How to Avoid Turning Your Website Into Penguin Chow

Written: 5-Nov-2014 | | Filed under: Link Building

So, by now everybody who has a website and has been paying attention at all has probably heard about Google’s Penguin updates. Starting back in April of 2012, every so often Google has been issuing new “versions” of Penguin — their algorithm designed to downgrade sites that participate in spammy link-building schemes.

But even though Penguin has been around for 2 &0189; years as of this writing, for some reason website owners are still getting tripped up by these adorable little critters.

Just today, on a forum where I moderate, I read comments from people touting the use of forum signatures links as a legitimate and effective SEO tactic. Now, aside from the fact that most reputable forums nowadays code links with a “nofollow&rdquo attribute so they won’t pass any value in the first place, Google has made it fairly clear that links you can place youreself are not going to be considered good, powerful links by their algorithm.

I’m not saying that forum signature links hurt, necessarily. That would probably depend on what reputation Google has assigned to that particular forum. But they’re really not going to help you all that much in today’s world.

These are not the links you’re looking for.

It’s a similar situation with blog comments. Used to be, links in blog comments could be helpful. But that was a long time ago — before the spammers latched on to blog commenting as a “link building tactic.”

In fact, the “nofollow” attribute was created specifically to help bloggers discourage at least some of the spammy crap these bozos were posting as so-called “useful comments.”

Sadly, the memo about how blog comment spam doesn’t work apparently hasn’t filtered down to the bottom feeders of our industry. Every day my spam filter catches whole piles of these spammy link drops. Every now and then one manages to sneak past the filters, and I’m always appalled. Are companies actually paying money to have people run around and post this kind of crap on their behalf?

Ditto for “social bookmarking,” article submissions, directory listings and a whole bunch of other cheap-and-easy “link-building” activities.

But THESE are.

As I mentioned earlier, links you can place yourself are not good links in Google’s eyes. Links that undergo some sort of editorial review are better. (Think like a curated buyers’ guide or resource list.) Links that others give you because they like your site and want to share it with their site visitors are best of all.

Of course,these are the hardest kinds of links to get. That’s what makes them valuable.

So, how do you get them?

Well, step one is to build an amazing website. Seriously. If you want people to link to you, you must offer them something worth linking to.

It’s incredibly simple, but it’s surprising to me how often this basic principle gets overlooked by webmasters and site owners.

You need to be brutally honest with yourself. No one likes to hear they have an ugly baby, but if your site isn’t up to snuff, you need to fix it. That may mean writing a bunch of new content (or hiring a professional to write it for you, if you’re not a good writer or if you don’t have the time to devote to creating really outstanding content). If you decide to hire someone, this is not the time to pinch pennies hiring cheap overseas labor. You need the absolute best quality content you can get. Without that, nothing else will work.

By content, I’m not just talking about blog posts or articles. I’m talking about all the words on you pages: product descriptions, “about us,” frequently asked questions, technical support articles, you name it. It all needs to be grammatically correct, spelled right and exceptionally well-written. Your aim should be to make your site the best, most useful, most entertaining site in your industry, bar none.

Visually oriented and don’t want to “clutter” your elegant site with icky words? Well, you’ve set yourself a tough row to hoe, but it can be done. You’ll need some words here and there (and don’t even think about using hidden text), but with a super-outstanding visual presentation and a good number of solid links, you may be able to pull it off.

Then comes step two: good old-fashioned marketing. Seek out websites you would like to have linking to you. If you sell shoes, for instance, you might want links from shoe repair shops, accessory boutiques, clothing stores, hoisery shops and fashion reviewers. You might also want links from your local Chamber of Commerce, downtown development association, local merchants’ group, industry associations and the like

If necessary, join those groups that offer an online member directory. If you’re a member of some groups that don’t offer an online member directory, suggest it to them.

For the individual sites, find out who’s behind the site. Send them a hand-written letter (yes, a real-live letter, snail mail, with a stamp and an envelope and everything) inviting them to visit your website. Ask for their feedback and invite them to link to your site if they think you offer something their visitors might find interesting.

This can be especially effective if you mention something specific about their website that attracted their attention and direct them to a detail-level page in your site that you think would be particularly interesting for their audience.

NOTE WHAT THIS IS NOT. This is not one of those generically spammy “I visited your fine website and think it would be mutually beneficial for us to link to each other,” kind of messages. This is a real, personal letter written from one individual site owner or webmaster to another.

Then, do some general stuff to help bring your site to the attention of webmasters you might not have previously identified. Run advertising (this has the added benefit of potentially bringing you direct customers, too.) Issue a press release (but make it newsworthy, not just “hey, kids, look at our website!”). Include your URL in your email signature file. Include it in your forum signature files. (Not so good for SEO, but — assuming you are a valuable contributor to the forum — very good for raising awareness.)

Lather, rinse, repeat.

It will take some time and effort. But you will eventually earn a link porfolio that is immune to Penguins and that brings you real, converting traffic in addition to whatever SEO benefits it might accrue. And that’s got to be A Good Thing.

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