Posted on October 31, 2014
Last week, I wrote about the release of Penguin 3.0, including how to know if it impacted your site, and steps to take to correct the actions that may have caused the penalty.
The intention of Google’s Penguin algorithm is to remove spam, and improve its search results by penalizing websites that rank abnormally high in search results due to participating in manipulative, spammy tactics such as building unnatural links. Algorithm updates such as Penguin 3.0 are good milestones, as well as reminders, to evaluate and ensure your SEO strategy is up to date.
While the Penguin algorithm seeks to penalize unnatural, manipulative links, inbound links to your website remain the most significant element of Google’s ranking algorithm; that’s why Google places so much emphasis on ensuring that only high-quality, natural links are counted, while discounting suspicious ones. So, you know you need links, but how do you acquire them in such a way that won’t get you penalized by the Penguin algorithm?
This article will outline strategies to build Penguin-safe, high-quality links through a strong content strategy. But first, let’s take a look at the primary shift we’re encountering when it comes to link building strategies.
Changing the Way We Think of Links
Link building has undergone significant changes over the past few years. In the not-so-distant past, a typical strategy may have included:
- Submitting your site or blog to automated web directories
- Mass emailing site owners and asking for reciprocal links or link exchanges
- Taking part in link schemes like buying or selling text links on high PageRank sites
- Excessive use of article marketing or press releases with keyword-rich anchor text
These strategies no longer work as of the initial release of Penguin, back in April of 2012. Not only are these strategies ineffective, they can result in manual or algorithmic penalties that can take months or years to recover from. For a complete list of outdated strategies, see my article, 6 Dead Link Building Tactics You Should Avoid.
This is where we’re seeing a significant shift in the way we think of links. Whereas links used to be something that were often bought, sold, or asked for, marketers should now be thinking about how toearn them.
Following are 6 strategies you can implement to earn high-quality links to your site…without asking for them, or putting your site at risk of a manual or algorithmic penalty from Google.
1. Guest blogging
You may have heard rumors over the past year that guest blogging is no longer an effective SEO or link building strategy. Matt Cutts, head of Webspam at Google, made a pronouncement earlier this year, “stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.” This spurred many marketers and site owners to give up on the strategy altogether.
However, while guest blogging solely as a means of improving rankings is a thing of the past, using guest blogging as a way to build authority, credibility and thought leadership is still be an extremely effective strategy.
To do guest blogging correctly, you need to build relationships with high-quality sites, and contribute valuable content that their readers will love. As you build your reputation in these communities, your posts will build your reputation and will drive targeted traffic to your site. And as your exposure increases, so do the links to your content.
Guest blogging is also a great opportunity to build brand mentions and implied links, which are both great for SEO. I cover this in detail in my article,Implied Links, Brand Mentions and the Future of SEO Link Building.
Creating a high-quality industry infographic can seem daunting, particularly for small business owners or those with no graphic design skills. However, contracting a designer on a site like Elancecan cost you as little as $100, and the links, branding, and exposure that a quality infographic can garner for you are worth far more. Alternatively you can sign up with a DIY infographic service like Piktochart for as little as $29/month.
If you’d like more info on creating and promoting infographics, see my article,The Definitive Guide to Writing and Promoting a Viral Infographic.
3. Amazing content
When it comes down to it, every successful, safe, link building strategy can be boiled down to having great, original content. High quality, engaging content naturally attracts and earns links, particularly if you’re making strategic efforts to ensure the right people see your content.
Some of the elements of link-worthy content include:
- Long form content that covers every angle of a topic
- Proper use of grammar and spelling
- A unique angle or contribution to the topic of conversation
- The inclusion of helpful links, quotes, images, statistics and other useful supplemental content
- Relevant information that resonates with its intended audience
For more tips on what types of content Google and readers appreciate, see my post The 12 Essential Elements of High-Quality Content.
In terms of the types of content that are great at attracting links:
- Industry resource pages or directories
- Discussing a controversial topic or stating an unpopular opinion (just be careful not to alienate your readers)
- Competitions, awards or contests
- ‘Egobait’: Incorporate influencers into your content and then let them know about it
- ‘Ultimate’ guides, how-to’s or tutorials
- Expert interviews
- Humorous or otherwise entertaining videos
- Compilations of industry statistics or research
4. Content syndication
Syndicating your content – meaning getting your content published word for word on another site – can be a great way to garner high-quality links to your site. It can get your content in front of a new audience, and generate relevant traffic back to your site. It can also mean quality links to your site, giving credit to you as the original author.
In order for this strategy to work, however, there are some key considerations to keep in mind:
- Ensure that the site syndicating your content contains a link to you as the original source
- Make sure your site is already established before ‘giving away’ your content; republished content may be considered “duplicate content” and publishing it elsewhere could cause the version on your own website to be suppressed from search results.
- Choose high-quality, popular sites that will generate targeted traffic, and that can pass on some of their authority to you (not the other way around)
- Don’t syndicate all your content; you should still have lots of original content so people have an incentive to visit your site
- Use the rel=canonical tag on your syndicated article so Google knows which one is the original
5. Blogger outreach campaigns
Reaching out to bloggers in your industry is a great way to help you reach a new audience and form mutually beneficial relationships with key figures in your niche. And one of the results of these relationships is often links to your site. To conduct a basic blogger outreach campaign, I recommend the following steps:
- Create a list of bloggers you can reach out to
- Do some research, and then whittle down your list to include only high-quality blogs
- Begin getting on their radar through commenting on their blog and social media posts
- Finally, initiate direct contact via email or social media
For a step-by-step guide to running a blogger outreach campaign, see my post How to Reach Influential Bloggers.
6. An active social media presence
I would be remiss if I didn’t include an active social media presence in this list. As you’re creating exceptional content, promoting it via your social media accounts will propel your content in front of a new audience. As your content builds up likes and shares, its visibility increases to members of your audience that may link to it as a reference from their own publications. Every time this happens, you’ll receive new organic links back to your site.
Make sure you have social share buttons set up on your site to facilitate easy sharing of your content, and make a point of always sharing new blog posts and content publications with your fans and followers across your social media networks.
While Google claims they don’t currently use social signals as part of their algorithm, some SEO professionals who have run their own experiments have found a strong causal connection between social media activities and high search engine rankings (I discuss one of these experiments in my article,Social Signals and Their Growing Influence over SEO). This infographic, which combines data from two popular correlation studies, also suggests that social signals and higher rankings are significantly correlated.
In any case, we know that the indirect SEO benefits of an active social media presence are undeniable; most notably, increased exposure that lead to organic inbound links. I outlined more benefits of social media marketing in my article, “The Top 10 Benefits of Social Media Marketing.”
Penguin 3.0, while relatively mild in its overall impact, is a good reminder to continue to pursue link building strategies that focus on earning links rather than building them. As you create and promote exceptional content, your site or blog will naturally begin to earn increased exposure and to accumulate organic inbound links that boost your exposure and visibility in search engine results pages.
If you’re currently struggling to let go of outdated and potentially damaging link building strategies, now’s the time to make the move. Focus your efforts and energy on creating exceptional, link-worthy content, and you can’t lose.
What other link building strategies are you pursuing in 2014?