How Google Really Ranks Websites: Tying Ranking Factors Together

With lists of “important ranking factors” often reaching 100 or more items, it can be confusing for webmasters to discern exactly how Google ranks a website in its search engine results pages (SERPs). Even those well-versed in search engine optimization often find themselves a victim of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

With so many ranking factors, how exactly does Google evaluate those factors to determine its rankings? Read on to discover how I believe these factors tie together so you can best understand how to focus your resources in order increase the rankings of your website in Google’s search results. Continue reading

Staying Ahead of Penguin: Predictions for the Next Algo Update

The Penguin webspam algorithm is an ongoing filter designed to remove likely search-engine-result-manipulators from Google.com search results. As such a penalty results in a significant decrease in organic traffic, it is in the best interest of marketers and website owners to prevent their websites from being affected by future Penguin algorithm updates.

While no one can predict the future, I have come up with a few likely targets for Penguin to target in the near future by analyzing past updates. By making sure your website is covered in these areas, you can significantly reduce the potential for getting penalized in a future Penguin update. Continue reading

How to Create an Effective Website for a Small Business

Creating an effective small business website is much easier than most people would be led to believe. Not only are simple small business websites very easy to create (and require no technical skill to do so), but these simple websites are often much more effective than websites provided by expensive web design companies.

Time after time, I see small business owners shell out thousands of dollars for “fancy” websites that lack basic functionality. While a pretty website might look impressive, the goal of any business website should not be to look impressive but rather to generate business. This is especially the case for a small business website. After all, by virtue of being on the website in the first place, the browser is already potentially interested in your business. Rather than try to impress these prospective customers (who are likely already interested in your business) with a fancy website, your website should do everything possible to get users in the door (if you have a physical location) or purchase your service (if you are selling online). Continue reading

The Ultimate Guide to Dental SEO – The 3 Keys to More Patients

If you are a dentist (or do marketing for a client who happens to practice some form of dentistry) and want to grow your business, then this post is for you. There are more potential clients and patients online then any one dentist (or practice) could ever serve. In order to reach these potential customers, good search engine optimization (SEO) is required to help your practice’s website reach these would-be clients.

In this dental SEO guide, I will outline a detailed plan to put your website and practice in front of consumers looking for your services online. By following these steps, you will be ahead of the vast majority of dentists in your area and be well-positioned to pick up new patients and clients as they stumble upon your practice’s information.

Starting a Dentistry Website

As the focus of this guide is SEO for dentists, I will keep this brief. Naturally, a website is required in order to continue from here. If you do not already have a website, you can buy a cheap hosting plan from somewhere like HostGator, register a domain name, and install WordPress. It is free and requires no technical skill. HostGator’s tech support will walk you through the process if you are stuck. You can install a free theme once inside WordPress and you are ready to go.

Dental SEO Key #1: Make Sure Your Website is Fully Functional

A functional website is much more useful then a pretty website. If you want to generate business, you website has to work for the user. The ugliest site in the world built on a free theme that contains all the elements below will generate many more referrals than an expensive, flashy website that does not provide potential patients with the information they are seeking when they visit your website. Below, I will go over the elements of a functional website.

Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP)

One of the most important elements of on-page SEO for dentists is the name, address and phone number (NAP). The NAP should be on every single page, typically in the footer and sometimes duplicated in the header. The phone number for the practice should be available in the header of the website in large font as well – do not make it hard for potential clients to call you to schedule an appointment!

The name, address, and phone number must match the name, address, and phone number you use for Google Places (discussed in the Key #2 section).

Locations, Directions, and Hours of Operation

Make it easy for prospective patients and clients to find the basics about your practice on your website. Create a Directions and Hour of Operations page that includes the hours for all of your offices listed for the entire week. For directions, you can embed a Google map with the location of your business highlighted. Your users will find this much more helpful than traditional step by step directions.

If you have more than one office, you will want a separate page for each location. Your homepage should focus on the largest area from which your patients are likely to hail, whereas your location pages should focus on the neighborhood where your office physically resides. If you have offices in different cities, each location page should focus on its particular area.

Example: If you were a Baltimore dentist with locations in Canton and Federal Hill (two Baltimore neighborhoods), your homepage could focus on “Baltimore Dentist” while each location page could focus on its own neighborhood. This allows your capture potential traffic from both the city and neighborhood where your practice is located. If you are in a very large metropolitan area like NYC, you might want to break it down even further. Your homepage might focus on “Manhattan Dentist” while your location page might focus on “Upper East Side Dentist”.

The same strategy can be followed when there are offices in different cities. It is not uncommon for an Orthodontist to have surgery centers in two nearby towns, such as in both Baltimore and Towson (Towson is the closest county seat to Baltimore City). The homepage would focus on “Baltimore Orthodontist”, the Baltimore office location page would focus on the neighborhood in Baltimore, and the Towson office would focus on “Towson Orthodontist”.

It is important to make it extremely easy to find this information on your website. If you do not, third party sites will instead show up in the results with information on your practice. These third party sites will display prominent advertising, giving these advertisers a chance to take your potential customers. Someone looking for hours or directions is getting close to making an appointment – do not miss out on this crucial conversion window by not making it easy to find pertinent information about your business.

Service Pages For Each Service Rendered

As any dentist can attest, there are many services that fall under the umbrella of dentistry. Potential customers know this as well and will often search for a particular type of dentistry. In order to capture this traffic, a separate page should be set up for each major service offered. A single page can only rank for so many keywords, so it is best to be as specific as possible by creating more pages.

For example, a cosmetic dentist could focus on “Cosmetic Dentistry + CIty Name” for the homepage. Separate subpages could be then created for “Laser Teeth Whitening + City Name”, “Veneers + City Name”, and “Dental Implants + City Name”. Increase conversions by explaining the procedure, discussing the pros and cons, and if possible including before and after pictures or a picture of the completed work.

Page Titles and Content

In order to help these pages rank, you should set the title tag and create content (i.e. words, pictures, or even video) to go along with that page. Include all of your relevant keywords in the page title of that particular page. Note that Google limits title tags to 70 characters. Sometimes Google will count large characters like a long hyphen as 2 character spaces, so keeping the title to 64 characters or less is ideal. Since we are setting up pages for each location and service offered, you should not feel compelled to stuff your title with too many keywords.

Each page should have at least 500 words of written content relevant to that page’s offerings. Each page’s content must be unique (i.e. not copied and pasted from other sites or from one page on your own site to another page). Writing content for the services page is easy – just explain the procedure in detail, discuss pros and cons, procedure length, recovery time, and the like.

Writing content for the homepage and the location pages can be more difficult. You can always pay one of your staff or hire a freelance writer to come up with the content if you are struggling – top tier journalists typically only charge $50 for a 500 word article and you can get a decent article from a college grad for $10-$15 for a 500 word article.

Mobile Website

Now that your static website is mostly complete, you will want to get a mobile website set up. If you are running your site on WordPress as discussed earlier, most modern themes actually already have a mobile version already built into the theme – no further action is required on your part. If you are not sure if your website has this already, visit the page on your smartphone and see what it looks like yourself. If the site is fully functional but looks different from your website when viewed from your PC or laptop, you have a mobile-optimized theme.

Even if your site is already mobile-ready, depending on the theme, it may be good to set up a separate mobile site that makes it very easy for people to set up appointments. Include your phone number in big letters (not a picture, actual text) so that people can just click to call. Additionally, include the hours of operation and name and address right on the homepage. Finally, a link to the location’s physical address on Google maps would be great.

If you do not have a mobile site, you can hire a designer or use a tool to set one up for you. Mobile sites should be much cheaper since they are so simple to set up – a few hundred dollars at most is all you can expect to pay for a mobile site to be created and set up.

Dental SEO Key #2: Google Places and Other High Payoff SEO Activities

Now that you have the basics covered for on-page SEO, you business is now poised to generate traffic and ultimately bring in new customers. However, before your dental site will really take off, you will need to undertake at least a few of the following actions to help get your business found online. It is one thing to have a website, it is another thing to have visibility.

There is really no limit to the amount of effort you can put into some of these steps. The more work you put in, the more traffic and ultimately the more clients your website will be able to generate.

Google Places

The most important thing you can do as a dentist or any other professional with a physical location is to set up a Google Places page. Google Places is a free service that allows your business to show up in local search results in the “places” and “maps” section in the search results:

dental-seo

Make sure your places page has the exact same name, address, and phone number as is displayed on your website. This is crucial to having a good places ranking.

Google will occasionally spot-check their places listings by calling the phone number or mailing a letter with information to that address, so be sure that you actually have access to the mail at the address listed on the places page. People will be calling the number in the places page for appointments so make sure the phone number matches your appointment line.

Submit to Merchant and Review Sites

Google’s bot likes to crawl high end business directories like merchantcircle.com and yellowpages.com to check to make sure the physical address, name, and phone number all match up with your places listing. If everything matches up, Google knows that your business is more likely to be real. This helps prevent scammers from taking advantage of Google Places rankings to promote call centers that are pretending to be businesses. While these two directories are the most important, adding your site to high quality business directories can help improve the visibility of your business. Stay away from low quality directories (use your judgment – if you are not sure just ask me) as we these may hurt your ranking.

In addition to merchant sites, review sites are very important. Getting good reviews on review sites will not only boost your conversion rate and drive leads in its own right, but highly reviewed businesses rank better in Google Places listings. The most important review sites for a dentist are HealthGrades, Yelp, and Google Reviews. Submit your practice to the former two sites; Google Reviews will automatically be added when you create your places for business page as mentioned earlier. Encourage your patients to leave reviews for your practice on these sites. Do not incentivize patients to review as this can get you in trouble with the review sites; just do a good job and ask your patients politely in person and you will be surprised at how many will leave good reviews. Rather than ask patients to leave reviews on every site, just focus on one site in particular for a month or so and then rotate until you have 10+ good reviews on each site.

Do not worry about paying to use these services, submitting your business should be free. Some sites may try to upsell you to a premium service, but this is not necessary.

Start A Blog

Start a blog on your dental practice website and regularly post articles, news bits, your latest before and after shots, and informative pieces on various dental topics. Topics could include everything from flossing techniques, recommended brushing patterns to new teeth whitening technology. Use your imagination.

Blogs are great because they provide each post is an additional entry page for users to find your business. If your blog is good, you will draw attention from visitors around the country or even around the world. While these visitors are not likely to become your patients, they might share your content with your friends or link back to your blog post. This will help the other pages on your website rank higher – every bit of exposure helps. If your blog is stellar, you might even get invited to speak at events or be contacted by journalists looking for your opinion. Both are great publicity and can pay off handsomely.

Dental SEO Key #3: Link Building for Dentists

Optimal on-page Dental SEO combined with a Google Places listing, great reviews, and an active blog will be more than enough to drive large amounts of business to your practice. However, if you want to get even more out of your website or are practice in a particularly competitive city, you will want to take some additional actions to improve the visibility of your business.

Google will rank both your website and places listing higher if your website gains links from authoritative sources. When another website links to your website, it is as if that website is vouching for your website. The more links you have and the more authoritative the vouching website, the better you will rank.

However, this does not mean you want to get a link from every website in the world. There are a lot of shady SEO providers which will more or less spam other websites with your link or set up artificial links back to your website. This can lead to a penalty from Google as Google does not want you to manipulate their search engine results. Instead, stick to the link sources mentioned below.

Issue a Press Release

Whenever anything newsworthy happens to you or your business, issue a press release with a high quality service like PRNewsWire or PRWeb. A new website launch, a new service offered, or a reward from a prestigious organization for anything from outstanding service to charity work is worthy of a press release. Conclude the press release with an about section describing your practice with a link back to your website.

Get in the Local Online Paper

Getting a link from a local paper’s website will be a huge boon to your business’s rankings. For example, if you were in Baltimore, a link from the Baltimore Sun’s website to your website would help both your website and your Google Places listing ranking immensely. Contact the local paper and let them know if they ever need a dentist’s expert opinion you would be more than happy to contribute. Local news stations also are a great source for authoritative local links.

Any time a story is run on something regarding teeth or oral health, odds are a journalist will want to tap at least one local dentist to weigh in on the matter. You want that dentist to be you. This is where having an active blog helps. Journalists looking for dentists will see your active blog and know that you would be willing to contribute to a media piece as a result.

If you get no traction with your local contacts, try using HARO (Help a Reporter Out). This will give you access to reporters worldwide who need expert opinions from dentists to round out their news and story pieces. While a link from your local paper is best, any newspaper link is generally a good link to have.

Community Activities

Most businesses tend to be involved with the local business association, charity events, sponsoring rec teams, and the like. You do not have to do all of these activities, but note that most of these organizations have websites and will list sponsors or members. Ask the head of those organizations to link back to your website. If you are donating money or participating in their activity in some way, there is no reason for these websites to refuse linking to your website.

Guest Posting

If you still do not rank in Google as high as you want once you have exhausted your local link sources, you may want to turn to guest posting. A guest post is when you offer up some content to a health site or blog in exchange to get your name and possibly a link back to your practice’s website attached to the article.

As a dentist, your opinion on matters of oral health carry a lot of weight. Blogs and health websites love to get well-written and interesting articles from dentists and doctors, as these busy professionals often would not take the time to write an article for another person’s website, let alone their own website.

While an SEO company might create “guest posts” in your name and post them on low quality blogs, the sites that will run content hand written by an actual dentist will be worth much more in the eyes of Google. Google actually has a strong dislike for mass guest posting on low quality sites, but if you get a major health publication like WebMD, a university site, or Yahoo Health to run your piece, this type of link can only help you.

Dental SEO Guide: A Summary

By following the strategies in this guide, you can enjoy the benefits of a website with large amounts of targeted traffic. Some of these visitors will ultimately become your patients and your business will grow. Make sure you follow the keys in order: get your website up and running first and then submit to Google places second, monitor business and review sites, and start a blog. Being great at these first two keys is enough to generate new business from your website. If you want to take things a step further, you can engage in some link building to generate more exposure to your website.

Google Penguin 2.1 Recovery Guide – Saving Your Penalized Website

With the release of Google’s latest spam-fighting algorithm update, Penguin 2.1, many webmasters who have been bending the rules when building links to their websites received a ranking penalty. The latest update is more strict than ever and many webmasters are finding their sites penalized for shady link building tactics that they used months or even years in the past. A large number of websites that sailed through the previous Penguin updates were caught by this update.

The good news is that Google’s Penguin update entirely algorithmic. You will not need to submit your site for human review to begin ranking again. The bad news is that climbing out of this penalty is very slow and time consuming. Below, I will discuss exactly what Google’s Penguin update is, whether or not you should consider starting over with a new website, and the steps you should take to gain traffic and ultimately recover from the penalty.

About Google’s Penguin Update

Google’s Penguin update is a filter designed to catch websites that are trying to manipulate Google rankings via webspam (building links in large quantities, either on blog networks or websites that otherwise do not want them there). Sites affected by this filter will typically find the affected page no longer ranks for any relevant terms in Google’s search engine results. The page itself will not be deindexed as the result of Penguin.

Note that Penguin is page specific. If black hat link tactics are directed towards a particular page on a large site and the Penguin filter is tripped, only that particular page will fall down in rankings. Many webmasters report a large drop in sitewide traffic after a Penguin penalty, but this is a side effect of losing link credit rather than a sitewide penalty.

Imagine if a webmaster had a 200 page website and built large volumes of webspam to the homepage. The subpages on the site would increase in authority due to their proximity to the homepage of that website. If the homepage of the website suddenly lost all authority, those subpages would in turn lose authority as well, resulting in a significant decrease in visibility sitewide.

Contrast this with a large site like Squidoo.com that allows user created content. Users regularly create webspam to their Squidoo lenses in an effort to increase search engine ranks. If one of these lenses tripped the Penguin filter, traffic across Squidoo would not drop noticeably. Penguin will identify the specific pages (in this case lenses) being spammed and lower the visibility of those particular pages while leaving other pages completely unaffected.

Checking A Website for a Penguin Penalty

An easy way to check to see if the homepage is easy – just type the domain name minus extension into Google as if it was just one word. For example, if your website URL was “seotips4localbiz.com”, you could type “seotips4localbiz” into Google and hit enter. If seotips4localbiz.com was not the first result that would indicate a penguin penalty. This assumes that the site at least has a few backlinks and is indexed – a brand new site is not going to rank for anything regardless. It also assumes you do not share a domain name with another site of a different extension. Continuing with this example, if there was an seotips4localbiz.net that outranked the .com, this does not necessarily indicate a penalty for the .com.

Checking whether or not the subpage of a particular website has a Penguin penalty is a bit more difficult. If the page in question is well linked, search for the keyword the page is targeting (i.e. the keyword or keyphrase is in the title) and comb through the search results until you find the first result from that domain. If a less relevant page on the same website outranks the targeted page, there is a high probability of a Penguin-related penalty.

For example, let’s use the imaginary website “seotips4localbiz.com”. Imagine there was a page set up on the website set up to target the keyphrase “baltimore seo services” at seotips4localbiz.com/baltimore-seo-services. Now imagine we searched “baltimore seo services” in Google. Here are the possible results:

  • If the highest ranked result from seotips4localbiz.com was the seotips4localbiz.com/baltimore-seo-services page, that would indicate no Penguin penalty.
  • If the highest ranked result from seotips4localbiz.com was some other less relevant page, that would indicate the possibility of a Penguin penalty.

In the second scenario, it is possible that the more relevant ranking page is deeper in the site’s architecture, has less content, or has very little authority and as a result may be outranked by the other less relevant page based on those factors. However, if the page we are checking for penalty used to rank for the targeted keyphrase and suddenly loses ranks and is replaced by a less relevant subpage at a lower position in the search engine results, a Penguin penalty is the likely culprit.

What Causes Penguin Penalty

In an earlier post, I discussed in detail what seems to trigger the Penguin 2.1 penalty. To summarize, I have observed a strong correlation between having a low Trust Flow versus Citation Flow (MajesticSEO scores) as a predictor of penalty. In particular, you should strive to keep your Trust Flow as high as possible and never let it drop more than 10 points lower than your Citation Flow (i.e. a Trust Flow of 15 and a Citation Flow of 35 is strongly correlated with Penguin penalties).

I also believe that having many total backlinks from few referring domains is correlated with a penalty, but a much weaker correlation than the Trust Flow versus Citation Flow measure. In particular, sites with an average of 10 times (or more) of total backlinks compared to referring domains seemed to be more likely to receive a penalty with Penguin 2.1. Sitewide links and just creating many links on subpages of a particular domain lend themselves to this high total backlink to referring domain ratio. As a caveat, these sorts of links tend to be okay for sites with a lot of Trust Flow.

Earlier Penguin updates targeted anchor text, penalizing sites with an abnormally high percentage of anchor text. Many SEOs used to try and build as many links with the same anchor text as possible. This blatant manipulation was ultimately cleaned up by Penguin, so it is ideal to vary your anchor text and use some raw URL links to prevent penalties from being triggered.

Armed with this information, moving forward it is best to focus on acquiring high quality links from high trust domains with a large variety of anchor text.

Now that you know what actually causes a Penguin penalty, we can now discuss exactly how to go about reversing this penalty.

Decide if the Site is Worth Saving

Before you go about trying to fix a site that was hit by a penguin penalty, you should first decide on whether the site is actually worth the effort of digging out of the penalty hole. While it is a controversial position, I believe that not every website is worth saving. Sometimes, it is easier to just register a new domain name and start from scratch.

How do we know if a website is worth saving? Ask yourself the following three questions:

Is the penguin penalty the result of links built to the homepage or subpage(s)?

If no spam or low-quality links were built to the homepage, one easy way to remove all of these links is to just delete the affected pages and set up a 301 redirect from the affected pages to somewhere off-site. This will deflect large amounts of spam links that would be impossible to delete, remove, disavow, or otherwise clean up. If you do not have anywhere productive to point this 301, just register a new domain with a blank page and point all those 301s to that page. This may be a little blackhat for some, but these spam receptacles will rank well in Yahoo and Bing. Use that information how you will.

From here, you can just re-create the deleted pages on your old domain with fresh, improved content at a different slug (do not use the same URL as the deleted page). These pages will be free and clear of any Penguin penalty as long as you do not go back to your old ways of building crummy links.

Is the site still making a significant amount of money?

A penalized website that is still generating a significant income is still valuable. Any property that generates income is valuable by definition. For any website that is still bringing in some significant business, it is likely worthwhile to try and salvage the site. At the very least, you will not want to take it down or clone it (as recommended in the next step) given that it is still making money.

Even if you decide to start over with a fresh site, there is no harm in leaving the old site up as long as it is making money. You can use this money to help finance a new site that is free and clear of any penalty. If you go for this approach, remember that the new site needs unique content and a different structure than the old site to avoid any duplicate content issues.

Can the site be rebuilt for a few thousand dollars or less?

If the site is not making a significant income and can be recreated for a few thousand dollars or less, there is not a lot to lose by starting over fresh with a new domain. Clone your website over to a new domain and use Webmaster Tools to de-index your old domain. Once it falls out of the index, delete the old domain and all of its associated files, leaving only the new domain live. If you have wanted to re-design your site, this is a great time.

On the newly cloned site, rewrite and expand content on all the most popular pages on the new version of the website in order to improve rankings and index rates. Move over any high quality links under your control. If you had any great guest posts, e-mail the owner of the blog and let them know about the URL change. They will be happy to update the URL as they do not want to have the old guest post linking out to a dead page.

Steps for Google Penguin 2.1 Recovery

Below, you will find the 5 steps necessary to bring a site back from the dead after being hit by the penguin filter. Given the amount of effort required to follow through with these steps, I strongly recommend considering whether or not the site is worth saving. If you deem the site worth saving, only spend a day or two at a maximum on step #1. Focus more on steps 2-5 to make the most of your time.

Get Rid of Troublesome Links

The most difficult aspect of recovering from Penguin is getting rid of troublesome links. I encourage you not to spend too much time on this step, as if you have done any amount of automated link building (or have been paying people to do it), you will not be able to find every single link that is pointing to your site. Of the ones you can find, you will not be able to delete or change the vast majority of these links – disavow will be your only option.

When identifying problematic links, I would encourage you to look for low quality web 2.0 links, profile links, automated blog comments, and blog posts on low quality sites or blog networks. Additionally, check MajesticSEO for high Citation Flow / low Trust Flow links. Links which pass zero trust flow can be problematic in large number. Meanwhile, while something like a guest post is technically a gamed link, if the link the blog is coming from is a high quality blog, I would not recommend deleting it.

The easiest way to get rid of large quantities of low quality links is to just delete the subpages where most of these links are pointing. You can then set up a 301 redirect to somewhere offsite to deflect them from your domain. As mentioned earlier, if you have nowhere productive to point these links, register a new domain and point all of these spam links to that domain.

After that, you can try to delete as many of the links that you control and disavow the ones you do not. In order to get a disavow list, you should sign up for MajesticSEO, Ahrefs, and Google Webmaster Tools. Extract the link lists from all 3 services and add them to an Excel sheet. Use the filter function to delete any duplicate URLs. Next, manually go through and delete the good links of the list. The remaining “bad links” can be submitted through the disavow tool as described here.

However, there is not much evidence that suggests disavowing links actually works (there are even some rumors that it does nothing at all). Even if disavowing does work, the main problem is that there is not a good way to find every single spam link that is linking to your website. Google does not provide this information to website owners. Even by combining MajesticSEO, Ahrefs, and Webmaster Tools link reports, you will only end up with 25%-50% of your total links.

Acquire High Trust Flow Links

While you are not going to be able to delete, deflect, or disavow every link to your site, you can help drown out those low quality links by acquiring good links. Penguin is not an all-or-nothing filter but rather looks at the overall link profile of a particular page and the trust of the domain and its subpages. If a page has 1000 links and 900 are low quality (i.e. citation flow but little to no trust flow), odds are it is going to be hit with a Penguin penalty.

Trust Flow (as rated by MajesticSEO) is a measure used to calculate how trustworthy a link from a particular site should be based on the link profile of the linking site. A high trust link comes from a page that has is linked either directly or within a few clicks from a set of high trust sites (i.e. Wikipedia, New York Times, CNN, Google, and so on).

I have noted time and time again that sites affected by Penguin 2.1 tend to have low trust flow and high citation flow. Build up the trust flow to your site by gathering high trust flow links. Google is willing to overlook a certain amount of low quality links as long as the page has a good trust score.

Subpages on high trust domains (i.e. YouTube, Amazon, and so on) are able to soak up a lot more low quality links than less trusted domains. If you do not believe me, see what happens when 1000 low quality links are built to an Amazon page or a YouTube video compared to a subpage on a new 30 page website. The Amazon page or YouTube video will remain unaffected or increase in rank, whereas the subpage on the 30 page new website will likely get hit with a penalty. I believe this is the result of trust flow passing from the top level domain (Amazon and YouTube in this case) flowing down to the subpages on that website and protecting these subpages from spam. Protect your own pages by acquiring high trust links of your own to build up your domain’s trust flow.

Establish and Maintain Social Sites

One great way to improve the trust flow of your website is to create and maintain active profiles on social sites. In particular, focus on your Google+ Profile page, your YouTube or Vimeo channel, your Twitter account, and your Facebook page. When active with regular postings and a large number of subscribers, these social profile sites seem to pass large amounts of trust flow to the websites these social sites are set up to complement.

As an added bonus, Google has mentioned that they are looking to give more weight to social signals in their ranking algorithm in the future. By setting up and maintaining these profiles now, you will be ahead of the game when social signals get more weight in search engine rankings.

Rewrite Content on Static Pages

Now more than ever, Google’s algorithm favors fresh and lengthy content when ranking webpages. If you recently lost a lot of traffic due to Penguin 2.1, try re-writing and expanding the content on your old static pages to gain more visibility. Update any “last updated” dates to the date you edit the content. While this is not directly related to the Penguin penalty, it will help old pages rank higher and help you regain what you lost: traffic. This step is particularly important if you decide to clone your domain and start over with a new site.

Add Fresh Content

Penguin is page specific. By adding new pages, you can create new pages which are free of a Penguin penalty.

How do we know new pages escape the Penguin penalty? Once again we can use Squidoo as an example. Many affiliate marketers will create subpages on websites like Squidoo.com and then proceed to spam these subpages with links. Subpages on sites like Squidoo will rank easier with webspam since they borrow some authority from the authoritative top-level domain. However, the Penguin filter targets trust in particular, and trust decreases significantly with each click the subpage is from the homepage. As a result, a new page on Squidoo often has little to no trust given how deep it is in the site’s architecture.

With Penguin 2.1, many of these formely well-ranked spammed pages on Squidoo ended up losing their rank. Did honest pages on Squidoo suffer a penalty? Not as a direct result of Penguin 2.1. Google has adjusted the authority of various web 2.0 sites in the past, but not explicitly with the Penguin update. Squidoo may have appeared to suffer a large loss of traffic with Penguin 2.1, but that was only because there was a large number of well-ranked pages on the site that were ranking with spam links.

The take-home message here is that even if you built too many low-quality links to a particular page, your new pages will not be affected. If you have an authoritative and popular domain, go on a new content spree and keep adding large quantities of high quality content to your website. This is a much more effective use of your time than spending more than a day trying to disavow and delete every junk link ever built to your website. Even if it takes ages for the Penguin penalty to lift off of your affected pages, in the mean time you can take your website to new records in traffic if you add more content then you had originally before the penalty hit.

Conclusion

If you were hit by Penguin 2.1, rather than bemoan your fate, think of the increasing sophistication of the Penguin spam filter as an opportunity for legitimate SEO tactics to become a viable option. With each update, webspam is becoming less effective and more expensive to its users. It is finally coming to a point where white hat versus black hat is not just a moral discussion, but an economical one as well.

Moving forward, I suggest focusing on the acquirement of a few quality links rather than many low quality links. I hear what you are saying – all off-page activity is technically against Google guidelines in theory, but in practice, Google is not likely to ever penalize a website for getting a guest post on a highly authoritative and moderated blog. In a way, a guest post link is an editorial link as the owner of the authoritative blog is vouching for the guest poster.

To stay ahead of the curve, I would recommend adding fresh, high quality content that will naturally get shared on social networks. Additionally, update and flesh out older, high traffic pages and make sure it is easy to share these pages. The next logical step for the next evolution of Penguin is to use social signals in the way that the current Penguin uses trust. A page created after 2010 with many links but few social shares is a statistical anomaly and likely a gamed result. Protect yourself from any future changes by making sure your ranking pages are of high quality and easily shareable.

Penguin 2.1 Change Analysis: Identifying Affected Sites

Let me preface this post by stating that I work as an analyst for an SEO firm with a large number of clients. While I know it has only been a few days since the Penguin 2.1 update rolled out, my position has given me the ability to look at a relatively large number of link profiles of sites which were affected drastically as well as those completely unaffected by this update.

At the typical SEO agency that gathers leads primarily by via organic rankings, new clients are almost never new to the game of SEO. After all, the very act of typing “seo + keyword” into Google indicates that the prospective client at least knows a bit about search engine optimization. While a little background knowledge makes it easier to sell SEO, clients who get to us often have a history of low quality spammy links created either by the client’s original attempt at SEO or the work of another SEO company.

As a result, every time a new version of Penguin comes out, many of these new clients who have had a questionable link history may lose traffic and rankings. This has given me a solid sample of backlink profiles to analyze. Based on my observations, I have been able to deduce a few simple rules about the Penguin 2.1 filter that seem to apply to the vast majority of websites which I will share below.

A Simple Test for Identifying Penguin 2.1 Afflicted Sites

In order to analyze Penguin 2.1 affected and unaffected websites, I turned to the site explorer at Majestic SEO, Note: I have no affiliation with Majestic SEO nor will I get anything out of it if you sign up for an account after reading the post. It is just a tool that I regularly use and is necessary for this analysis.

By running the sites through the backlink checker, I noticed two particular factors that resulted in a Penguin 2.1 penalty with near 100% certainty:

  • The difference between the Majestic SEO “citation flow” score and the “trust flow” score was 10 or greater. To clarify, if the citation flow of a website was 30 and the trust flow was 10, the difference between the two would be 20. Trust flow exceeding citation flow caused no issues and may even have a protective effect (see below).
  • The ratio of the number of total backlinks to referring domains was greater than 10:1. If a site had 20,000 backlinks and 1,000 referring domains, this would give it a ratio of 20:1.

For the purpose of discussion, we will consider a citation flow of 10 points or greater than trust to be “positive” for the test. A total backlinks to referring domains ratio that is 10:1 or greater will also be considered a positive test result.

Out of the sites which escaped penalty, almost zero tested positive for both factors. At the opposite end, the majority of sites penalized tested positive for both factors. Some sites were penalized that tested positive for just one factor. No sites were penalized which tested negative for both factors.

Below, I will provide some example Majestic SEO screen shots of sites affected by Penguin 2.1 and those unaffected by Penguin 2.1:

Affected Site Samples

Penalized Site #1:

penalized-1

While site #1 has a citation to trust flow difference of -14 (a negative score is great – we consider a positive score of 10 or higher to be a strong negative factor), this site still triggered a penalty. It has a ratio of total backlinks to referring domains of 19:1, well over the level that was associated with a penalty.

Penalized Site #2:

penalized-2

Like site #1, this site has an okay citation flow to trust flow difference (3 points). However, it has a large number of total backlinks in comparison to its referring domains (31:1 ratio).

Penalized Site #3:

penalized-3

While site #3 has an acceptable backlink to referring domain ratio (just under 6:1), the difference between citation flow and trust flow is 11. From my research, a difference of 10 points or greater significantly increases the chance of penalty. This seemed to be right on the cusp, with about half of those a 10-11 point difference escaping penalty and about half not escaping penalty. Part of that may just be due to the fact that Majestic’s crawler is slow and may take a few months to pick up every link. It is within the realm of possibility that the sites which escaped a penalty had a few high trust links that had not been picked up yet by Majestic’s crawler.

Penalized Site #4:

penalized-4

Site #4 has a decent backlink to referring domains ratio (6.6:1), but it completely fails on the difference between citation flow and trust flow. A difference this large (25 points) was strongly associated with a Penguin 2.1 penalty amongst analyzed sites, regardless of the type of links built to these websites.

Unaffected Site Samples

For comparison purposes, here are a few examples of backlink profiles which breezed through Penguin 2.1 with no issues:

Non-Penalized Site #1:

safe-site-1

With a backlink to referring domains ratio of 7.8 and a citation flow to trust flow difference of just 5 points, this safe domain passed easily through the Penguin 2.1 update.

Non-Penalized Site #2:

safe-site-2

This example site is one of the most interesting results in my study, and it is not the only result like this that I have found. This particular site has a very high trust flow (significantly greater than the citation flow) and managed to escape penalty despite testing positive for the backlinks to referring domains test. In this instance, the ratio of external backlinks to referring domains is in dangerous territory (56.9:1), yet the site escaped penalty.

It would seem that the high trust flow of this domain offers some sort of protective effect against having an abnormally high number of backlinks compared to referring domains. Very few sites that were penalized had a higher trust flow than citation flow (Penalized Site #1 in this example was the only one I found among during my test).

Non-Penalized Site #3:

safe-site-3

SIte #3 escaped a penalty in Penguin 2.1 and it tested negative for both factors. Its external backlinks to referring domains ratio is a sensible 4.6 while the difference between citation flow and trust flow is at a healthy 7.

Summary of the Findings

The 7 sites examined in this post are just a few of the many I have looked at over the past few days and nearly all fit this exact same pattern. If a site had a low trust flow compared to its citation flow, there was a strong likelihood of a link penalty. If a site had this same low trust flow and also had a large number of external links compared to the total number of referring domains, a penalty was nearly guaranteed.

If a site had a lot of backlinks compared to its number of referring domains but passed the trust flow test, a penalty only happened occasionally. The higher the trust flow of the domain compared to the citation flow, the less likely this penalty was to occur. When trust flow exceeded citation flow by a significant margin, there seemed to be a strong protective effect on the domain’s ability to escape penalty regardless of the backlink to referring domain ratio.

Perhaps the the most important conclusion here is the following: no site tested that tested negative for both of these factors received a Penguin 2.1 penalty. While I’m sure there are a few examples out there that may fit my guidelines and still have received a penalty, for the vast majority of sites it seems to hold up.

From this data we can make the following inferences about what to look for in a quality backlink:

  • Backlinks with high citation flow but low trust flow can be poisonous to a domain;
  • Getting large quantities of backlinks from the same domain without sufficient trust may cause issues;
  • Getting high trust links may help protect your site from incurring Penguin penalties and perhaps protect against future penalties.

With this in mind, you likely want to know what kinds of links pass a lot of citation flow but low trust flow (so you can avoid them) as well as what kind of links pass high quantities of trust flow (so you can work on getting them). We will discuss this below.

Anatomy of a High Citation But Low Trust Flow Link

Since a high citation flow but low trust flow score is strongly correlated with Penguin penalties, it is in our best interest to avoid links which pass high citation flow scores but low trust flow scores. While in small quantities these links can be very powerful, engineering these links may cause some serious problems for your site. Here are some of the top sources for a high citation flow but low trust flow link:

Web 2.0s / Parasites / Spam Link Pyramids

While many web 2.0 sites (squidoo, blogger, wordpress.com, and so on) have great domain authority, parasite posts on these websites tend to past very little (or zero) trust flow despite passing modest amounts of citation flow. If a blogger who has a free blog on one of these sites links to you, do not fret. This is not the sort of thing that is landing people into trouble with Penguin 2.1.

Where users really get into trouble is when they build these links in mass quantity, whether direct or in a link pyramid. If you are unfamiliar, the idea of a spammy link pyramid goes something like this: build a handful of “clean” web 2.0 properties that link to your “money site” (i.e. your real website) and then build spam a large number of lower quality web 2.0 (or other platforms) with links to your original “clean” web 2.0 properties. The hope here is that the handful of “clean” web 2.0s that actually link to your site will collect link juice (which is then passed on to the money site) and act as a shield on the real site against any anti-spam Google updates.

In Penguin 2.1, this strategy seems to be much more dangerous for a domain than it was in the past. What you will find is that when you build a handful of low trust links and then spam those links with hundreds (or thousands) of additional low trust links, you wind up with tier 1 web 2.0 property that has a massive amount of citation flow but almost no trust flow. When this property then links to your real site, it passes on that large chunk of citation flow but very little trust flow, pushing the difference between citation flow and trust flow in the wrong direction.

Other Low Quality LInks

Other forms of spammy, low-quality links like low quality bookmarks, low quality directory listings, blog comments on low quality sites, wiki spam, and so on tends to pass citation flow with little (if any) trust. You should not have been going after these sorts of links anyway, but now more than ever it may lead to a link penalty.

Finding High Trust Links

Avoiding low trust links is easy – it is gaining the high trust links that is difficult. Below, you will find some of the best sources of high trust links you can get that will not get you in trouble with Google’s webspam team.

Active and Developed Social Profiles

One of the most interesting sources of a high trust flow link is via active and developed social profiles. In particular, a Google Plus page, a Youtube Channel, a Vimeo Channel, a Twitter Page, and a Facebook page seem to be able to pass a large amount of trust, at least according to Majestic.

One interesting thing to note is that undeveloped social profile pages do not pass much trust. Google plus pages with a lot of connections and content pass much more trust than a blank page with a link. The same goes for YouTube channels: the more subscribers and videos uploaded, the better the trust flow.

Most real sites with real traffic have active social profiles. It is possible that these sites pass trust without as much citation. While many case studies have shown that getting social shares only provides a modest SEO benefit, it is possible that social sites can provide large amounts of trust without necessarily directly contributing to rank.

High Quality Guest Posts

While Google does not necessarily endorse guest posting for the mere purpose of getting a link, they do not exactly condemn it either. This is especially the case when the blog itself is of very high quality and heavily moderated in that niche. You can check the trust flow of a domain before you try to nab a guest post – the higher the trust flow of the domain, the higher trust you will gain from writing a guest post that links back to your own website.

Still not sure if the blog is high quality? Look at the traffic. If you would still want a guest post on the blog even if it was nofollow, then it is a good link to have regardless of that blog’s trust flow. At that point, forget about trust flow and citation flow – try and grab the link for the traffic and exposure alone!

Links at or Near the Homepage

Another thing to consider is that the closer the page where your link appears to the homepage of a given site, the more trust it will pass. Trust flow from a link decreases the deeper your link is in the website. Ideally, a guest post or content piece will be featured on the homepage or at worse via a category page linked to from the homepage.

Getting a guest post on a blog with a domain trust flow of 30 is so much stronger than getting a link from a web 2.0 property with a domain trust flow of 50 as the web 2.0 post will likely be 4 or 5 clicks deep into the site from the homepage.

The Competition

If you need to boost your trust in hurry and are out of ideas, check out the high trust links of your competitors. See which ones you can duplicate and go for it. Link spying is an age old tactic – try it out, but this time pick out the high trust links rather than the “strongest” links.

Avoiding Penguin 2.1 Conclusion

Moving forward, it seems the safest course of action for SEOs is to do the things we were supposed to do all along: develop active social profiles, network for high quality guest posts, and grab any other high trust links as a priority over all other link types. As Penguin gets better and better at filtering out spam results from the SERPs, the ability to rank a site off of these links even in competitive niches is becoming more and more of a reality with each update.