Big Brand SEO & Penguin 2.0

In discussing multinational SEO, I frequently refer to larger brand sites — FTSE 250 or Fortune 500 companies — while outlining tips, techniques or new strategies.

But, multinational SEO isn’t exclusive to big brands. Much of my advice is also intended for smaller businesses looking to get a leg up globally by taking advantage of the new tools rolled out by Google in 2012 and updated through 2013.

Taking a broader look at Multinational SEO does brings up particular issues for the big brand sites out there, though; and, in light of the recently launched Penguin 2.0 update, I thought it would be useful to look at particular areas of concern for big site SEO.

What Are The Characteristics Of Penguin 2.0 & Why Should I Care?

If you’re a big brand owner, then you’ve likely dealt with the impact from Penguin 1.0 and its updates in the past. In particular, you may have discovered that your legacy backlink profile was causing serious ranking issues. If so, you’ve no doubt struggled to replace your old link building strategies with more effective, ethical and content-led ones.

Penguin 2.0 is a “more comprehensive” and “deeper targeting” (Matt Cutts) update that was aimed at explicitly black-hat techniques — so, if you’re still struggling from Penguin 1.0, your woes have just gotten worse.

Matt Cutts Lays Down The Law

Matt lays down the law.

Many big brand websites have been around for quite some time and have built up a hugely varied backlink profile over the years. This often includes links that, if built today, would be seen as black hat. These don’t technically fall afoul of Penguin 2.0, as Google has gone on record to state that they don’t retroactively apply spam penalties to sites for links that become black hat after a guideline change. (However, your rankings can still drop significantly due to these low-quality inbound links being given less weight.)

This makes auditing a big-brand backlink profile extremely difficult. You need to match up the date when a backlink was first detected to a record of what Google (and Bing, Yahoo!, Naver, Yandex and Baidu) stated was allowable at the time. That backlink “event calendar” can then be used for a more sophisticated bulk audit to identify offending backlinks where a penalty has been levied.

So, if you’ve been building links that are in contravention of Google Webmaster Guidelines, then you now have even more reason to stop. You also have a reason to start auditing anything that’s been built in the past that was unethical and disavow it.

For big brands, this also puts management of your SEO more closely in your control. It’s a lot easier for a single person to effect change through a Google account than for a group of internal content teams or development agencies to implement technical and on-page changes or develop stand-alone “content” sites that serve no purpose (other than to provide external links that would be more useful within the main site domain).

Sophisticated Backlink Analysis Started, What’s The Competitive Advantage?

Well, digging into Matt’s comments a bit further, there are a few standout items that will allow for optimisation. In particular:

  • “Authorities” in niches will see their visibility increased in the next update round.

This impacts authority optimisation: the use of content strategies that leverage authoritative voices in your market are now much more valuable. This is an extension of Google’s doubling-down on gathering more social signals and incorporating them into Google’s main algorithm — beyond simply surfacing the benefits to logged-in searchers.

For big brands, this means that outsourcing your content creation entirely to PRs or SEM agencies will now be less effective. Instead, they will have to implement more integrated campaigns, centered around authoritative content that is set up to deliver SEO benefit to the site.

Project management will be more highly valued in agencies, as that’s the key to delivering this type of integrated content strategy. It bodes well for the health of the SEO industry as a whole that the authenticity of a voice is given further weight, as it incentivises the right behaviour for the benefit of the searcher (and therefore, the consumer).

To wrap up on the prevailing trend for big brand SEO: get control of your existing SEO efforts; and, if you haven’t already, get your team working to a coherent content strategy that uses your thought leaders’ own voices to get the good word out about your brand.

Then, follow that up with marketing and social promotion that serves a dual purpose for SEO and brand awareness.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Google: Disavow Links Tool | Google: Penguin Update | Google: SEO | Link Building: General | Link Building: Paid Links | SEO - Search Engine Optimization


About The Author: has over twelve years web development experience & is the founder of QueryClick Search Marketing, a UK agency specialising in SEO, PPC and Conversion Rate Optimisation strategies that deliver industry-leading ROI.

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  • Patrick Altoft

    Don’t agree with this – the idea that Google will not penalise brands for activities in the past is not correct. We have worked on cases where this has happened. Brands have to audit links based on todays rules and if a link is 10 years old and breaks todays rules then it has to be removed. Google doesn’t care about link age when they penalise people.

  • mmayer

    SEO is dead since last year, how come this guy have update.

  • Chris Liversidge

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree then Patrick. The link I cited to Matt’s blog includes Matt stating (referring to paid links):

    - On a site that had lost it’s rankings after the change: “[it] had no spam penalties, but Google is getting better at handling paid links, and the paid links that might have helped them last year just weren’t doing them any good now”. Note: explicitly, no penalty being brought to bear.

    - On a different site doing the same thing: “it’s not doing you any good at all”.

    We’ve also seen sites which have had to audit links that are old, but inevitably you find that it’s either links younger than 2005 (in the case of paid links) that are causing issues, or they have been actively (the key point) renewed since.

    With recent backlink clearups due to poor guest blogs & the like (more hot-topic these days) the issue is more that the linking domain gets devalued & therefore action may be required to remove it: at no point there has Google changed its guidelines to suddenly make guest posts (or any other big-button backlink area of discussion right now) unethical.

  • Miguel Silva Rodrigues

    I used to penalize sites for a living and I’m afraid there were a few misunderstandings here.

    - “Google has gone on record to state that they don’t retroactively apply spam penalties to sites for links that become black hat after a guideline change.”

    That isn’t stated anywhere in the source article.

    - “You need to match up the date when a backlink was first detected to a record of what Google (and Bing, Yahoo!, Naver, Yandex and Baidu) stated was allowable at the time.”

    Both this sentence and the one above make it sound like the guidelines are constantly changing, when in fact it’s just the webspam team catching up to trends.

    If you’d like to provide big brands with advice, this would suffice: don’t do anything that equals to blatant manipulation because you have more to lose than a small unknown company. Just focus on making your already huge sources of content available to search engines.

    In my opinion, big brand SEO can be easier than small brand SEO, because there is content available and there is popularity to tap into. But that doesn’t mean the advice shouldn’t be sound — like I said, there is much to lose.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    “However, your rankings can still drop significantly due to these low-quality inbound links being given less weight”

    It’s very important that site owners keep that little tidbit in mind. You might not be actively penalized but you could be feeling the aftershock effect. It can still damage your SEO, even if it doesn’t totally sink it.

  • Darryl M

    The machine cannot understand a website’s intent. However, what the machine can understand is what a user’s search query intent is about. How? By measuring bounce because the machine uses Analytics We meaning us provided the machine with what we meaning us thought were bad links via Disavow. So as good solders, we meaning us handed over to the machine what we meaning us discerned as bad link sites. Then we meaning us waited, and nothing. No wait, yes something did happen, and it was another Panda update. The machine with what we meaning us gave it re-indexed its entire link index library. Damn genius to use us. Also, you have to take into account the update that occurred in maps. Whammy! You now have an algorithm that weights a type of QS auction in motion that is based on searcher intent, proximity, and a type of authority.
    Hold on the fun gets better. Some believe that social links will be the savior. LOL! Those type of links are already highly suspicious, and soon too social links will be deemed spammy. So I don’t care if you’re a big brand or a small fish brand, you still have to build SEO for the machine to get the site correctly indexed while delivering content for the user.

  • Chris Rodgers

    “if you haven’t already, get your team
    working to a coherent content strategy that uses your thought leaders’
    own voices to get the good word out about your brand.”

    Spot on! Just started piecing together a link-building plan for my enterprise IT client that utilizes each niche IT expert’s voice to create and promote content directly relevant to target keyword groups. Excited to leverage a big brand for SEO, thanks for the info!

  • joeyoungblood

    Penguin = Algorithmic
    Penalty = Manual action

    So yes, your old links count.

  • joeyoungblood

    I dont think Google 2005 logic applies. They also told webmasters to allow them to handle duplicate content until AFTER Panda came out. Not that it matters because Penguin is an algorithm, not a penalty.

  • Shirish Agarwal

    I would look at brands not just in terms of their revenue or size but online authority/readership. SEL is a good example. it’s quite clear that Google is all in favour of niches – more and more, you’ll find the top 3-5 results taken by websites that only deal with the one subject/service.

    And, I dont know if it’s just me but exact-match domains suddenly seem to have popped up across the SERP since 2.0.

    BTW i have been compiling a list of all Penguin 2.0 related posts which you might find useful –

  • Jitka Podvalska

    Used the disavow tool, contacted as many webmasters I could
    have, still no improvement in rankings L.
    Still trying to get my head around the authorship thing – how do you do that?

    Can anyone advise a desperate website owner? Anyone tried ? Any
    feedback on whether to use such a service?

  • nickie snyder

    Hi Chris, thanks for increasing the awareness about Penguin 2.0 and how it affects SEO.


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