If you happened to see Google's interactive Earth Day doodle on Friday, you undoubtedly noticed the pair of Panda bears frolicking behind the omnipresent "G". Do not be misled - those cuddly creatures mean business, and they are a not-so-subtle reminder to every company on the Web that the recently updated search algorithm nicknamed Panda is here to stay.
Most online businesses are having to make adjustments to achieve the desired search rankings under the new algorithm, and their approach to building links has to change as well. No longer do the old rules of link building apply, and the sooner that a company accepts that fact, the better its SEO results will be.
Here, then, are some guidelines for building links in this new Panda era:
Clean your own house first
The goal of the Panda update is to improve the quality of content on the Web, thus improving the quality of Google's search results. Sites that engage in content farming or otherwise low-quality, "spammy" content creation have been the primary targets, and the updated algorithm was designed to punish those sites by significantly lowering their SERP rankings.
How this affects link building going forward is that businesses must be very careful about whom they share and receive links; linking to and from sites that Google has deemed as having a low quality of content is a virtual death sentence. Before setting out on any new link building initiatives, however, businesses and website owners must ensure they their own sites do not fall into this category, because their chances of acquiring quality links will be greatly diminished until they do this.
A professional design is imperative, as are acceptable page load speeds and signals of trust that provide clear indications to users and other businesses that your business website is a reputable destination. Most important, of course, and the whole reason behind Panda, is the ability to produce quality content that is useful, accurate, authoritative, current and free of grammatical and spelling errors.
New content strategy, new content
Panda does not require that all Web professionals suddenly become Pulitzer nominees, but a re-evaluation of your current content strategy is still a good idea. Even if it requires a temporary or part-time hire, ensuring that all existing content meets the above criteria before embarking on any new link building efforts is critical.
The next step, then, is to consider how your business can provide a high quality of useful content going forward, and that may require trying some new channels you have previously avoided until now. If your company is already producing regular blog posts and whitepapers that will draw in links from quality sites, perhaps now is the time to consider video, webinars and/or podcasts, and distribute them through YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, Slideshare, etc.
Be social, but smart
The first, and most important, part of building links in the Panda era is about producing useful content to which quality sites throughout your niche will want to link. The second and next most important part is about forging and building those relationships that will be the most valuable to your business.
Like the mention of video in the section above, if you have not been taking proper advantage of social media until now, it is definitely time to start. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are three excellent places to start for finding and exchanging links with reputable websites in your specific niche or business category, but they are only the beginning. Building links in the Panda era requires a lot more work than previously, and hours of research and dozens of emails and phone calls may be required to build and maintain the necessary relationships with other website owners.
But be careful about the relationships you pursue, because the Panda algorithm will judge your business by the quality of the links you are able to build. That much has not changed; what has changed is the premium value put on today's content, and the amount of work that will be required to create and distribute that content in order to build the quality links that will net the best search results.