Google’s Penguin search algorithm update threw a serious wrench in most digital marketers SEO efforts. It completely upended what many considered to be best practices for building and maintaining quality links. Its effects continue to reverberate, especially when it comes to search marketers’ efforts to acquire links from external sites in order to build site authority and SERP rankings.

Given the potential implications of building links to a web property (such as a manual or algorithmic penalty in Google), many marketers now see link building as a scary tactic. Many have removed this type of initiative from their marketing strategy altogether. Link building, however, is still important and does not have to be scary — or dangerous. If done correctly, high-quality links can still be acquired without violating Google’s quality guidelines.

To achieve post-Penguin link-building success, marketers need to think about how their content will benefit users of the type of websites they want to attract links from. Beyond the product or service you are offering, it’s improved to provide visitors of the external sites you want links from with an answer to a common question or other informational resource they will find useful. The more shareable your content, the better chance you will have of attaining healthy links. And healthy links will keep your site in the good graces of the Google link police the next time a big algorithm change is rolled out. 

Below is an overview of several important steps to take to ensure you are building links that will increase your site’s authority without risking negative actions by search engines.


In order to secure Penguin-safe links, start by identifying websites whose visitors would benefit from what your company offers and would actually be likely to add the link to their site. These sites should be highly relevant to the product or service that is featured on your website. Some great sources for prospecting links with a high success rate can include:

  • Pages linking to competitors – For these prospects it is helpful to suggest your site as an alternative resource.
  • Relevant pages with broken outbound links – Inform the site of the broken links and suggest they update those by pointing to your content.
  • Relevant pages with links to expired domains – Inform the site owner that they are linking to an expired domain and suggest they link to your content instead.

Provide value

The most important component to safely building high-quality links to a web property is to provide something of value to your audience, or to the audience of the websites you are prospecting for links. It is unlikely someone will want to link directly to a sales-oriented page, so develop some sort of guide or how-to article related to your product or service to be the link destination and link to your sales page internally from there. This gives you the ability to position your content as a relevant resource for your prospect’s website visitors.

Submit a request

Now that you have identified a strong list of prospects and have content live on your site that other site owners would see as valuable to their visitors, you are ready to start the link-building outreach process. Position your request as an opportunity for the site owner to better serve their audience by giving them access to valuable content. For example, if they already have a page listing one of your competitors as a resource, let them know your site would make a great alternative resource and point out something your site has to offer that the competitor doesn’t. If they have a link to a page that no longer exists, point out the user experience implications and suggest a link to your site as a replacement.

It is also good practice to assume that the web contacts you are reaching out to have received numerous cookie-cutter link requests in the past. Avoid that type of off-putting tone in your link request. Make each correspondence unique by first trying to find out what interests the person you are reaching out to and talking to their interests. Make a connection with the person before making a request.

Safeguard against risks

Even if the links you’re building are completely in compliance with Google’s quality guidelines, there are certain signals that can alert Google to consider a link to be spam, especially if your site has received a manual action in the past.

Here are three steps you can take to safeguard your site against link-building risks:

  • Keyword Anchors – Avoid securing links using your target keywords as anchor text. Allow the site owner or editor to choose the anchor text, which is inherently natural, or suggest they use your brand or domain name.
  • Guest Posts and/or Sponsorships – When prospecting, it is important to look for signs of paid links or otherwise spammy links on the potential websites that could be viewed by Google as manipulative. These signs could include posts tagged as “guest post” or with “guest” in the by-line; posts tagged as “sponsored”; or offers to pay for a posting or link.  
  • Links to Bad Neighbourhoods – Review prospect sites for links to adult content, pharmaceuticals, online casinos or other types of low quality sites.

It is also important to have a strong understanding of Penguin’s history in order to recognise the common themes in these algorithm updates. This knowledge will help you better predict the implications of future updates. You certainly would not want to secure any links that are susceptible to an upcoming Penguin refresh.

Outside of the healthy authority this type of link building will bring to your site for ranking purposes, there is the added benefit of providing strong potential for driving highly qualified referral traffic. Unlike the more manipulative link building practices of the past that were executed solely for improving rank in the search engines, this post-Penguin link building is geared more toward providing actual value to web users. By thinking first about how a link will benefit consumers (instead of how it will influence search engines), the payoff will be much larger.