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The Definitive Guide to Penguin Friendly SEO

On April 24, 2012, Google launched what was originally called simply the “webspam algorithm.” It’s impact was large enough in the SEO community that Google ultimately ended up giving it an official name: Penguin. It was likely chosen because of its similarity in name to another update that had massive impact on SEO: Panda.

So what’s Google’s Penguin update?

The purpose of the Penguin update was to demote sites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Sites that used manipulative techniques to improve their rankings, and some innocent sites that may have appeared manipulative to the algorithm, lost their high positions in the search results.

These manipulative techniques, referred to as “black hat,” include keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes, deliberately using duplicate content for search engine benefit, and excessive use of exact-match keywords in links and content. Similar techniques also came under fire.

Whether you were hit by Penguin or just want a plan to boost rankings without concerns about future updates, here is your guide:

On-Site SEO:

Things to stop working on:

  • Putting a list of keywords in the page title instead of making it descriptive or using your brand name
  • Jamming keywords into the Meta Description instead of making it a call-to-action. The Meta Description is not used for rankings. It’s only benefit is that it displays below your link in the search results. This shouldn’t be surprising, but to some it is.
  • Using meta keywords. These have been useless for quite some time. They serve no purpose whatsoever. It’s still good practice to include a meta-keyword here or there for certain tools that may still use them, but the search engines don’t.
  • Including your primary Keywords in H1 tags and secondary keywords in H2, H3 and so on. Fit keywords into these tags if it makes sense, but don’t waste time trying to get them into every single page or especially every single subtitle. You should almost never plug a keyword directly into these tags without additional words for context and shareability.
  • Keywords in the alt tags of images. Use a descriptive alt tag or none at all.
  • Keyword-rich URL naming conventions. If your URL is a bunch of junky letters and numbers, this really doesn’t matter anymore.
  • Cloaking. Just don’t do it. If a page is optimized for today’s search engines, it should already look very nice for a human.
  • Stuffing keywords or using a specific “density” of keywords. Like the Meta Description, this has already been useless for many years. Just write about the keyword and you should be on the right track.
  • Low quality, poor, or duplicate content on your site.
  • Repeating navigational links in both the header and footer
  • Excessive internal linking using keywords as the anchor text
  • Updating your blog with ZERO value content
  • Building a website for search engines; not for users

Things to focus on:

Two months back, Rand Fishkin explained very nicely how to get On-Site SEO right in 2012 and beyond.

I won’t spend too much time on this since Rand has covered all the points. However, I will put up few important ones here:

  • SEO Friendly Website Architecture – Use all the new markup that is available to make your listings in the search result stand out like rel=author, and so on.
  • Use descriptive titles that consider branding and shareability. When a user sees your title they should be excited and want to click on it because it sounds interesting, not because they notice it has the same keyword that they typed.
  • Use a call-to-action in your meta description with close to no focus on keywords. Just as with the title, the meta description should be exciting and compel the reader to click through and find out more.
  • Write content for users; not for search engines. This should be a no-brainer at this point. The pages you build should be designed to solve the specific problem the users were searching for.
  • Use social badges so users can share your website socially and easily.
  • Consider UI, UX, and Accessibility as primary aspects when building your website and your pages.
  • Use calls-to-action and make it easy for visitors to connect with you. Focus on boosting your conversion rate.
  • Lower page loading time (here is a recently published infographic on How Load Time Affects Google Rankings)
  • Update your blog with content that should sound fresh, useful, and unique. Visitors should love to share with others
  • Use legitimate elements on the website – real address, phone number, and featured badges which make your visitors understand your business presence and legitimacy
  • Put real case studies, customers’ experiences, and video testimonials which help convert more visitors into customers and eventually help decrease the bounce rate

Off-Site SEO: (Link Building)

Link building easily took the biggest hit during the Penguin update. Since links are still one of the most important ranking factors for your page and your site as a whole, we have to pay close attention to the types of links that actually work, and the ones that can hurt us.

Things to stop working on:

  • Free Directories
  • Low Quality Social Bookmarking Websites
  • Free Articles Directories
  • Link exchanges
  • Paid/Sponsored links
  • Links from Spun content
  • Unnatural links (links from irrelevant websites)
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Links from duplicate content. (If scrapers link to you, no problem. If you go out of your way to rank using them: big problem.)
  • Links from banned/penalized websites
  • Excessive use of exact match keywords as anchor text
  • Any or every manipulative link building practice

Take a look at my previous post where I discussed links to avoid in the post-penguin era

Things to focus on:

  • Niche – Get links from sites that are relevant. The links don’t have to come from an extremely tight niche (in fact that’s often a sign of a low quality site), but the connection should make sense.
  • Advanced – Your link building techniques shouldn’t rely on something that anybody could do easily.
  • Legitimate – Your link building efforts should be justifiable as marketing alone even in the absence of search engines.
  • Vary keywords as anchor text – Tons of links with the exact same text is simply unnatural, even in your own marketing efforts. Focus on text that gets a click-through, not that uses a particular keyword.
  • Brand perspective – Your promotional efforts should fit with your brand.
  • Content marketing – Obviously this got huge this year. You should focus on producing content that is naturally shared and linked. In other words, link earning in addition to link building.
  • Getting citations – You should make it clear to the search engines what your brand name is so that the search engines can recognize when it is mentioned without a link. Google is using statistical data and co-citation to rank sites using off-site factors that go beyond links, so focus on creating buzz and getting discussions about your brand going.

Also take a look at my previous posts where I discussed links acquisition strategies post panda/penguin era, and uncommon & advanced links building strategies.


SEO is changing as the search engines become more advanced. Penguin will not be the last update to shake up the search results and we as marketers should be focusing on longevity and brand just as much as we should on rankings.

Can you think of more practices to guard against Penguin and future related updates? And of course, if you liked this, we’d appreciate it if you passed it along.

Category SEO
Pratik Dholakiya Founder at Growfusely

Pratik is the Founder of Growfusely, a content marketing agency specializing in content & data-driven SEO. Pratik has been featured ...

The Definitive Guide to Penguin Friendly SEO

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