Penguin 3.0 is finally here, and it’s delivered a similarly powerful scope of changes to the world of optimization as its predecessors. Penguin 1.0 started altering the linkbuilding landscape back in 2012 with an algorithmic change that impacted more than three percent of all search queries. The update targeted low-quality backlinks, such as those stuffed with keywords or those posted on sites whose specific purpose was hosting external links.
Now, more than two years later and more than a year after the last Penguin refresh, Penguin 3.0 is forcing link builders to alter their strategies yet again. Fortunately, there are several new tactics that can keep you afloat and push you forward, free of ranking penalties.
Penguin 3.0’s Refinement
Penguin 3.0 has continued in the tradition of Penguin updates, refining what constitutes a “good” link in the eyes of Google and launching a more sophisticated algorithm for weeding out the negative offenders. Since most obvious negative links have already been caught and penalized with previous updates, Penguin 3.0 has focused on targeting previously unnoticed low-quality links. While the exact algorithmic changes remain undisclosed and therefore unclear, it’s reasonable to expect that the “naturalness” of external links can be somehow measured with even greater precision.
Your goal as a link builder should therefore be to build as many natural links as possible, while cutting out any strategies that could make it seem like you’re building links only for higher ranks.
Strategy 1: Get More Local
Local optimization isn’t just a strategy for mom-and-pop gift stores or hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It can and should be harnessed by all businesses with a physical office, even if they operate nationally. Pursuing a local SEO campaign gives you a much higher relevance to a slightly smaller audience, with much less competition to deal with. You’ll immediately get more visibility with a wider range of keywords that deal with local-specific terms, but more importantly, you’ll open the door to a new world of link possibilities.
Local optimization demands attention for local-specific publications and PR opportunities. For example, if you want to build links with some region-specific language around them, it’s a good idea to attend local events and publish press releases around the opportunity. You can also post more on your social media profiles about local events, and make blog posts about local developments. It’s an easy opportunity to attract new links, and it will give you immediate authority for local-specific keywords. All you have to do is pay attention to the local news, and put yourself out there.
Strategy 2: Create Infographics for Niche Topics
Infographics have always been a high-quality link building strategy because they’re permanent, high-quality pieces of content that are easily shareable and naturally attract tons of backlinks. However, the modern market has been saturated with infographics, and building one that’s both relevant and interesting is becoming more difficult. Churning out infographics that are redundant or ones that serve no purpose could earn you a penalty, or worse—a poor reputation.
Instead, start creating infographics for niche topics—the hyper-specific topics that no one in your industry has tried to do before. You’ll sacrifice the sheer volume of your audience, but the audience you have left will be much more appreciative, and your infographic will get much more visibility. For example, making an infographic about the most powerful buzzwords in Twitter marketing is much more specific than making one about “social media marketing” in general. In the end, this strategy will earn you more links and give your infographics a much better shot at getting found (though you may have to perform some original research to put them together).
Strategy 3: Selectively Hunt High-Quality Link Sources
The highest quality link sources are also the most difficult to build links with. Governmental sites ending in .gov and colleges and universities that end in .edu tend to be some of the most powerful and authoritative link building platforms, but getting your links on those sites is difficult and occasionally problematic—first, you have to find a way to build a relevant, valuable link, and second, you have to convince the webmaster to host it.
Instead of trying to post links yourself on these sites or sending out a mass email to fish for an opportunity, take time every week to hunt down a handful of key opportunities. Offer a new program or product that fits with their purpose—such as a scholarship that can apply to several colleges and universities. Then, reach out to each webmaster individually and politely request that one of your links be featured on their sites. Don’t be surprised if your response rate is low—the links you do win will be that much more valuable to your strategy.
Strategy 4: Diversify, Now More Than Ever
Diversifying your link profile has always been a good strategy, but in a post-Penguin 3.0 world, it’s not enough to simply build links on different sites. You have to build several different kinds of links (such as 301 redirects, nofollow links, and broken links) on several different sources, in several different ways. Diversity is an understatement—no two links you build should be alike.
It’s a difficult strategy to manage, especially if you’re running thin on sources to build links on, but the payoff is worth it. Every couple of weeks, you should do a run-through of your link profile as it currently exists using a tool like Moz’sOpen Site Explorer, which is free and open to the public. You’ll be able to see all the links currently pointing back to your site, including the domains they’re hosted on, and you should be able to infer broad themes about your link building strategy and note key areas for improvement or development.
Strategy 5: Link Build Without the Links
It sounds counterintuitive, but there’s a way to build links without actually building links. Google recently disclosed that brand mentions (instances of your brand’s name on the web), even without an accompanying link pointing back to your site, pass authority to the appropriate site. This means you can build “brand mentions” instead of links to get a similar boost in page rank.
As with links, you’ll have to keep your diversity in mind. You don’t want a backlink profile that exists entirely of backlinks, nor do you want a profile that exists entirely of linkless brand mentions. Vary up the format of your brand mentions too—for example, if you’re running a company called “Bunker Media Marketing and Advertising,” you could build brand mentions such as “Bunker Media Marketing” or simply “Bunker Media.” Those variations add up to register as natural occurrences, since no “real” customers are likely to use the exact trademarked brand in every single instance.
These strategies can all help you achieve a more natural, more authoritative link profile, but keep in mind your direct efforts are not nearly as significant unless you have a dedicated audience building links for you. The true key to cultivating a high-quality, Penguin-proof link profile is nurturing a linkworthy content strategy that people want to link to. Spend your efforts making and distributing great content, and you’ll never have to worry about links.
Timothy Carter is the CRO for AudienceBloom. Since 1997 he's been helping businesses maximize their sales revenue from websites via content marketing, SEO and Internet Marketing strategies. Over the years he's written for publications like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, MarketingProfs and other highly respected online publications.