How Pandas & Penguins Change Your Link Building Strategy

Who would have thought that two seemingly innocent zoo animals could cause such an uproar in the SEO industry?

You’re probably tired of hearing about Panda and Penguin. I don’t blame you. Articles seem to pop up daily about how it affects your site and what you can do to recover from the algorithm updates heard ‘round the world. Hell, there are even YouTube videos about them.

You could say this is just one of those articles. And you may be right, but I’ve successfully recovered from Panda and lived to tell the tale of Penguin. Just look at our own analytics: The first line was Panda 2.5, the second Penguin.

Our post-Panda lowest days (weekends) equal our pre-Panda peak days (Tuesdays – Thursdays). And I want to tell you how we did it, all by just adjusting our link building strategy.

Build A Bridge & Get Over It

I used to buy links. There I said it. Granted, it’s been a long time since I’ve bought a link, and it’s not something I’m proud of, but it happened, and I’ll wager a lot of you have done it, too.

You can’t change the past so rub some dirt on it, and walk it off. Move on. I spent far too many hours trying to get rid of our cruddy links (not all from buying and not all from me) before realizing the attempt was fruitless.

Put your focus on building good quality links rather than trying to fix all of your crappy ones. Eventually, you’ll have a higher ratio, and you’ll get rewarded.

No Link Left Behind

I’ve never met a link I didn’t like. Scratch that: I never met a link from a quality website I didn’t like.

We used to only go after one-way links in the footer or side-bar of a website. It killed us because it so obviously was manipulated. Your job as an SEO is to make it look like you don’t exist.

Strive to get a sampling of all types of links: Content links (within the actual content and in bios for guest blogs), footer links, resource links, image links, social media links, and yes, even no-followed links. That’s the only way it’ll look like there’s not someone trying to game the system.

An Anchor Text Melting Pot

Just like you need to diversify the types of links you get, it is vitally important to have a conglomerate of anchor texts among your entire link profile. Everyone does not describe your business the exact same way, so of course everyone isn’t going to link to you in the same way.

Ensure you have brand links (ie, 352 Media Group), exact-match keyword links (ie, web design company), partial-match keyword links (ie, web design and development agency), non-descriptive links (ie, click here). We had way to many exact-match links so for 3 solid months, every time I linked, I used our brand name.

Some people go by a ratio of 7:3 branded to non-branded keywords. I don’t because there is no formula for SEO. Do what’s natural and trust your gut. If it feels shady, it probably is.

Patience, Grasshopper

“SEO is an investment; it has to incubate before you see any results.” It’s my go-to line for all of my clients. No one ever listens.

I’ve been working on cleaning up our link profile for more than two years and finally (finally!) I see the fruits of my labor with a 20+ jump to a Page 1 ranking for our top keyword. You can’t expect results immediately. Implementing the above changes today means you’ll see the effect 4, 5, 6, 12 months from now, pending on your keywords and how bad things were from the start.

Our link profile isn’t perfect. There are still too many exact-matches for my liking and not enough brand mentions, but we’ve come a long way since we’ve made this our objective and I’m happy to report Google has taken notice.

It will get frustrating. You will doubt yourself. You will curse Matt Cutts’ name. You may even get in slap flights with your computer screen. (All true stories.) But have faith in the white-hat system because it works. Google’s goal isn’t to penalize every single site; they just want to make the Web a better place. Make sure that your website is part of that better place.

Who knows what future algorithm updates holds for link building, but I can tell you one thing: Watch out zebras: You’re next.

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

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: is an experienced digital strategist, content developer and search marketer. She's currently the SEO Manager for The Home Depot and has previously worked agency-side for mid-sized business and Fortune 500 companies. She speaks regularly on digital strategy, content development and inbound marketing at conferences nationwide. Follow her on Twitter @erinever.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Steve Morgan

    Great post, Erin. Well said.

    Couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on diluting exact match anchor text. I’ve been meaning to write a case study blog post on a client I worked with at my previous job, who – when I took them on – had just 2 exact match anchor text phrases making up 90% of their link profile! The previous SEO must’ve thought “hmm, it’s still not going on page 1, so I’m going to keep doing it” (and this was pre-Penguin)! I spent months building links to anything but those 2 phrases, and eventually they ranked on page 1 for both terms, even though I hadn’t built a link using that anchor text for months.

    Just goes to show that too much anchor text does more harm than good, and if that was the case before Penguin, it’s especially the case now.

  • imuniq

    penguin really hits if your website have huge links for same keyword,, so concentrate on the quality backlilnks, because they will help for good ranking.

  • Rosendo A. Cuyasen

    This is really another update for Google. This update causes many trouble to many website in the internet. I think this had happen to prevent many spammers online due to low quality of content that are not really important for the users. 

  • Danielle Rodabaugh

    Best part: “‘SEO is an investment; it has to incubate before you see any results.’
    It’s my go-to line for all of my clients. No one ever listens.”

    I KNOW this to be true, and yet it’s SOOOO hard to remember when it comes to the daily grind. With everything online seeming so immediate all the time, it’s so difficult to remember how quality link building have long-term benefits that you just can’t observe right away.

  • Jasjot Bains

    @Erin:disqus Google must understand that spammers, the people its always after, will always find a way to hoodwink the efforts it made to defeat spam. In the process, it ends up harming genuine webmasters too.

  • MikeSeddon

    Hi Erin, it’s nice to read a sensible post about both Panda and Penguin. I especially like the reference to slap fights with the computer screen. You can’t really go for it now though with these flat screen ones. Not the way we used to belt our old CRT screens! :)

  • Raymodo Boss

    Now that is a very well measured response to the black and white mayhem of the last few months. .  I really know how Danielle feels – a few comments back ;-)  It’s hard slow work! Unless of course you’ve got a team and a decent budget or non competitive marketplace!

  • BIrwin1

    Fantastic post Erin, SEO is a warp drive industry and it always helps to read posts like yours

  • Agência Macan

    We had an experience with a client who was just in this situation … Another SEO had made many and various linkages with anchor text and most of them unable to contact for removal of links.

    The alternative was to create links with the brand and particularly the strengthening of social signals, innovating quality content and getting a wider dissemination in social networks.Type your comment here.

  • Justin Sous

    Another great article, Erin. Always look forward to reading your posts!

    Has your updated linkbuilding strategy incorporated social as well? I know there are some SEOs/link builders who have become “gung-ho” in terms of incorporating social into their link building strategy… whether it’s twitter, facebook, pinterest, etc. I was just curious to hear if that’s become a part of your repertoire too (side note: repertoire is such a cool word, very underrated)

  • Arsie

    This is really a helpful article especially for those who almost gave up on rebuilding their websites because of the Google updates.

  • SkyCamUsa

    Great post! My favorite line is  “SEO is an investment; it has to incubate before you see any results.”
    It’s my go-to line for all of my clients”. No one ever listens. So true, clients need to have patience especially today since much has changed.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    “Your job as an SEO is to make it look like you don’t exist.”

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Penguin and Panda went after those techniques that are designed to manipulate the search engines, some more obvious than others. The best SEO is seamless and invisible. It does it’s job but isn’t pushy about it.

  • Icel

    I’m sorry to say that but this post is so generic. No one can pin-point exactly which links will look natural and which won’t. Creating a “natural link profile” is an illusion.

  • Erin Everhart

    I’ve definitely started to incorporate social, but more as a way of how to find some link opportunities and better connect with people. I use Pinterest/Twitter/LinkedIn a lot in that aspect of just finding cool sources. I also make sure that wherever I try to get a link from has some social clout since I’ve found that to bring a higher value link.

  • Erin Everhart

    Right? I think I’m just going to record myself and send that to them in my welcome email so they always have it on file.

  • Terry Fritsch

    Good Points and a lesson to learn from.  Have been working on diversifying for a while.  Someday soon, it will turn around!

  • Ben Wright

    This is a great post! For someone new to SEO like myself, there many tips here that I need to remember.  I will definitely be bookmarking this page so I will remember.  

    I had no idea about the anchor text problem. Thanks again!

  • Aaron Watters

    Agreed, I ran in to the same issue with the majority of inbound links including exact match for two keywords. Even better, they were regionalized with a city name…it happens we just have to work through it!

  • Aaron Watters

    Thanks for the post Erin! I’m usually on the losing end of my slap fights with my computer :(

  • no1onsports

    “Google’s goal isn’t to penalize every single site; they just want to make the Web a better place” for those brands that are paying them in Adwords … ;) 

  • Luis Israel Gasca

    It’s weird that the post focus on Panda and talks about links since Panda is much more focus on “On Page” factors. I would say that the changes you made are great for Penguin but not for Panda, it would be nice to know what On Page actions you took to recover.

  • Tauseef MBA

    Not doing SEO is the best practice to fight against these updates because when you don’t do SEO you build links naturally and that’s the only thing which google want. It sounds funny but its true. here “not doing seo” doesn’t mean you stop your efforts building links.

  • ChristopherSkyi

    “That’s the only way it’ll look like there’s not someone trying to game the system”

    Well, the best way to not look like you’re trying to game the system is to really not try to game the system.  Instead, look for your real opportunities, i.e., industry niche sites/blogs, blogs relevant to your client’s products/services. I promise you and anyone that this will pay off and is absolutely guaranteed to strengthen your link profile  for the long term and bring you qualified referral traffic because you’ll learn the natural social network that is focusing attention on what your client does. 

    The first very thing to do is stop thinking about links as links. It’s an attitude change — if anyone is interested, I wrote about this here, “The Single Most Important Question You Need to Ask Your Link Builder” — see:

  • Werner Töniste

    Great post Erin. I like that you mention that all kind of links are important. Even the nofollow ones. It doesn’t matter if the bot don’t follow the link. It still understands that the link is there.

  • Limor Barenholtz

    Very nice post! Very simple – Very true. Great :)

  • carolinelbell

    Great post and I agree with your comments about getting a variety of link types. However you still need to know which type of links otherwise you could put valuable resources into chasing ones you really don’t need.

    A review of your own landscape compared with that of your competitors should highlight gaps.

    If your are number numerically challenged and excel averse like me then use a tool like Link Research Tools by Cemper. It does the hard work for you…

  • Chris Stocker

    Love this post. I have taken over several SEO accounts whose link profile contained about 3 keywords that they were focusing on and they couldn’t understand why they didn’t rank for any of those keywords at all.

    I also love the patience grasshopper because no matter how many times we saw be patient, it never seems to be heard.

  • SEOBloggersTips

    Hi Erin,

    I have one question regarding your article…..

    Google panda is related with Content (Duplicate content etc)
    Google Penguin is related with bad backlink

    You wrote that you have recovered from Google panda by removing your unnatural backlink…….
    Can please clear my confusion……
    Sorry i am newbie in the field of SEO

  • SEOBloggersTips

    Hi Erin,

    I have one question regarding your article…..

    Google panda is related with Content (Duplicate content etc)
    Google Penguin is related with bad backlink

    You wrote that you have recovered from Google panda by removing your unnatural backlink…….
    Can please clear my confusion……
    Sorry i am newbie in the field of SEO

  • York Graphic Designers

    Totally agree regarding the anchor text. I was sitting nicely in third position for the search term ‘York Website Designers’ as I used this as site wide anchor text in every website I created, then boom, took quite a hit. The killer is I am still doing well in Bing, but who uses Bing.


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