10 Post-Panda/Penguin Era Link Acquisition Strategies

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In February of 2011, the introduction of the Panda update shook up the search results, altering more than one out of every 10 searches. Content farms were demolished, and some SEOs were left scrambling for new tactics. Then, in April of 2012, the Penguin update hit 3 percent of the search results, knocking out sites with link profiles that looked suspicious.

In the wake of the Panda and Penguin updates, I have dug into the data and found some of the most common patterns in the sites and pages that lost their rankings. Using this information, I have developed methods for recovering from, and preventing these issues from happening.

The search engines are only getting smarter, and link building is being redefined as a result. It’s important to think ahead if you want to stay in the game for the long haul. With that in mind, here are 10 strategies we use to future-proof our efforts.

1. Identify Viable Link Opportunities

The shotgun approach isn’t going to cut it in the years going forward. You need to find and qualify your link opportunities by their authority and relevance. Focus strictly on domains related to your niche, and approach these opportunities strategically. Ask yourself if it’s possible to build a link from the target site in a way that will make sense to a human visitor.

If the human visitors won’t even be there, don’t waste your time. Identifying the right link opportunities is a must before you can start building links.

2. Use the Best Tools

Tools exist to make your job easier, not to replace you. Tools like SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO allow you to spot domains with a lot of authority with the search engines. Use tools like this to identify which sites are most promising, but audit them as a human being. Take a look at the site and use the “common sense test.” Is the site built for users? Is it well researched and/or entertaining? Does it have a decent following?

3. Focus On Sites With Manual Approval

If you can get a link from a site without a human being playing a part in the process, that link is virtually guaranteed to have no value in the long term. Any benefit it offers today will disappear tomorrow, possibly bringing a penalty along with it.

Sites with no manual review process ultimately lose value. Low-quality junk gets posted, sometimes not even written by human beings. These sites are ultimately penalized or hit by an algorithm update, and all the work that went into the links from the site is lost.

4. Win the Content Marketing Game

Before we dive into this one, let me just say that it’s important to start mixing up your medium. Text will always be powerful, and most of the content on the Web will probably always be text, but that’s exactly why it’s so important to do something different and stand out. All of the following count as content. Don’t forget:

  • Infographic Creation and Marketing
  • Whitepapers, PDFs, and Presentations
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • eBooks
  • Tools and Widgets
  • QA Site activity
  • Comment Marketing
  • References and Guides
  • Microsites and Landing pages
  • Guest Blogging
  • Blogger Outreach
  • Press Releases
  • Case Studies

It’s also important to understand a few things about the psychology of what makes things go viral, such as:

  • Specific, unique, urgent, useful headlines
  • Court controversy (provided it doesn’t hurt your reputation)
  • Use lists
  • Focus on trending topics
  • Be inspirational, funny, and incite emotions

5. Use Balanced Anchor Text

Anchor text just isn’t the signal it used to be. About 70 percent of your links should just mention your brand, URL, or domain name. Only about 10 percent should focus on the exact keywords you are trying to rank for. The remaining 20 percent should use parts of the keyword mixed in with your brand name, broader terms, and other “partial match” anchor text.

Avoid building an excessive number of backlinks with exact match anchor text, or even using similar anchor text repetitively.

6. Don’t Use Mass Link Building Tactics

Almost any technique that can get you thousands of links in a short period of time is going to look suspicious to the algorithms. If it is the result of buying links or automation, there are almost certainly patterns that will be detected by the algorithms of today or the near future. The only legitimate way to get a massive amount of links in a short period of time is if they are the result of viral content, and this is the only case where you will be protected.

7. Social Media is Your Friend

The search engines are using social data to improve their search results. Social sharing activity is an important signal, because it indicates that real human beings are enjoying your content enough to share it with their friends or followers. Approach content and outreach with an understanding of this influence.

At the same time, recognize that people increasingly use social media to communicate, so when you are building relationships for link building purposes, it is a good idea to take advantage of these networks. Ultimately, your goal should be to get as many tweets, likes, shares, and +1s on your target and link building pages as possible.

8. Monitor Your Link Profile

Be sure to periodically review your links in Google Webmaster Tools and Open Site Explorer, and keep a spreadsheet of your intentionally acquired links. You want to keep track of things like where the links are coming from and what the anchor text looks like, in order to avoid crossing any thresholds that could result in a penalty. Even those who are doing everything properly can sometimes take a hit.

Monitoring your links also gives you an opportunity to get in touch with people who are already linking to you and scale those relationships for even better results.

 9. Analyze Your Competitor’s Links

While you don’t want to copy everything that your competitors are doing, it is a good idea to take a look at their link profile for ideas. It will also help you get a broad idea of how much work it’s going to take to rank for a specific term, and whether or not it will be worth the effort. Again, don’t just copy your competitors. Think strategically.

10. Build Relationships

Finally, some of the best links are built by personal relationships. This is especially true of relationships that start in the real world. Go to seminars and places where you can expect to find people in your industry with a presence on the Web, and start building up your network. Focus on building real relationships in the beginning, not on the links. Keep business cards on you so that it’s more natural to bring up in a conversation.


Understanding the algorithm is an important part of SEO, but it’s important to recognize that the algorithm will change. Those who achieve the most success from search optimization are the ones who are skilled at building relationships and thinking about the direction of the Web as a whole.

Google will adjust to meet the needs of consumers, so keep the search engine’s business goals in mind as much as your own, and build a solid reputation using strategies that are as future-proof as possible in the changing landscape of the Web.

What’s your take on the future of link building, and what other tactics can we use to scale our visibility without jeopardizing our future? Don’t forget to pass this on if you found it helpful.

Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya

Co-Founder at E2M
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder of E2M, a digital marketing agency and Preceptist.com, an executive branding & content marketing agency. Pratik has been featured on... Read Full Bio
Pratik Dholakiya
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  • Jared Dorfman

    Great article and great advice to strong link building post googles changes. I was just wondering about tip #9: I know how to check over someone’s links by gaining access to their webmaster tools, but how do I check a competitors links? They certainly won’t give me access to their webmaster tools.. If you have any advice or tips to check over a competitors back links, I would appreciate it! Once again great advice! Thanks

    • Expert SEO

      As Pratik mentioned in tip #3, OpenSite Explorer is a great tool, which I use daily. Another great tool is Ahrefs.com – however both are tools that you need a subscription for.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Hi Jared,

      Glad you liked the article.

      Your answer is in point #2, to check your competitors backlinks, you can use Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO. Both of them are great tools and will give you detailed information about your competitors backlinks.

      I hope this will be helpful. Let me know if you want to know anything else.

      Thanks again for commenting πŸ™‚ – Pratik

      • Richard Santos

        Pratik – thanks for the info. do you know of any free backlinks checker? Thanks in advance.

    • Brett Tudor

      I would try the Majestic SEO tool, the premium version is paid for but the free version gives you enough information anyway such as referring domains and handy charts demonstrating anchor text and everything else you might need for a snapshot.

  • Lucas Raby

    Hey Pratik, top quality content, quality back links, link diversity…Isn’t this the way its always been? Lol I guess the whole Panda update has scared a few and its why everyone is reading and writing about it but if you always follow the same basic principles, you should be fine. I guess the only thing that has really changed on my end is the social side of things. I hadn’t really used Social for SEO purposes in the past but now that social signals play a decent part, ill be all over that one now.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      You’re absolutely right Lucas, quality links and quality content are the important thing, if you can manage them for your website, you should be fine.

  • Jacob King

    A wise man once told me to get drunk before building links so my anchors would be mixed up and I wouldn’t create any patterns. We were discussing building a shitload of links on autopilot at the time.

    Love them updates, good SEOs getting drunk and running software, get after it Google!

    • Sebastian Cowie

      Love it.. the next legitimate link building strategy. Drunken link building, now with added random.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Jacob, if you don’t mind can you tell me the name of that wise man? – I will start following him to get this kind of advises in future πŸ˜‰

  • Yogesh Gautam

    Great post Pratik, balancing in the anchor text in backlinks and quality content is most important. Keep your eyes on webmaster tool and maintain the quality.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Thanks for your comment Yogesh, Glad you liked the post.

  • Matt Coffy

    Top-notch advice for improving strategies in building relationships through links, Pratik! Since it’s a given that Google will continue to update and change its algorithm to ensure quality content, one thing I strongly believe will be huge in the coming months/years is social sharing. Engagement is key to provide value to consumers and besides having resources to build content, you should allocate efforts to communicate (as a person) to your audience. This post is definitely bookmark worthy. Thanks for putting this together.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you liked the post and found it valuable.

      Google kept updating their algorithm with the aim to improve quality of search and to deliver best quality results to their users. However, I still find that there are many folks left who are spamming the web and are still enjoying the top position BUT I’m sure that Google will soon take action on them. We can’t really judge which path Google is planning to take, all we can do is to make a strong strategy which Google likes and is happy to reward. Social sharing is definitely a crucial part these days – I have been reading experts convey the message to start social sharing BUT the value is being considered now.

      Do share this post with your network as well πŸ™‚

  • Michal

    What else can I add? A great list with balanced, up-to-date advice that can put you ahead of the curve if you take the effort to apply it.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Michal, thanks for your kind words. Happy to hear you enjoyed the post.

  • Dave

    Changing up the backlinks anchor text is important but also linking back to other pages besides your front page.

  • Nate

    Great info Pratik! I will take your advise into account for current and future SEO projects. Thanks!

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      You’re welcome Nate. Glad you liked the post.

  • George

    “Focus On Sites With Manual Approval” is my favourite piece of advice. Sure, there are some loopholes which allow you to get effective, auto-approved backlinks for now, but Google will fix them with its future search engine algorithm updates. It’s time to start earning links because you offer outstanding content / value, rather than creating them.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      You’re absolutely right George,

      I also believe that Google will be fixing those remaining loopholes through which web is being spammed still. Value of content is being growing now and all things content marketing will be the most important part in the future.

  • rambabu

    Nice job Pratik, yes there are so many discussion happening about the need of healthy link building campaigns. They all need to know the exact & fair tips and strategy to focus on to run their link building process . .well this posts has all most of important ingredients which are necessary to know !

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Thanks for your comment Rambabu, Hope this post will be helpful.

  • Jeff Ferguson

    Nice summary, but I think we need to take this a step further and just all agree to stop “link building” all together. Inbound Links are an important part of the SEO process, but that process was always something that was supposed to happen naturally based on marketing activities that you should be doing anyway.

    The development of content is something you would do, even if Google didn’t exist. You would develop this content in the name of getting people to read about your product or service and then hope that the content is informative enough that those with other websites would like to you. Again, this would all be a good thing even if Google wasn’t watching.

    While you’re totally correct that the inbound links need to be diverse, the “about 70 percent of your links should just mention your brand, URL, or domain name” metric needs to go away; this number was based on a couple of small sample studies from SEO tool companies and even with their claims that “100s of clients were reviewed” to come up with that number, it’s not a large enough sample size to represent Google’s index. Don’t strive for a number, just let it happen… if you allow for your linkers to do what they like with your links, the diversity will happen on its own.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your detailed comment. I believe that if you’re planning to work on an SEO campaign then the work and activities should be predefined rather than focusing on just building great links. That helps you to get a direction to achieve clients’ goals as well as to satisfy their requirement. For large level of SEO campaigns it would be totally alright to do all mix stuff that help to build their brand as well as to get them shown higher in the Google with multiple activities BUT in the case of small business clients who come to you with very little budget, we need to think differently than what we think for enterprise customers. Your points are all valid and I respect them BUT my guess is that the thinking for small business clients should be different.

      I read a lot of stuff around regarding link building and implementing new strategies BUT I see rare posts that are actually focused for small business clients.

  • Steve Floyd

    Great post Pratik! I agree with your approach, like I always say “Quality is King!”

    @ Jeff – I am all about focusing more on branding, quality content and building a community around that brand / content but there are still perfectly ethical link building strategies that do not violate any of Google’s guidelines. Setting up business citations, making sure you put a link back to your website in your author bio on guest blog posts, submitting your site to high level directories (like Business.com, ,DMoz, BOTW, Yahoo, etc…) are completely legitimate and still work.

    I believe the line of thinking you propose is well intentioned, just a little misguided. It would be like me saying “Do content marketing, but don’t ever write or post anything on your blog”.

  • Pratik Dholakiya

    That’s absolutely right Steve, quality is everywhere now. I’m glad you liked the post and approach. Hope you will share this post with your network.

  • Darryl Manco

    Sweet article! Completely agree with not buying links, and to mix it up so that it flows naturally. As we continue down this new path, we will see greater opportunities to market the brand instead of a link.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Yes, branding has already become an integral part of the marketing and to build links on.

      I hope you’ve found this article helpful.

  • Dean Ryan Martin

    This is one of the very best articles I’ve read about link building. It’s nicely-written and thoroughly-explained!

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Hey Dean, happy to hear these words. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  • jsingh

    grt post pratik!! I just wanna ask that how many time we can use same content to submit in directories or social bookmarking sites??

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      Only one time.

  • Srinivas Venkataraman

    Focusing on generating targeted traffic by participating in related niches and communities happens to be the base still. when we do this professionally link building should be taken care of naturally.

    • Pratik Dholakiya

      That’s correct. You won’t even require to think that on which keyword I should place a link? πŸ™‚

  • Andy Morley

    This is a great post, some great advice here.

    Social and seo have become so intertwined it is vital that every SEO starts working on their social skills LOL

    Good work.


  • Arun Singh

    Nice Post by you Prateek, I told you in my last comment that I like your posts and now again this is also awesome I’ll try to follow all tips given by you.

  • Saqib Javed

    After the Goggle panda and Penguin updates, SEO and epically the link building was hilted high handedly. Now doubt that old link building are now more effective, after reading your post points , I could not leave this without saying that brilliant work and your post is best guide for SEOs for the year of 2013.

  • Paul

    Pratik, thanks for the tips! Indeed nowadays we need to manually review each website before actually trying to get a link out of it! Metrics can be sometimes manipulated.