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Google Penguin 2013: How to Evolve Link Building into Real SEO

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real-seoGoogle has just rolled out Penguin 2.0, a large algorithmic update promising to go “deeper” than the 2012 Penguin release, which put a hurting on websites with number of manipulative links in their profile.

This prospect creates fear for many small businesses who depend on search engine optimization (SEO) for their livelihoods. But there is also a sense of confusion as the line often shifts and the message from Google contradictory.

Sorting out Panda, Penguin, and Manual Actions

Google's Panda update is a different release than Penguin. Panda is geared toward duplicative, thin, or spun content on websites.

Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts recently stated that Google is actually pulling back on Panda because of too many false positives. This is good for news aggregators and other sites that reuse content appropriately and have been hit hard by the Panda filter.

Penguin is much harder to understand, focusing on backlink patterns, anchor text, and manipulative linking tactics that provide little value to end users. To make matters worse, Google likes to take large manual actions just prior to major algorithm updates. In 2012 we saw the removal of BuildMyRank from the index just prior to Penguin.

Earlier this year we saw major manual action taken against advertorials. Last week Google announced the removal of thousands of link selling websites and we are hearing of a manual spam penalty against Sprint this week.

The proximity of these manual actions with major algorithmic updates is brilliant PR as it associates them together in our memories, discussions and debates - but they are very different things.

Is SEO Enough?

As small business owners move through the here we go again feelings to actually decide what to do in response to Penguin 2013, sorting out the truth is paramount. Google is clearly beating the familiar drum with the same core messages:

  1. Build a great website.
  2. Make awesome content with high end-user value.
  3. Visitors will magically appear.

But the reality is that visitors don’t magically come, at least on any reasonable scale, without organized promotional activities. Many excellent websites have died a slow death due to lack of promotion. And this is where the contradictions emerge in SEO, which has demonstrated extremely high ROI compared to other marketing channels.

Long Live Online Marketing

While discussed many times, webmasters still struggle with shifting their link building activities to real SEO strategy. They fail to see that SEO in 2013 is now integral to online marketing and no longer a standalone activity.

Whereas SEO used to be about tuning a website for optimal consumption by spiders, today’s SEO is about earning recognition, social spread, and backlinks through excellent content marketing. This means SEO is now ongoing, integrated, and strategic – whereas it used to be one-time, isolated, and technical.

Real SEO

Real SEO is the prescription for those who fear Penguin 2013. Here are practical activities that need to be done every month to achieve real SEO:

  • Continually Identify Audience Demand: Your SEO won't be successful if it isn't useful. To serve a need, webmasters must understand what the audience is seeking. Keyword research, as always, is critical. While doing keyword research don’t over-emphasize head terms or money keywords. Focusing on long-tail keywords renders more immediate results, increases the breadth of a website (remember Panda), and builds authority that will ultimately help the head term.
  • Content marketing: In my opinion, content marketing is the new link building. Earn recognition, social spread, and backlinks by giving away valuable information for free. Excellent content has high audience value and points readers to other resources via cocitation. Video is an excellent form of content marketing that is still under-utilized by small businesses. And newsjacking is an emerging form of content marketing that specifically targets hot news topics for viral spread.
  • Work on brand: There is increasing evidence that branded mentions are an important legitimacy signal to Google. Promoting the brand has traditional marketing benefits and also now helps SEO. But be careful not to turn SEO content marketing into an endorsement, as this crosses the line. Find traditional marketing tactics, such as press releases, to drive branding while announcing news-worthy events.
  • Syndicate: The "build it and they will come" philosophy doesn't work on an Internet with more than 500 million active domain names. This is why even excellent content needs to be promoted. Email marketing, social media, community engagement in forums, and guest blog posting are efficient mechanisms for spreading the word about engaging content. Interviews, PPC ads, and local event sponsorship will also get your name and content noticed. Any activity that broadcasts your message, your brand, and builds real community discussion will ultimately support SEO, and should be considered part of the SEO process.

Conclusions

The arrival of Penguin 2013 has many small business owners scared and confused. But SEO remains one of the best online marketing channels.

Real SEO is the path forward for those who wish to make a long-term investment in online marketing. Forward-looking webmasters can prepare their sites for Penguin 2014, 2015, and beyond with well-researched, end-user focused content marketing that provides strong audience value.

Using modern syndication tactics, they can broadcast their message, gain audience mind-share and earn recognition. By spreading valuable content, small business can build their brands and earn bulletproof backlinks.


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