Penguin Sheriff 3D ToonThis post has been a long time in coming, and if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll notice I’ve been conspicuously quiet. I remember bloggers like Mike Iser (MikeIser.com) disappearing from the public eye and everyone left wondering what happened…

Rest assured that I’m not out of the internet marketing circle, though I have taken the year off to date (it’s nearly June, so that was pretty lame on my end). Leave it to Google to give me a dose of “WTF Just Happened?”

Kosher Translation: What the French Toast?

I promised a follow-up to my first Penguin Update post, and here it is.

Lessons From Google Penguin

Having taken a look around the web, I see a lot of folks reeling from this update, some of my favorite posts have been rounded up in my previous post, here are a few more that have enlightened me on marketing online (directly or indirectly relating to Penguin, Panda and other animals maligned by Google’s odd algorithm update titles):

Those range from articles pointing out the problem to those suggesting solutions of various stripe. I’m not condoning 100% of any article in particular (except maybe Jeffrey Smith’s, the first one), but will leave the reading to you.

If you have your own thoughts or suggestions, feel free to leave a link to your article or solution in the comments below, I want to hear you on this.

Right now I want to share the little bit of insight I’ve had from my own sites.

Mind you that I have a small sample size, a small network – but what I’ve found backs up information I’m reading elsewhere.

My Backlink Quality Analysis

Looking at my sites that were affected (that I even care about), I noticed that my backlinks are problemmatic in two ways…

First, they nearly all come from irrelevant resources. I don’t have much in terms of relevant links – those links that come from the “right” sort of sources in the niches I’m in (according to Google’s suggestions).

So if I have a dog training site, I have links from tech blogs or whatever, just to illustrate my meaning.

As far as being “diverse,” which is the “new thing” to do (not really to me, but this method of diversifying anchor texts is a bit more peculiar after Penguin thrashed what I’ve been preaching and practising)…I’ve noticed that my incoming anchor texts are pretty much targeted, longtail, profitable keywords.

Something that keeps coming up from the whitehat SEO circles and from every quarter is that targeted anchor texts using exact match anchor text is the new no-no…or more like the new pattern that Google figured out was widespread enough to hit small businesses like mine.

Funny thing that this used to pretty much describe Google’s algorithm – if a bunch of people are linking to SEOBook.com using words like “SEO” and “SEO Book” and “SEO consulting,” the site must be about SEO, an SEO book and SEO consulting.

Those are exact-match anchors, or phrase-match anchor texts – the point being that they’re now too targeted. SEO advice (even from Google themselves!) has preached for years to use those keywords you’re targeting as your anchor text.

Now? Well, despite having told us all that’s what they wanted (of course Google is now chaging their tune), Google is penalizing or otherwise devaluing such links.

It’s a strange business practice to punish businesses for doing what you’ve told them to do for years, but I digress…

Even the 2011 ranking signals study by SEOMoz had evidence that exact match anchor texts were being dummed-down…

So my question is: if Google was already dialing that ranking signal back, why does the Penguin update actually punish exact match anchors?

What’s the difference?

Well: I don’t work at Google, but I have SEO’d websites with plenty of prime keywords used as my exact or partial-match anchor text. Now my sites that were ranking are in the dumps and get no traffic.

It doesn’t really matter if all they’ve done is devalued those links or if they’ve penalized them, what’s plain is that it’s the new Cardinal Sin in SEO, so stop using exact match anchor text for more than maybe 10% (or less?) of your backlink anchor text.

That’s going to be my practice, but keep reading because I have plans on moving beyond Google.

I mean, why bother figuring out Google’s new thresholds?

Why bother figuring out if it’s 10% or 20% inbound links with exact match anchors that will incur the wrath of the almighty Penguin?

Isn’t that like asking Jack the Ripper for dating advice? Alas, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m not the only one to talk about the new diversification of anchor texts.

Even the likes of Terry Kyle – a well-known SEO and owner of Traffic Planet among other places – who used to swear up and down that he only suggests using exact match anchor text now sings a different tune.

Good for him to come out and say it, but the new diversifying of anchor texts is a bit different than simply using dozens of “primary keyword synonyms” for the majority of your links…

After all, I’ve always diversified my links (primarily with synonyms and buyer-oriented modified keywords).

Since I already have a diverse anchor profile – why’d I get hit?

Well I think it stems from the fact that I typically have used tightly-related keywords (normally all long tail keywords, and all “money keywords”).

If my main keyword was “make money online,” then my anchors would be variations on that theme, such as:

  • how to make money online
  • make money online book
  • make money online tips

Probably the lamest example I could think of, but the point being that this is now the wrong way to diversify your link anchors.

So the first lesson from Penguin is a new method of diversifying that looks much more natural to their pet algorithms.

Many are saying that 10% or less should be the new norm, with “branded keywords” (assuming your brand name is your website name, like “Levi’s” or “Disney”) making the majority.

I’ve linked to it above already, but a good study on this comes from SEJ (Search Engine Journal), they have an ancor text optimization case study you may want to read here.

Non-optimized is the new optimized, apparently. You could say it looks unnatural. Seems Google wants to dumb down the entire SEO industry, but more likely they’re simply trying to tailor their algorithm to fit their bigger business partners (who may not have SEO’d a thing out of ignorance or for budgetary constraints).

That’s conjecture on my end, but mark my words that this new diversification of anchor texts is the new “it” thing to do (that coupled with relevant link resources: matching your linking-from page to your linking target in terms of meaning).

Getting back on point, in my case, I had less than 60% EMA links. BUT the links were all related to one another, and still too unnatural, too obviously SEO’d.

There was an exception for some newer sites, which were interestingly hit by Penguin…on those new sites, I only had exact match anchors or very tightly related terms for anchor texts: I hadn’t started major linking yet.

I can say without flinching that my anchor text profile was too obvious a footprint for the new algo, so I got axed.

Solution: anchor text diversification needs to include less obvious, less-than-optimal keywords…

What the “new” diversification looks like is an educated guess for me based on reading places like SE Journal and SEOMoz.

The big-wigs who’ve analyzed massive data have all said the same thing: ranking sites now have bare URLs like http://whatever.com and “Whatever Your Site Name Is” as well as plenty of “read this post on (subject)” or “read more here,” etc. for anchor texts.

Sound vague? I think that’s the point. Natural linking profiles are more vague than hundreds of “primary keyword” and “buy primary keyword” anchor texts.

The majority of my links are from articles spun and submitted, which is something that Google’s come out and said Penguin addressed.

Matt Cutts addressed using spun articles and the relationship between content and outbound links as being an issue with Penguin, among other things, in the vague official Google post on Penguin’s debut.

Here’s an example of a site with unusual linking patterns that is also affected by this change. Notice that if you try to read the text aloud you’ll discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to the actual content, and in fact the page text has been “spun” beyond recognition…

– Matt Cutts

In other words, if a link to your blue widgets affiliate site appears on a website about health and fitness, and blue widgets have nothing to do with health and fitness – then the link may either be discounted or penalized in a post-Penguin world.

Now that may not be true if it’s one link of one million, but if 900,000 of those million links to your blue widget site appear on unrelated websites that have nothing in common with widgets of any color – then things look less than natch.

What does this have to do with my current Penguin analysis?

Well I found that thousands er…a lot of my links…were from irrelevant pages, and they had premium anchor text for the most part.

What’s a Viable Link Resource? Where Did I Get These Irrelevant Links?

Well that’s not as hard to discern as you might think. A viable link resource, now more than ever, comes from…

…wait for it…

Relevant websites.

Old school linking still works:

  • Press Releases seem to be making the rounds as the new “thing,” only trouble is that most people don’t know how to write one. Now’s the time to outsource it or learn.
  • Niche-related directories and newsletters are something to consider getting links from if you haven’t already. Same with niched forums (only I’d suggest you add posts, not just bare links in spammed profile pages)…this all assumes you’ve done your market research well enough to know where to look, but I’d suggest starting by looking at competitors’ links…
  • Social media like Pinterest boards, Facebook fan-pages (ah! yet another chameleon that keeps changing its stripes to wrangle), Twitter and YouTube get traffic on their own. Pat Flynn seems to have financed his $50,000 + a month lifestyle leveraging Facebook and YouTube, for example.
  • Web 2.0 sites like Squidoo seem to be thriving. Same with Tumblr, Blogger, even Facebook Notes and of course YouTube. I think it’s because of the high amount of domain authority and link relevance (outbound links are more likely to be related to the content on the page)…
  • Use SEO SpyGlass or SERPAttacks to discover your competitors’ links…but do this carefully and cherry-pick quality links!

Just to clarify that last point:

Don’t think that right now the SERPs are showing a static, post-Penguin world that’s going to stick around. The SERPs are really volatile and the dust hasn’t settled yet.

Google did something with Penguin that I haven’t seen them do: they utterly sacrificed quality search results to make a point that they won’t stand for link manipulation.

So if you “spy” a link profile of your competitors right now that seems like it’s fishy (say, 1,000′s of spun articles pointing to a page with exact match anchor text), use common sense and don’t follow suit.

Personally, I don’t think you’ll find much of that – but the point is to not follow bad examples here. Tread lightly if you plan on SEO traffic as a main source for your business.

Use these analyses to find best practices and strong links and emulate that. It’s not enough to play Monkey See, Monkey Do at this point.

Monkey See, Monkey Need to Think, THEN Monkey Do…

Be smart about what you’re doing link-wise.

As I was saying, I have plenty of links from article syndication, using spun and manually created articles, but using article submitters of various stripe.

Every article submitting tool and software I’ve ever used or espoused all were culprits adding to my problem.

Officially I’m Saying STOP Using Article Submitting Services and Spinners

Does this mean spinning articles is done?

I think so. For me, for now, it sure is.

I’m not recommending any spinners, submitters or anything at present, maybe not ever.

Mind you, I’m not saying they don’t work 100% because I don’t know that for a fact – but it was conspicuous to read that in Matt’s post (spun articles and irrelevant links).

And the skeptic in me is saying, “What did you expect a leading Googler to say? That only certain link submitters work?”

I don’t think Matt was embellishing things there, I think he was being deliberate and on-point. Spinning articles and submitting their links is tempting an awful lot of failure. So I’m not recommending the practice any more.

So looking at my own link resources, my own profile: I have hundreds of these links.

Can I honestly complain that I got Penguin-slapped?

No, I can’t – so the safest bet right now for SEO types is go all whitehat and leverage relevant sites for links, legitimately.

Now, I don’t want to be the poster-boy for Google to sound the trumpet on what they call best practices, I’m not kissing Google’s collective backside here: I’m just playing it cautious right now.

Having this blog and being an author of books, doling out advice both free and premium – I take my role seriously.

I’ve earned the trust of my readers, my customers – and I don’t want to sacrifice that so I can squeeze just a few more bucks out of affiliate links to products that I no longer recommend.

We all have financial goals that are in peril with the wrong advice being given out. I don’t want to add to the mess people are in right now, so to play it safe, I’ll recommend you color well within Google’s lines.

That is, IF SEO is going to be your main traffic source, and IF Google remains at the top of the organic traffic food chain.

Mobile marketing offers up a whole new world of opportunity (thank you, Apple!), as do apps, email list-building, social media marketing and direct mail for that matter.

You don’t have to limit traffic generation to online practices, much less to Google tyranny.

And yes: it may be their index, but they keep moving their own goalposts, so I have no hesitance calling Google a traffic tyrant, as despotic as they see fit.

So I’ll say it again: experiment with SEO where you can.

Push and rediscover the lines.

But be smart: experiment where it won’t hurt you, and do it carefully if you plan on testing out theory and practice in the SEO Ice Age (apparently there is one – Penguins seem to like ice).

Depending on Google for Traffic? Are You INSANE?

Here’s my bigger point, and I have to say that I’m not entirely finished with SEO right now, but neither am I focusing on that as a major traffic resource.

My WordPress SEO guide, Duct Tape SEO is overdue for a major overhaul thanks to Penguin – but nearly everything in the link-building section still stands post-Penguin (apart from mentions of Amplify which no longer exists, or mentions of using anchor texts that are too obviously now a footprint to Google of someone who “dares” to promote their own website…).

But yes: I need to do a major overhaul and that will be coming out once I’ve done my own SEO experiments.

SEO was only one piece of the marketing pie: but Google makes it crystal clear that they’re playing for keeps on this one. They don’t plan on rolling back Penguin, it’s here for the long haul.

Even if you decided to use Bing SEO instead – you’re risking your business and future on yet another potential traffic tyrant, different name.

I’ve never seen anything this volatile since – oh, I dunno – the housing market bubble and crash. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Sub-prime loans and bad financial advice lead this country and others to their greedy post-bubble-crash and market correction, AKA the recession.

One minute, people were living high on the hog with homes too big to live in and mortgages they couldn’t pay off, the next minute they were evicted and the home repossessed.

What’s my point? All the bad advice about becoming rich in real estate is like the bad advice that’s been given for SEO and internet marketers over the years.

Google used to like exact match anchors. They used to like plenty of links, practically speaking. Now? Not so much – at least not if those links and anchor texts are determined to be fishy…

Mind you, what’s whitehat yesterday may become blackhat tomorrow, so my question to you is:

Why rely on Google at all?

The gig’s up. Time for something new – this thing called traffic generation, and it doesn’t have Google at its epicenter any longer (for me and anyone willing to learn).

Look, I’ve been hooked on SEO and frankly I’ll still be playing at getting free traffic from Google here on out, but my business can’t rely on the fickle whims of Google’s webspam team, who exist to hunt down the violators.

It’s a tired, predatorial game of cat-and-mouse, and Google’s Scar. We’re all that rat from Ratatouille.

It’s time to stop running from Google and start running a business.

If you’re in this to win this, so to speak, you’re a web publisher and marketer, not a backlink spammer.

Personally, I have a plan of attack, but this post is long enough. My next project is in direct response to this recent Penguin update: I’ve decided to move on from SEO dependence as my prime resource of traffic.

Care to join me? See my next post. I have a special announcement planned.

But I Want To Stick With SEO! What Now?

You’ll likely need to remove any questionable links by requesting their removal one-by-one. This isn’t easy as it sounds, even if you use SEO SpyGlass or SERPAttacks to keep track of those links.

I’ve mentioned the article already in my first bullet-point list, but here’s the link again on how to remove suspicious links.

It involves hunting down the owners of the sites where your links reside, figuring out which links are questionable to begin with (spun articles, profile link blasts, irrelevant blog networks), and then emailing or calling the webmasters to remove those links.

Oh, you’ll also need a run-down of all your URLs where your links are posted.

Genuine SEO firms can do this for you at a pretty penny, it’s tedious work and in the meantime, it may have been easier to deindex your current site and simply host your content elsewhere…

In either event, the fact remains that you have a lot of work ahead of you – and a lot of uncertainty at the hands of Google. I’m sick of depending on the traffic tyrant myself, so I’m moving on with another venture.

Mind you: SEO isn’t dead, but it is dangerous to depend on.

For my part, I’m sorry for telling everyone to catch my myopic vision of depending on Google SEO and gaming the system – it’s taken a big chunk of my traffic (on some sites, that means all of it).

For a while (but not nearly long enough), I’ve been saying that “Google doesn’t own web traffic,” in hopes to inspire people to think outside the box.

I even menioned Kristi Hine’s book entitled Blog Post Promotion: The Ultimate Guide – which gets at many different ways to gain traffic, but not from search engines.

She describes how she networks, and it is very informative for people thinking too far in the SEO box (to the exclusion of everything else) – perfect for people like me. It was used for her strategy to win several blogging contests like clockwork, but has broader application.

Great guide, and you know what?

It’s time I do my own thing for traffic…

More on that in my next post.

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