The Link Building Strategies Of 5 Sites That Survived Penguin 3.0

On October 17th Google rolled out a refresh for Penguin (dubbed as Google Penguin 3.0) marking the 6th update to the algorithm since it was launched in April 2012.

A lot of the posts I have read have focused on the ‘losers’ of the update so I want to take a look at some winners.

What You Will Learn

  • All about the Penguin 3.0 update
  • Examples of 5 sites that survived & their link building strategies
  • Why this is the best Penguin update so far
  • What you should be doing
  • What you shouldn’t be doing
  • 2 simple link building rules I follow

Google really choose their times to roll out these updates, not only did they drop it on a Friday night that had millions cancel their weekend plans but they have done it right before the start of the Christmas shopping season.

As with every Google update people entire lives & businesses have been turned upside down without warning. But on the flip side, there have been a lot of winners feeling the opposite effects.

I’m going to show you a few sites that have won during the update and reveal key details like site age, number of indexed pages, content strategy, were they using analytics/webmaster tools, link building strategy & niche.

But before we get into that let’s take a look at what we know about Penguin 3 so far.

What We Know About Google Penguin 3.0

On Monday Pierre Far posted a message on Google+ confirming Penguin 3 which is embedded below-

You should always pay attention to how Google word things and from that, we know that-

  1. It started on October 17th (Friday night)
  2. The update is still ongoing
  3. It’s a global update
  4. So far it only affects 1% of US search queries
  5. It is a refresh, meaning the actual algorithm hasn’t been updated

Really all that means is the update hasn’t taken full effect yet and as of Monday had only affected US search queries. So if you haven’t been hit, don’t start celebrating just yet.

A Friendlier Penguin

What is evident is that this update has been a very soft Penguin update compared to past updates.

Granted Google say they haven’t finished rolling it out yet but usually, in the initial day, everyone is going stir crazy – this is like a gentle tickle compared to previous uppercuts.

If we take a look at MozCast you wouldn’t even know an update happened-


That is also backed up by SERP Metrics that shows little activity around the update time but showed a huge spike at the start of October.


It is only really when we look at Algoroo does the update really stand out from the crowd-


But even so, there wasn’t that much of a fluctuation – no way near that of Penguin 2.0 so it does appear that Google hasn’t really introduced anything new to the algorithm and simply refreshed its data.

In fact the Moz team went all out on their criticism of the update and just how little it actually did.

The Good News

One of the biggest problems with the last Penguin update was that it was over a year ago on October 4th 2013.

That means that anyone that got hit at that point has been unable to recover even if they cleaned up their link profiles and submitted reconsideration requests. Until the data is refreshed it is all meaningless as it’s an algorithmic penalty, not a manual one.

This has created a lot of frustration and in response, Google has confirmed that Penguin refreshes will happen much more regularly now just as they do with Panda.

Have You Been Hit?

Everything indicates this is nothing more than a refresh of the updates they added over a year ago.

So if you have been hit it is because your link building strategy was not Penguin 2.0 or 2.1 proof to begin with. Not because Google has added new signals, they have just updated the data.

What that does mean though is we already have a good idea of how to recover a site that has been hit with Penguin 3. There is nothing ‘new’ to work out and is just a case of cleaning things up and awaiting the next refresh.

So if you have been penalised do not worry, it is easier to recover from Penguin now than ever before. Indeed you can just follow my Google penalty recovery guide or keep reading.

Penguin 3 Recovery Case Study

Yesterday saw the first Penguin 3 recovery case study come to light. This tells the story of a site that got hit by Penguin 2.0 but recovered with Penguin 3.

They lost 66% of their organic traffic which had huge real world knock on effects for everyone in the business.

After cleaning up their link profile nothing happened – until Penguin 3 was released and they saw a 300% recovery in organic traffic.

Over the coming weeks more and more of these case studies will be published, which will help you analyse and improve your own SEO efforts in time for the next refresh.

I will be including these in my monthly link round ups as I find them!

Sites That Beat Google Penguin 3.0

So let’s take a look at some real-world examples of sites that either beat Penguin 3, saw huge increases or recovered with the update.

All of these examples are client sites. One of the advantages of an SEO agency is you get to work with a lot of sites of all different shapes and sizes across a wide variety of niches.

I’m going to reveal as much as I can about the sites without breaking client confidentiality.

Site 1 – IT Software

This site is for a big international IT software company that my team have been working with for the past 3 months.

This is a particularly strange example because the site has took a hit across some lower traffic terms while high traffic target terms have jumped.

At this stage it is hard to say if this is directly related to Penguin but it certainly correlates with the update.

Site 1 Details

Here are all of the dirty details of the site-

  • Age Of Site: Created Feb 2002 (12 years old) – no drops
  • # Indexed Pages: 172,000
  • Hosting: Dedicated
  • Whois Protection: No
  • Using Google WMT: Yes
  • Using Google Analytics: Yes
  • Content Added: Weekly
  • Type Of Content: Sales & info pages for products & regular blog posts
  • Link Building Strategy: White hat out reach & PR
  • Budget: £3,500

Site 1 Ranking

Here is a screenshot of the rankings-


Site 1 Traffic

Here you can see how the update affected traffic-


Site 2 – Kids Clothing & Toys E-Commerce

This is a unique site my team work with since August that sells a range of clothing & toys for children online.

Looking at rankings you can see they have had great increases during the Penguin 3 update with traffic growing steadily.

Interestingly they made the swap to HTTPS 2 weeks ago which results in a fluctuation in the number of indexed pages as Google replaces the HTTP version with the HTTPS version of the site.

Site 2 Details

Here are all of the dirty details of the site-

  • Age Of Site: Created 1994, acquired by current company in 2013
  • # Indexed Pages: 652,000
  • Hosting: Dedicated
  • Whois Protection: No
  • Using Google WMT: Yes
  • Using Google Analytics: Yes
  • Content Added: Daily
  • Type Of Content: New products with unique content are added daily along with the occasional blog post
  • Link Building Strategy: White hat out reach & PR bolstered by a few exclusive private blog networks
  • Budget: £2,700

Site 2 Ranking

Here is a screenshot of the rankings-


Site 2 Traffic

Here you can see how the update affected traffic-


Site 3 – Dieting/Nutrition

This site is one of the longer serving clients that focuses on dieting and nutrition which has quickly dominated the entire niche.

As the site has been ranked with private blog networks it has delivered consistently good quality content seeing over 400,000 Facebook fans which in turn earns a lot of natural links.

It has remained steady since April and throughout the Penguin 3 update ranking for some big terms including 27100, 90500, 110000 & 555000 monthly volume keywords.

Previously the site owner had been wiped out by Penguin and started this site while 301’ing the old Penguin penalised site to this new one.

Site 3 Details

Here are all of the dirty details of the site-

  • Age Of Site: October 2013
  • # Indexed Pages: 2,100
  • Hosting: Shared
  • Whois Protection: Yes
  • Using Google WMT: No
  • Using Google Analytics: No
  • Content Added: Weekly
  • Type Of Content: Recipes & diet information
  • Link Building Strategy: Pure private blog network strategy but now earns tons of natural links due to niche dominance
  • Budget: £2,700

Site 3 Ranking

Here is a screenshot of the rankings-


Site 4 – Pet Products

This is an Australian site that my team have been working on since May with a spammy link history and got hit with Penguin previously.

It is an exact match domain and solely targets Australian SERPs.

Site 4 Details

Here are all of the dirty details of the site-

  • Age Of Site: Created 2009, acquired by current owner in 2012
  • # Indexed Pages: 2,840
  • Hosting: Dedicated
  • Whois Protection: No
  • Using Google WMT: Yes
  • Using Google Analytics: Yes
  • Content Added: Rarely
  • Type Of Content: Product pages with unique content, no blog or content marketing
  • Link Building Strategy: Pure private blog network
  • Budget: $1,500

Site 4 Ranking

Here is a screenshot of the rankings for the Penguin 3 update-


And here you can see a longer-term look at the rankings-


Site 4 SEMRush

Unfortunately I don’t have the long long term data available as they have only been with the agency since May.

But this screenshot from SEMRush shows their organic search growth since 2011 and shows when they hit with a previous Penguin update in October 2013.


Site 5 – Playground Manufacturer

This company manufactures and sells children’s playgrounds and have been working with them since June.

When they first started they had absolutely zero search visibility.

Site 5 Details

Here are all of the dirty details of the site-

  • Age Of Site: Created 1998, acquired by current owner in 2011
  • # Indexed Pages: 505
  • Hosting: Dedicated
  • Whois Protection: No
  • Using Google WMT: Yes
  • Using Google Analytics: Yes
  • Content Added: Rarely
  • Type Of Content: Product & info pages about the business with a few blog posts
  • Link Building Strategy: Pure private blog network with a couple of 301’s
  • Budget: $2,000

Site 5 Ranking

Here is a screenshot of the rankings-


Site 5 Traffic

Here you can see how the update affected traffic-


So What Has Changed?

Well not a lot really – this is just a data refresh and because of that we already know what doesn’t work and what does.

Many people have evolved their link building tactics since the last Penguin update by using much more varied anchor texts surrounded by relevant content, while others haven’t.

So here is a guide of what you should be avoiding and what is working as of now.

Things To Avoid

  1. Irrelevant spammy links
  2. Over optimised anchor text
  3. Unnatural spikes in link velocity
  4. Single links – eg no surrounding content just the link

Things That Work

  1. Truly private blog/site networks built right (there is a clue in the wording)
  2. Relevant links with relevant content
  3. Spun content
  4. Mixing up your anchor texts & using branded/generic terms
  5. Traditional outreach, broken link building, PR (not press releases)
  6. Strong social followings/engagement

I also think you should spend some time thinking about Scrittys predications – bear in mind they are nothing more than opinion, but that is opinion rooted with years of hands on experience.

Always think to the future with your link building. Experienced SEO’s that have ridden the waves of the past few years have great insights on what could come next and are worth you spare thoughts.

Even so – despite all of the updates my link building still lives and dies by 2 simple rules.

2 Simple Link Building Rules

I have 2 simple link building rules one is defining the holy grail of links as a relevant link surrounded by relevant content from an authoritative domain.

You can not get a better quality link than that and that is exactly the type of link we can create with truly private blog/site networks and have full control of. Nothing has changed in that regard.

The other link building rule I live by is simply “If it’s good enough to be in Google’s index, it’s good enough to link to my site”.

Spun content is still indexing well for me and as such it is good enough to point to my sites. The same is true if a domain is indexed in Google, a link from that domain is good enough for my site as long as its surrounded by relevant content with a relevant link.

This has remained true throughout all of the updates and if you combine the simplistic approach of both you end up with a diverse profile in terms of relevancy and authority.

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