This past October 4th, Google's head of web spam, Matt Cutts, announced on Twitter that the Penguin 2.1 algorithm update launched.
This was the 5th Penguin update in a series of updates targeted at spam link building practices...the latest round of a barrage of changes that Google implemented over the last few years. The intention behind them is pretty clear. Google wants webmasters and marketers to stop gaming its search engine, to start thinking strategically instead of tactically. Directories, unauthentic blog commenting, link networks, anchor text over-optimization....no longer work to increase website search rankings.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="269" caption="Is Larry Page Behind the Shift in Google's Priorities?"][/caption]
Many small business owners were hurt by the algorithm changes and were forced to use Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising to compensate for the loss in rankings. A lot of them are still recovering. Meanwhile Google has had its best quarter ever.
As SEO's, we used to go out and get as many links as possible knowing that links could never hurt our rankings. Google's stance was that they would never penalize a site for something somebody else could do for it (like point links at your site).
These days we get clients coming to us that have been penalized because of their backlinks and we usually recommend REMOVING links. Typically these sites were penalized because they have a mix of unnatural links pointing to their site such as directories and blog comments. They also almost always have too much anchor text for a specific keyword they were targeting. We would have never recommended removing (or disavowing) links before these "algo" updates came along. Now, removing links is a best practice! And we ask important questions like, which links should you remove? Which do you disavow? If you remove too many, it hurts you more than helps.
[caption id="attachment_5482" align="aligncenter" width="512" caption="Matt Cutts leads an army of Pandas and Penguins."][/caption]
What can you do to adjust your strategies to the new way of link building?
If link building has become more strategic than tactical, what can you, as a business owner, do to adjust to that? How do you get more strategic in your link building? Answer: Don't focus on short term outcomes.
Now that the playing field has been leveled by Google, and spam has less of an effect, there has never been a better time to focus on quality content. Google is rewarding quality like never before.
Compared to old fashioned link building tactics, we, here at DTC, have seen a significant reduction in cost per acquisition "per each inbound link" as a result of quality content development that is supported by expert outreach. Initially, the content takes more time to create and requires more budget to get off the ground, but after the first 2-3 months post content launch, we quickly build more links than we could have built with a years worth of old fashioned link building tactics. When content stands on it's own as relevant source of information and is presented in the right way to the people that are more likely to link to it, it's simply easier to get links.
The outreach and content promotion strategy is a key component to getting links to the content. If you just throw it up on your website and pray that people will link to it, it is not likely that people will ever find it. The content concept has been researched, it is relevant to the client's brand, and after the initial promotion, it gets links from sources that we didn't even have to ask to link to it because of its value and relevancy.
How do I get started creating content? There are many great content marketing resources out there, but the bottom line is that you just have to dive in and start doing it. If you don't have content resources or writers on your team, then start by hiring a freelance writer and/or agency to start doing it for you, and collaborate along the way since you are the client advocate.
All casualties aside, Google leveling the playing field is a great thing for the SEO industry. We're moving to content marketing and more natural and valuable ways of creating value for clients. This shift had to happen at some point, but it was definitely a little bit "jarring and jolting" for business owners. In fact, many were wondering why it took Google so long to make these changes. Personally, I think it was a shift in priorities (or a new Google CEO).
George Zlatin is the Director of Operations at Digital Third Coast, a digital marketing company based in Chicago. George has an amazing capacity to digest information about SEO and fried chicken. You can find George on Twitter and Google+. Connect with Digital Third Coast on Google+.