Link-Building In A Post Panda, Post Penguin World

One of the biggest issues that continues to be barked about lately is link building. We are incredibly grateful that spammy link-building has finally seen the beginning of the end, but it can be difficult to understand why.

This started last year when Google released its Panda update but it was made even more difficult this year when a certain Penguin decided to come cherry knocking.

To be honest, and I will be honest here, I’m really glad that this has happened. I’m not glad for all of those honest hardworking people who have had their businesses crumble as a result of sloppy SEO tactics, but because, frankly, it has made the Internet cleaner, and has made Google better.

Link Building is now back to how it was in the good old days, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is relevant and useful.

To understand how to link build well, conforming to Penguin, Panda and Venice, you must first understand why Google uses links in its algorithms. This sounds obvious but I feel like a lot of people have genuinely lost this important reference point. They know that link building helps you rank well, but they don’t seem to understand why.

Why is a link like this:

Not always as good as a link like this: Master Oh?

In fact, why are links important at all?

Google sees every link as a quality endorsement from the linking website to the linked-to website.

Have a look at the article from the Daily Telegraph below.

Daily Telegraph Article

This article discusses Savile Row tailors.

Now, in the middle of the article, the famous tailors ‘Anderson & Sheppard’ are mentioned, and the owner quoted. At the beginning of the quote, there is a link to the Anderson and Sheppard website.

When Google look at this link they make an assumption. The assumption is as follows:

“This is the Daily Telegraph website. The website has hundreds of thousands of readers every month who go to this website because they believe that it offers quality, and thus a positive user experience. The Daily Telegraph have placed a link to the Anderson & Sheppard website in a very visible location. This must mean that they want their readers to follow this link and look at the Anderson and Sheppard website. If the Anderson and Sheppard website turned out to be a low quality, or even spammy website, then thousands of Telegraph readers would have a poor user experience, which would reflect badly upon the Daily Telegraph. Because of this, we bet that the Anderson and Sheppard website is a great website, with some interesting and quality content that will provide a great user experience. Why else would the Daily Telegraph promote it by linking to it?”

This is enhanced by the fact that the link is very relevant: it is linking to a suit tailor from an article discussing suit tailoring.

So, in a nut-shell, Google look for links that are authoritative, relevant and, most importantly, placed so that users follow them.

The problem, quite simply, is that these links are bloomin’ hard to get. They take work, great content and a great website.

So, what went wrong?

Well, in a nutshell, people started to manipulate the system. They realised:

“Gosh, Google gives good rankings to websites that have a lot of links. I’m going to go out and get me a whole load of these links”.

But they didn’t want to have to make a kick-ass website with interesting content that was going to earn them these links naturally from top blogs/ websites/ news sites seeing it and linking to it. They moaned:

“That sounds really hard and time consuming. Instead, I’m going to find places on the Internet where I can easily put a link to my website, with the sole purpose that my website does better in search rankings.”

And this made Google very, very sad. Because, you see, Google wants to provide the most relevant quality content to all of its searchers. And now, because of people manipulating the system, mainly outsourcing to India, Google search results was returning a bunch of spammy rubbish.

So, where were websites getting these spammy links? Well, link farms, link directories, link networks, mass article nukes, spammy forum blogging, spammy comment blogging, paid links and reciprocal links, to name a few.

I will not go into too detail about each of these different forms of links (you can go into more detail by reading my previous article:

What is spam?

In short, however, the thing that all of these spammy link building tactics have in common is this:

The links are not placed with any intention of an end user genuinely following them in search of good content. They provide little or no user value at all. The only reason they exist is to increase the Search Engine rankings of the linked-to website. THIS WAS NOT THE POINT OF LINKS and undermined the whole system.

You had link farms, in which ten thousand links would be placed on a single page in random orders, often interlinking between these websites.


You would have link networks, in which one hundred websites all linked to one another.

You would have mass article submissions, in which badly written and boring articles containing links were submitted to ten thousand spammy article websites that no one ever reads.

You had spammy forum blogging, in which some Muppet who doesn’t know how to use a keyboard let alone spell his name goes onto a completely irrelevant forum, and answers a thread question with some nonsense like: ‘yeah great point’ whilst unsubtly leaving a link in his heading with anchor text which reads something like ‘London dog boarding’ when the thread is talking about Tom Cruise movies.

You have

Spammy blog commenting, the kind that made MySpace rubbish, where some automated bot posts ‘viagra Viagra VIAGRA… link’. Or where, again, someone writes something like ‘Great Post’ and then links to a Chinese University Website.

You have paid links where some should-be reputable blogger charges you £1,500 to write an article on her website (that will be of sod all interest to her readers) and include a link, that then gets taken down after three months.

Finally, you have reciprocal linking, in which sweet small business owners would get together in their local tea rooms and say ‘I’ve heard that Google love links. I will put a link on my website to your website if you do the same for me’, which then turns into ‘links’ pages on their sites and, eventually link farms. Again, these links are not there with the intention of having anyone follow them, just to increase the rankings. So it is spam.

And the whole time Google were looking at this, scratching their heads and saying ‘Bugger. This is not what we were trying to achieve with this whole link system.’

And businesses hired SEO firms that outsourced their link building to India, Bangladesh and China, and got their clients hundreds of thousands of these spammy back links and the first page of the Google Search Results became less of a ‘my, what great websites’ and more of a ‘who’s been up to the most shady, spammy rubbish for the most amount of time’.

So all of a sudden, this link system that Google relied on became more of a hindrance than a help.

But then, something wonderful happened. A young Google employee called Mr Panda, pressed the green button on the Jackie Chan of all coding updates, and he named it, well, after himself. Panda.

And then a year later, this was followed by the ‘Penguin’ update. Not, unfortunately, named after someone called Mr Penguin.

And all of a sudden all is right in the world again. Penguin and Panda made an unlikely super-hero team, and went about kicking all of the websites that were using the aforementioned spammy link building tactics in the Cahonas.

And this ass-kicking is on-going. There are many websites that have not yet been affected by Panda or Penguin, but that have a serious number of spammy back-links. Well, these guys need not worry. Penguin is coming for them. It slowly trickles down through the algorithm and has only recently hit the UK. If the majority of your back-links are spammy, and you website looks over SEOd, you’re going to be in trouble. No ifs. No buts. You’ve undermined the integrity of Google for too long and their mutant hybrid Panda-Pingu is coming for you.

So… what do I do?

Well, it’s simple. Only get good links. This means links that are placed with the intention of a bunch of people following them and finding the website that they land on useful. A decent link should have at lest 40 unique people following it every month. A great link can have 500,000+ monthly followers.

A website that has been taking on a high-quality link building campaign should be seeing a massive increase in their monthly traffic, not only because of increased search visibility, but because there are so many people actually following links to their website. This means that, even if Google turned around and made links irrelevant to their ranking system, a well linked-to website would still be pulling in thousands of monthly visitors just as a result of a useful, interesting link-profile.

Here’s how you can achieve this:

Have a good, well designed, clean website.

The very first thing to realise is that a good web publisher or blogger will not want to post a link to your website if it looks like it was designed in the 1990s by an epileptic cat (and I hate cats!)

If your website has not been redesigned in the last two years, get it done, now.

Have useful, interesting and unique content.

The second thing to realise is that good web publishers and bloggers will only link to something that they think is going to be of genuine interest to their users. So, what does your website have that is going to be interesting to their users? Perhaps you have a kick ass video like the Go Up video: Webaholics.

Or maybe you’ve written a really useful and informative free guide on SEO.

Alternatively, perhaps you’ve written a genuinely interesting blog post or article? Or maybe you’ve made an informative info-graphic or cartoon? Perhaps you have an irresistible sale or discount range that a fashion blogger would want to shout about, or have released a weekly podcast that a football website would go nuts for.

Whatever the content, make sure that it is totally unique, compelling, well executed and approaches the subject matter with confidence, flare and character.

If you own a huge e-commerce website, and wonder what sort of content to write for your products, have a read of the following great article by the awesome Everett B Sizemore: Content for E-Commerce Sites.

Contact Bloggers and Web Publishers.

Now that you have an amazing website with incredible content, it is time to push it out there. Go into the Google ‘blogs’ vertical and type in the industry that you would like to target. Clue: A Fashion Retailer would want to target Fashion Blogs.

Do some background research on the blog/ website, paying particular attention to their page rank and page authority, as well as the quality of the content and design. If it is a well-designed site that is filled with great content and has a good page rank and page authority, then it is definitely worth going for.

Don’t immediately email the publisher with a link request. They will get tens or even thousands of these requests every day and will delete almost every one without even looking at it. Instead, start by becoming an active contributor to their blog, forum etc. Make an interesting and useful remark about one of their blog articles, or post some useful tips to further one of their articles. Strike up conversations with them over a period of a month or so, making sure to NEVER leave a link, even in the header of your comments.

Finally, once you have been accepted by them and their community, you can contact them and let them know that you have a piece of content that you think their readers would love to look at, and would they like to link to it. They will pay attention to you as they will know and trust you, and will believe that you know enough about their reader-base to know that they will like the content that you are asking him to link to. More often than not, they will then give you this link. Bingo bango.

Forum Blogging

Now it is possible to link build via forum blogging. But it takes time, commitment and intelligence. Don’t just go onto a forum and leave some irrelevant remark, concealing a link in the head of your post. This is the sort of spammy stuff that Google is going for at the moment.

Instead, engage properly with the online community. Find forums that are relevant to the website that you wish to promote and then find threads and topics that are relevant to the content that you wish to link to. Write an interesting reply, and only post the link if it is going to contribute something helpful to the flavour of conversation.

For instance:

Question: Where can I go to take my wife for an anniversary dinner in London?

Bob: It depends what kind of dinner you wish to take them too…

Questioner: I was thinking of something nice and romantic, perhaps somewhere on the river?

Bob: Well I have heard that there are a lot of great things. I took my girlfriend to the London Eye a few years ago, which was really romantic. You can see the whole city lit up if you go in the evening, and it is really close to some great eating spots. We went to a place called the Oxo Tower Restaurant. It has a wonderful view of the river and really great food. My girlfriend was chuffed to bits.

Great Riverside Restaurant

Whilst you’re there, you may want to see what’s going on at the Southbank Centre… usually some great concerts etc going on there and could make for a great evening.

Questioner: Great, thanks Bob.

This kind of link is relevant, useful and well within Google’s guidelines, and should get you a good amount of natural traffic from people following the link.

So, in conclusion, link building is hard. It is really hard. But, do it well, and the benefits are huge and will last for decades. Do it badly, and expect a rather angry looking Penguin to come knocking on your door. And we at Go Up will be delighted. We are incredibly grateful that spammy link-building has finally seen the beginning of the end. It will clean up the Internet and make sure that only well built websites will rank well.

So if you’ve been hit by the Panda-Pingu, and want to get out of the Dog House, you’d better give that house a good old fashioned mucking out first. Then, and only then, can you run fearlessly in this world, like a pure-bred Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with an aristocratic ancestry.

And that’s worth a good old tail wag.

Big licks,

Blog Dog.