more webspam and link strategies directly. Here's how to continue guest blogging and building good links, without concern for Penguin penalties.
First, The Penguin Facts
- Penguin is a webspam filter, not an always-on change to Google's algorithm. Effects are therefore seen in waves, as each update of Penguin is run again (as had been the case with Panda over the last year). If your site is penalized and you make fixes, you won't see an improvement until the next Penguin release, even though Google will crawl your site many times before then. If you make changes that have an immediate impact on your SERP rank, your problem likely wasn't Penguin.
- Penguin is designed to target tactics that game the algorithm. It's not about fine tuning interpretations of user intent, nor is it designed to penalize the benign "over-optimization" that happens out of white-hat eagerness– Matt Cutts dispelled this concern that grew from his own admittedly poor choice of words. Even the first Google blog post about Penguin tried to make that clear; Penguin just wants to reward quality and take down the bad guys.
- Penguin's first releases are designed to target the most egregious behaviours and trigger very few false positives. It's unlikely that your honestly managed site would be hit by Penguin, unless you honestly forgot that you bought into a link scheme a couple of years ago. However, Penguin will get pickier, just as Panda did, so you should be aware of SEO habits that might eventually come back to haunt you.
Is It Still Safe To Link Build And Guest Blog?
Yes, it is absolutely safe to continue guest blogging and building links, so long as you treat it as the holistic internet marketing strategy it is. Guest blogging can yield powerful links that contribute to a high SERP placement, but if that's all you're doing it for, you're taking some big risks as far as your overall marketing strategy. SEO shouldn't be your only tactic for driving business, which is the real "secret" to understanding Penguin.
That being said, guest blogging is still great for link building, because you get to use it as your own little road show, in which you demonstrate your knowledge and expertise to other site owners and their audiences. By leading with high quality content, and creating value for other sites and their readers, you're doing exactly what Matt Cutts says is the best kind of SEO. It's reasonable to earn a link as an endorsement of your good work.
The purest form of online endorsement, of course, is the unsolicited mention that contains a link. Some other site owner just likes your site (or something you wrote) so much they are compelled to link to it as a service to their audience. You don't control these links, which is what makes them such good signals for Google to use in determining your site's quality and relevance. So it shouldn't look like you control your guest blogging links, either.
Penguin-proofing Your Guest Blogging Efforts
- Publish deep, original content or other resources on your own site first, and send your inbound links there. It doesn't make sense for you to earn links to thin or nearly duplicate pages. People just don't talk about those, and wouldn't naturally link to them.
- Write great articles that site owners want to post to their blogs. If you aren't getting takers for your work, you may have to improve your content. Don't go striking deals that include paid placement or exchanged links. These have long been a violation of Google's webmaster guidelines. You're probably guest blogging because you know you should earn links, anyway. Keep the faith.
- Choose actively managed sites with real readership. With the demise of low quality article directories, BINOs– Blogs in Name Only– have cropped up to take their place (or they've been around for a while but haven't been found out yet). These sites publish anything you send them, which makes their links suspect by nature. They might not be part of any network, but that doesn't make them any better.
- Stay relevant to your niche or related industries. Your chosen topics should make sense in light of what you promote on your own site. That's not to say a toner cartridge site can only talk about toner cartridges, but that guest content should stick to things like business operations, saving money, and making smart environmental choices.
- Give the anchor text a rest. You may have identified "custom logoed paperweight designs" as your money keyword phrase, but it's not likely that you'd naturally earn a lot of links with that specific anchor text. The name of your company, your root domain, your own name and even simple conventions like "click here" more easily pass the Penguin sniff test for legitimacy.
- Easy on the keywords. It's similar to the anchor text issue, but it applies to your guest posts as well as your own pages. Don't try to beat Google over the head and shoulders with high keyword density. If users know what your page is about, Google will, too. Beyond that is a waste, and may send up a red flag about the legitimacy of the page.
- Claim your content using Google+ and the rel=author tag. If you're proud to show the world that the content belongs to you personally, it may very well carry more weight in search, show up to your followers in Search Plus Your World, protect you from scraping, and lead to other credibility signals, too.
- Expand your marketing channels. Share your stuff on Google+ and throughout social media. Whether social signals drive SEO results is beside the point. It's smart marketing to diversify your channels, including referral traffic, email and even offline which tends to result in direct searches for your site. More signals that show your site is a credible resource certainly can't hurt SEO.
A Final Thought
Your online competition never has been and never will be with Google. Google isn't your audience or your paying customer. Google is trying to do the best job it can to serve good sites to clients when and where it makes sense to do so. In that sense, your competition isn't really even with other sites in your niche; your competition is with you. By seeking to improve how well you connect with your audience, and to meet their needs in new and better ways, you're already winning the battle. Understand Penguin, but don't let it dominate your internet marketing concerns.
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Mike Sobol is Partner and Co-Founder of Guest Blog Genius, a guest blogging service for SEO professionals, and Content BLVD, a content writing service for busy bloggers and site owners. Building businesses since 1999, Mike's passion is to create effective new services to fulfill unmet needs in a variety of niche markets, which include internet marketing, content creation and SEO.