7 Achievable Steps For Great SEO After The Penguin Update

Posted on Sunday, May 20th, 2012 and is filed under News, SEO. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Posted by Chris Warren

The Penguin update sent a strong message that not knowing SEO basics is going to be dangerous in the future. You have to have the basics down or you could be at risk. Penguin is a signal from Google that these updates are going to continue at a rapid pace and they don't care what color your hat is, it's all about relevance. You need to take a look at every seemingly viable "SEO strategy" with this lens. What you don't know can hurt you. It's not that what you are doing is wrong or bad, the reality is that the march towards relevance is coming faster than ever before. Google doesn't care what used to work, they are determined to provide relevance and that means big changes are the new normal.

eHow / Demand Media after the Panda update

All that said doing great SEO is an achievable goal, make sure you are taking these steps.

1. Understand your link profile

This is essential knowledge post Penguin. The biggest risk factors are a combination of lots of low quality links with targeted anchor text. There seems to be some evidence that there is a new 60% threshold for matching anchor text but don't forget about the future, I recommend at most 2 rankings focused anchor texts out of 10. The key metrics I look at for this are:

  • Anchor text distribution
  • The link type distribution (for example, article, comment, directory, etc.)
  • Domain Authority and Page Authority distributions

The goal here is to find out what is currently going on and where you should be going. Compare your site with the examples below.

Tools for this:

For anchor text Open Site Explorer gives you an immediate snapshot of what's going on while MajesticSEO and Excel can be better at digging into some of the really spammy links.

Distilled Anchor Text

Natural anchor text profile

Great Excel templates for DA/PA analysis

Balsamiq Link Profile

Natural Domain Authority profile

For link type analysis I use Link Detective but it seems to be down at the moment (please come back!).


Link Detective

UNNATURAL link type profile

2. Learn what makes a good link

Great links:

  • Come from respected brands, sites, people and organizations
  • Exist on pages that lots of other sites link to
  • Provide value to the user
  • Are within the content of the page
  • Aren't replicated many times over on the linking site

Those are lofty requirements but there is a lot of evidence that these high value links are really the main drivers of a domain's link authority. At the 1:00 mark Matt Cutts talks about how many links are actually ignored by Google:

That's not to say there isn't wiggle room but the direction of the future is quite clear, you have no control over how Google or Bing values your links and there's plenty of evidence that sometimes they get it wrong. The beauty of getting great links is that they aren't just helping you rank, they are VALUABLE assets for your business SEO value aside. At Distilled this was one of the primary ways we built our business, it's powerful stuff.

3. Map out your crawl path

This is a simple goal but it can be very difficult for larger sites. If it's really complex and hard to figure out then it's going to be hard for Google to crawl. There are few bigger wins in SEO than getting content that wasn't previously being indexed out there working for you.

Crawl Path


Sitemaps unfortunately can only help you so much in terms of getting things indexed. Furthermore, putting the pages that are the most important higher up in the crawl path lets you prioritize which pages get passed the most link authority.

4. Know about every page type and noindex the low value ones

I have never consulted on a website that didn't have duplicate or thin content somewhere. The real issue here is not that duplicate content always causes problems or a penalty but rather if you don't understand the structure of your website you don't know what *could* be wrong. Certainty is a powerful thing, knowing that you can confidently invest in your website is very important.

So how do you do it?

A great place to start is to use Google to break apart the different sections of your site:

  1. Start with a site search in Google site search
  2. Now add on to the search removing one folder or subdomain at a time Subtracting from site search
  3. Compare this number you get to the amount of pages you expect in that section and dig deeper if the number seems high

Note: The number of indexed pages that Google features here can be extremely inaccurate; the core idea is to reveal areas for further investigation. As you go through these searches go deeper into the results with inflated numbers. Duplicate and thin content will often show up after the first 100 results.

5. Almost never change your URLs

It's extremely common to change URLs, reasons like new design, new content management systems, new software, new apps… But this does serious damage and even if you manage it perfectly the 301 redirects cut a small portion of the value of EVERY single link to the page. And no one handles it perfectly. One of my favorite pieces of software Balsamiq has several thousand links and 500+ linking root domains pointed at 404s and blank pages. Balsamiq is so awesome they rank their head terms anyway but until you are Balsamiq cool you might need those links.

Balsamiq links

If you are worried that you have really bad URLs that could be causing problems Dr. Pete has already done a comprehensive analysis of when you should consider changing them. And then you only do it once.

6. Setup SEO monitoring

This is an often overlooked step in the process. As we talked about before if your content isn't up and indexed any SEO work is going to go to waste. Will Critchlow has already done a great job outlining how to monitor your website:

  • Watch for traffic drops with Google Analytics custom alerts
  • Monitor your uptime with services like Pingdom
  • Monitor what pages you noindex with meta tags or robots.txt (you would be shocked how often this happens)

Some more tools to help you keep an eye out for problems:

  • Dave Sottimano's traffic and rankings drop diagnosis tool
  • Google Analytics Debugger
  • The various rank tracking tools
  • SEOmoz's Google Analytics hook formats landing pages sending traffic in an easy graph

7. Embrace inbound marketing

To me inbound marketing is just a logical progression from SEO, thinking about your organic traffic in a vacuum really just doesn't make sense. Dedicate yourself to improving your website for your users and they will reward you, Balsamiq which I mentioned earlier is a perfect example of this. I guarantee you they have done little to no SEO and yet they rank first for their most important keywords and have a Domain Authority of 81. How did they do it? Less features.

balsamiq process

So what does that really mean? Balsamiq had a rigorous dedication to what their customers really wanted. That's really good marketing, smart business and intelligent product design all in one. Remember the future is all about relevance to your users, if you aren't actively seeking this you will get left behind. There is no excuse anymore there are plenty of proven examples of making seemingly boring page types fascinating and engaging.

Want to learn more?

If you need more high impact changes to your SEO check out the topic list for SearchLove San Francisco, it's the first time Distilled is going to be doing a conference on the West Coast.

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