Google PenguinIt has to be said that the internet is flooded with marketing spam and watered-down information – and Google is determined to do something about it!

When the search engine giant introduced the idea of backlinks it was with the best intentions. The purpose of outbound links is for search engines to identify websites users are recommending to others. Recommended sites are awarded with higher rank authority.

Online marketers took advantage. Over the last five years or so there has been various methods of manipulating search results by planting backlinks on third party sites with a link back to the mother ship.

Penguin slides in

When Google rolled out the Penguin algorithm in April 2012, thousands of business owners that had engaged in the poor SEO tactics were dropped in the rankings.

Penguin counts the number of quality backlinks to a site based on trust rank and authority rank. Therefore if you publish an article on a third party site, your rank will be scored in relation to the trust and authority scores are of the website harbouring your outbound link.

When the third party website has a good Google rating, your website will perform better in the rankings and vice versa. It therefore makes sense to have a link building strategy in your SEO campaign, but given Google intends to continue with Penguin updates – and the algorithms are becoming more sophisticated – marketers should be wary of bad backlink practices.

Guest blogging

After the search engine giant stamped out link farms, website owners found a new way to make money – accepting guest posts with a backlink buried into anchor text.

This is how a valid backlink works, but because of loopholes in Google’s algorithm, there is an opportunity for bloggers to publish free content and get paid for hosting the article.

In return for payment, businesses are awarded a higher standing in search engines which attracts more traffic and boosts profits. It’s a win-win situation.

Except for Google. Listen to Google spokesman Matt Cutts talk about spammy backlinks and he is clearly fed up.

Has Penguin sharpened its beak?

Cutts has issued a warning not to pay for backlinks. The problem Google has is that clever content writers have figured a way of disguising spam with actual editorial copy that provides value to the reader.

But the spam preventers at Google are even wiser. It would appear the next algorithm will assess outbound links more deeply to determine if the recommendation is genuine or whether it looks suspicious.

Presumably Google will measure this data based on patterns, for example, the number of average links a website receives inbound links, whether a website that is getting inbound links would ordinarily receive them based on their ranking, and the quality of websites that are sending links.

If you have been paying for backlinks, it would be wise to check out the websites linking to you before you are hit by the next Penguin update – presuming the new path of discovery is included in the next algorithm, but recent activity at GHQ suggests it will be.

How to avoid Penguin penalties

During your trawl for dodgy backlinks look for the following signs:

1. Low quality sites

If sites linking to you have a low trust score, disavow the link.

2. Check content

If you are unsure whether a link might look suspicious, check the nature of the content – but more specifically what other links are included in the content.

If the link back to your site is the commercial link, you might want to remove it, especially if upon reading the content it appears to be a plug.

3. Check other articles

The new algorithms will be able to detect the type of content on a site to determine if the links are relevant to the sites main theme and relevant to the central focus of the article.

A lot of the blogging sites used for outreach strategies publish random content and do not appear to have a specific audience. The majority of articles they publish also have commercial links in them.

This might look suspicious to Google and an investigation may determine the site is used to manipulate search results thus dish out a penalty which you also suffer from. Maybe the search engine will even assess your site more closely and look for suspicious activity.

For example, say you weren’t getting any inbound links before you started your outreach program, then suddenly acquired the same number of backlinks consistently for the next six months. That is a suspicious pattern.

What’s more, if you stopped your outreach campaign in the 7th month and don’t receive any inbound links for the next six months, search engine crawlers will signpost your site for checking.

So if you are paying for links and it has been going well, it is a difficult call to stop now in case you throw up unusual patterns of back links.

Inbound marketing is still one of the best ways to improve your search rankings, but it has to be played by Google rules.