Hugging The Penguin: Why Link Building Keeps Getting Better and Better

In the world of SEO, link building has always been a huge contributing factor to the success of any SEO campaign. It always has and always will be a factor, but most people are scared to death of link building nowadays.

…for good reason. The people using manipulative tactics in the past to rank got severely penalized and lost their rankings.

The way links used to contribute to how sites would rank in search compared to how they contribute now is very different.

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It seems like merely yesterday, just about every single webpage you visited was plastered with links to all kinds of crazy sites.

Nonsensical blog posts, comments, and entire sites were filled with garbled text which made no sense, but were stuffed with a bunch of links designed to manipulate search engines.

Ah, the bittersweet days of link spam. I remember it well.

Remember when the internet looked like this?


The Google we know now is very different from how it was in its primitive beginnings. Modern-day link building services absolutely must be driven by developing value-based, human-first, relevant, strategic links if they are to provide any true value to SEO.

However, it hasn’t always been this way. Link building in the past is filled with outright free-for-all manipulation and severe pollution of the internet.

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In the pre-Penguin days, Google analyzed links in a very basic way. The part of a link that is the clickable text is called “anchor text” — in this case, “buy gold watches cheap” is the anchor text.

Google used to just count the number of links out on the internet and use the anchor text to determine what the page being linked to was about. They also used this text to rank sites for whatever keywords were in the text.

To a normal human user, it makes perfect sense to assume that the text you’re clicking on has something to do with the topic you’ll get to if you click on the link. For example, clicking on a link with “SEO blog” as anchor text should logically take you to a blog about SEO topics.

It makes sense for search engines to assume this too.

Link Building Before Penguin

The problem is human interference and intentional manipulation of Google’s algorithm. People figured out that by having more anchor-text optimized links than their competitors, they could easily outrank them.

It didn’t matter whether the links to a “buy gold watches” site came from a site about outdoor lighting, vacation rentals, high school reunions, or any other site.

As long as the anchor text was what you wanted to rank for and you had more links out on the internet than your competitors, you would rank higher than them.

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Let’s say a divorce attorney in New York City bought some link spam.

The link builders would run an automated program that would post a bunch of random phrases and the attorney’s link to thousands of sites out on the internet.

It didn’t matter if the sites were about golfing, dental fillings, or cheesecake recipes.

As long as there were more links out there than any other divorce attorney in New York, the first attorney would rank.


The internet became a freaking mess.

Entire blogs would be useless to humans but have thousands and thousands of links to all kinds of sites. Online casinos, places to buy prescription drugs, and all forms of manipulation abounded ubiquitously online.

The internet became so cluttered with spam that it was hard to visit even a couple of websites before being inundated by some form of manipulative content.

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Even sites with legitimate content may have either been hacked or paid off to host thousands of hidden links in their source code.


The internet quickly became a dumping ground for useless links without providing any actual value to people.

Instead of the internet being a place to share free information and ideas, it became cluttered with so much spam that it was approaching the point of not being human-friendly.

Google had to do something about it.

And they did.

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Google Penguin: Stomping Out Black Hat Link Building Tactics

On April 24, 2012, the search giant released Google Penguin, which would forever change the entire internet for the better.

All of those hidden links? Don’t work anymore.

All of the spammy comments with over-optimized anchor text? Rendered ineffective.

Black blogs, link farms, and forum spam? Sorry, won’t help you now.

This major change to their algorithm not only devalued sites who utilized these blatant manipulative tactics, but actually penalized them.

Sites who had dominated first-position rankings in their industry for years as a result of black hat tactics literally lost their rankings overnight.

Their sites weren’t visible anymore. Entire companies were destroyed overnight. Many people lost their jobs.

It was a huge game-changer for the world of online search.


Google let the world know that they take spam very, very seriously. In one fell swoop, the search engine managed to thwart the manipulative efforts of many, many sites.

We saw the decline of comment spam, forum manipulation, hidden links, and many other forms of rigging search engines.

Since these tactics no longer worked, we eventually saw the slow decline of the presence of spam links.

Even today, there are still manipulative link farms, link stuffing, and other tactics, but they are far from being as effective as they once were.

Since the initial release of Google Penguin in April of 2012, the algorithm has only become better and better at determining the quality of links and their ability to influence rankings.

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Link Building Now And Beyond

Link-building is still very much a very important part of doing good SEO. Everyone who is trying to help their site rank higher in search engines should learn more about link-building and what constitutes high-quality, valuable tactics of the trade today.

By providing value to people first, you can build excellent links within your industry and garnish targeted, relevant direct traffic to your site, provide key insights and knowledge to seekers of that information in your niche, and establish your brand as an industry leader.

By utilizing diversity in your links and keeping them coming from relevant sites in your industry, you can actually gain organic ranking benefit as well.

This is because Google still loves links. That hasn’t changed. Linking is how the web is connected.

It’s not going away any time soon; it just now requires that human touch that wasn’t there when automated programs spammed thousands and thousands of sites.

Some ways that modern-day link building can still be effective:

  • Having diverse anchor texts
  • Having a good mix of do-follow and no-follow links
  • Having links from sites within your industry
  • Providing knowledge via forums & comments (for direct, targeted traffic)
  • Releasing industry research
  • Not having links from massive directories, PBNs, or link farms

The future of link-building is awesome. No longer does flooding the internet with a bunch of useless garbage links have any effect on ranking sites.

It only gets better and better as time goes on because Google is ever evolving towards delivering super-relevant, high-quality results that are truly the result of strategic development of human-valuable content, information, and resources.

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Imagine the future of the internet without spam and manipulation, where all the world’s information is accurately available 24/7 from anywhere in the world, right at our fingertips.

That vision is already manifesting in our world and the future only looks brighter and brighter!

What are your thoughts on modern-day link-building?

Do you remember the era of spam?

Let us know in the comments!