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Post-Penguin Survival Guide

Google’s Penguin update hit gaming affiliates harder than almost any of the company’s previous algorithm updates. That’s because Penguin targeted a number of SEO practices, like paid link networks, that weren’t necessarily considered black hat.

Webmasters and SEOs can argue about Penguin’s validity all they want, but that doesn’t change the facts on the ground; Penguin is here to stay and web spam is not.

The good news is that getting past Penguin to rebuild new, organic and Google friendly link networks is entirely possible. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basic techniques you’ll want to know.

What is Penguin?

Before we get too far along, it’s important to understand exactly what the Penguin update was all about. Penguin specifically targets web site that used manipulative techniques, like link schemes, to improve page rankings.

Like all Google updates, its main purpose is improving the user experience. While professional SEOs loved the power of link exchanges to boost rankings, the technique didn’t really offer much to end-users.

Google spells out their thoughts on this matter pretty clearly in their Webmaster Guidelines:

Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?

In short, designing sites and content that you yourself would actually like to use is the first step towards avoiding Penguin trouble.

Is Penguin the Problem?
Not all page rank drops are Penguin-related but there are a few signs to look for that could indicate you’ve been hit by Penguin.

  • Did you notice a big page rank drop right around April 24 of 2012?
  • Were you heavily involved in paid link exchanges?
  • Have you been receiving webspam warnings from Google on your Webmaster Tools Dashboard?
  • Do you have a lot of footer links, especially on WordPress themes?

These are all good indications that you’ve been hit, or will be hit, by Penguin. For a more in-depth look at Identifying Link Penalties in 2012 on SEOMoz.

Removing Bad Links

We’re sorry to say, but a big part of recovering from a Penguin hit is going to involve some pretty tedious link removal, unless you’re willing to hire pay for performance SEO professional to do the work. You don’t have to remove all your links but here are few that should definitely be coming down:

  • Unrelated links – Sports betting sites shouldn’t be linking to cooking sites and Google knows as much.
  • Watch the company you keep – Linking to sites that practice black hat SEO is just as bad as having non-contextual links.
  • Vary your anchor text – Mixing up anchor text like this helps Google know that you’re on the up-and-up.

Back in the old days (like last year) sites could file for reconsideration requests once they’d fixed up issues Google algorithms don’t like. Unfortunately, that’s not how Penguin recovery works. This time you’ll have to wait for the algo update and hope your fixes worked.

Google’s Disavow Links Tool

Of course it isn’t always possible remove those spammy links that are pointing at your sites from bad neighborhoods. That’s where Google’s new Disavow Links Tool comes into the picture.

Disavow Links lets Google search bots know which sites should be associated with you and which ones you’d rather not have factored into your search rankings. It’s important to note that this tool is designed primarily for sites that have already received webspam warnings from Google and isn’t a replacement for other link removal methods.

Google warns that using the tool incorrectly could actually result in lower page rankings. In short, this is a tool of last resort and manual removal is still recommended as the first course of action.

(For a more detailed look at how to use the Disavow Links Tool, check out Google Launches Disavow Links Tool on SEOMoz.)


Building Links in the Post-Penguin Age

So what SEO solutions can webmasters use to build Penguin-friendly sites that still offer some SEO value? The best place to start is by building up those guest blogging opportunities.

Unlike link exchanges and other, now outdated, methods this is going to involve some personal contact. Start building up a list of prospective sites for your content and tailor your guest posts accordingly.

The upside is that other webmasters in your niche are in the same boat and are willing to post up quality content on their sites. As you build relationships with other bloggers, you’ll start attracting more quality links and those page rankings should start heading back up.

Penguin’s Future

Matt Cutts and the Google Webspam team have made it clear that Penguin is not going away and that organic link networks are the wave of the future. So the sooner you clean up bad links and start building up those quality links, the better off you’ll be.

What have you done to get past Penguin? Share your tips in the comment section below.