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The New Link Ecology In A Post Penguin World

Dustin Heap

In a post penguin world, the importance of quality links and solid on-site optimization hasn’t necessarily changed. However, the urgency of many SEOs to acquire them should have. While there are still many types of links and tactics that work despite their shade of gray and low quality, Google’s efforts are making it more difficult to achieve long-term success using these tactics.

Going forward, SEOs will have to recognize and adapt to the shifting link ecology to ensure that their clients achieve success.

Let’s take a look at the old link ecology compared to the new one and examples of places that SEOs can seek the best link opportunities in a post-Penguin world.

There Are Three Types of Links:

For simplicity’s sake, let’s classify all links broadly into three buckets as explained below.

1. Pure SEO

These are links that are built solely for the purpose of improving rankings and SEO value. There are many examples and you can pick your own poison. These links range from mass submissions to low quality directories, automated or manual blog comment spam, social profiles built only for a link to excessive article marketing for exact match anchor text.

2. SEO + Traffic

The next type of link is one which provides SEO value but only generates in most cases minimal traffic to the target site. An example of this type of link is a guest blog post on a semi-relevant blog or a business listing on a popular and legitimate vertical search engine that is rarely actually seen.

3. ROI Links

The best kind of link is one which not only carries SEO weight and sends qualified traffic to a website but also generates on or offline conversions. These links can lead to a goal completion, lead generation or revenue depending on your KPI for the target site. An easy example of an ROI link is a definitive piece of content on a relevant and authoritative website other than the client’s site.

The Old Link Ecology

In the old link ecology, link profiles could often be depicted as such:

Link profiles in this old ecology were dominated by “Pure SEO” links that are easy to obtain and rarely provide any traffic or conversions. In addition, there would be a few “SEO + Traffic” type links sprinkled in the link profile and very few if any “ROI Links.” With this type of link profile is it any surprise that many companies were hit by Penguin? From this it’s easy to see why SEOs fear algorithm updates when they know their link building efforts are constructing pyramids that have the above profile.

The New Link Ecology In A Post Penguin World

Simply put, the new link ecology requires SEOs to flip the old ecology on its head as shown below:

In the new ecology, SEOs need to shift their focus on the types of links they are using their resources to acquire as explained below. Despite this new ecology having significantly fewer links than the old ecology the new ecology will have longer lasting SEO and marketing benefit for the business.

Pure SEO

The truth of the matter is that “Pure SEO” links still work. Acquiring these types of links shouldn’t be at the top of your priority list but putting a little effort towards them still serves a purpose. For example, limited and targeted article marketing can still work for diversifying old and unnatural link ecologies as well as acquiring anchor text variations of keywords and long tail queries. But because Google will eventually devalue these types of links you should add them to your portfolio in small amounts and focus most of your efforts on acquiring the other two types of links.

Traffic + SEO

As alluded to above, great examples of Traffic + SEO links are business listings on legitimate sites that in most cases may not send a lot of traffic back to your site but have the potential to generate business. A business listing on Yelp or Brownbook are great examples. These listings provide great SEO value (1 st image below – SEOmoz PA and DA shown), because they are trusted websites that allow business owners to list their business. The trust and SEO value is in large part because they aren’t specifically built for the benefit of SEOs. Further, in some cases they may drive some traffic and/or revenue but in most cases both of these are minimal. (2nd image below)

Another example would be a listing on a resource page like the one below on the Utah Health Department’s website. Most people are aware of the location of their local hospital but if they aren’t they will do a search for hospitals in their area where they will most likely find them in an integrated SERP. Alternatively, there will only be a very small percentage of people who find an official hospital site after visiting the Health Department’s official list of hospitals. Despite this, there would be no reason why a hospital that is left off the list would not want to be on it. It’s not advised to ignore these types of legitimate link opportunities because these are easy links to acquire that will balance your link portfolio.

ROI Links

The ultimate link target provides SEO value, qualified traffic and conversions. The major distinction between ROI links and Traffic + SEO links are the quantity and quality of traffic and the resulting conversions that flow from these types of links. While Traffic + SEO links may send occasional traffic, little or few conversions result from these links. ROI links are more valuable because they are built with the buying process in mind which results in quality traffic and conversions. In other words, these links are built in places where your potential customers not only gather but visit often when they are researching and have the highest potential to convert.

A great example for a local client is a “best of” list for restaurants as pictured below. How often do you find yourself reading through “best of” lists just to pass time? This probably does not happen very often because in most cases, when you are searching for a local restaurant, you aren’t performing an informational search but rather a transactional one. This type of query is often in preparation for a visit to a new city or when looking for a place to eat in the immediate future. Those who are running these searches are most likely going to visit the restaurant’s website for menu, pricing, location and hours of operation. These details are often followed by a visit to the restaurant, which results in an offline conversion.

Obviously you can’t buy nor unilaterally place yourself on these types of lists because they are editorially given. These types of links are difficult to obtain and as a result they are trusted. As a result, these types of links are algorithm proof and should be the most sought after.

Another great example for a business that operates in a more technical, business-to-business niche and has a much more complicated buying process, is to publish authoritative articles targeted to decision makers. This content should be hosted where there could be potential conversions. Example here :

An excellent way to find opportunities such as these is to use Google Analytics. Examine specific sites within paid channels that have a high number of conversions and /or often assist in conversions. From this information you can export a list and identify the sites and the types of content you can build out to gain an increased presence. This will not only assist you in obtaining an ROI link but allow you to reduce spend on that particular site and shift budget to more efficient marketing channels

Building link profiles according to this new link ecology is a win-win situation. This is especially true if you work in an agency as it will help you build better relationships with your clients who see not only improved rankings (a means not an end) but also increased traffic and a healthy ROI. This type of link building strategy will help insulate SEOs in their efforts against constantly evolving algorithms.

Also, while this post waited in the publishing queue Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land published a very similar post entitled: Link Building Means Earning “Hard Links” Not “Easy Links.” It is well worth a read!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and more ROI link examples in the comments below.


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