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Ever since the last Penguin update in October 2014, Webmasters and SEO experts have been patiently awaiting Google’s Penguin 4.0 Algorithm update. The refresh – which was expected to hit by the end of 2015 – has now been pushed back into 2016. This just means more time for you to get your site ready for the change!

Penguin update discussions have always centered around removing bad links and creating good links, which of course are both critical in order to stay in Google’s good books. But what most people ignore is the fact that smart link building is actually just a component of a much larger picture: gaining Google’s trust, which is the factor we should really be focusing on.

Here are some Penguin-friendly trust building techniques to ensure your 2016 goes penalty free.

Do a Backlink Audit and Set Goals

A great place to start in preparing for the Penguin update is to take a look at what you’re already doing correctly and identify your weak spots. Does your backlink profile have relatively few spam links, but no strong, authoritative links? Or do you have lots of both? Look at action-driven metrics like your percentage of good links to bad, your anchor text content (branded vs unbranded), your Universal Analytics referral traffic statistics, and your TrustRank using tools like MozTrust. Take note of where you’re at, and where you would like to be when Penguin hits.

Clean Up Your Backlink Profile

It’s no secret that low-quality, unnatural links are hurting your site. Contact sites to remove the link to your site whenever possible, and use the Disavow Tool in your Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) on sites where you cannot have the links removed. Do not use an automated tool, as it could easily lose some of your highest-value links. Link removal is time-consuming, so if you’re limited on resources, you may want to consider having an agency you trust clean your backlink profile for you.

Create Awesome Content

It’s the tip everyone is tired of hearing, but there’s a reason for it. The Google algorithm and the Penguin update consider the percentage of good links to bad links. Creating link-worthy, sharable content is a great way to help prepare for the Penguin update. Prepare articles using content research and stay on top of trends in order to write content users are searching for and linking to. Not to worry if you don’t have the resources to create a ton of content before the update hits – Penguin 4.0 is expected to be a real-time update.

Stop Trying to Outsmart Google

Link building has developed a bad reputation in the SEO community and that’s mostly because it’s been associated with so many questionable practices. Whether it takes a day or a couple months, attempting to exploit loopholes with black hat SEO will always backfire. Always. While this almost seems too obvious to mention with a Penguin update around the corner, stay away from quick and dirty link building.

Use Smart Link Building Techniques

A quick Google search will show that there are so many great ways to build reputable links. Set goals on how many high-quality links you would like to acquire monthly and make an effort to meet those goals. Get involved in your industry and your community, find broken backlinks, write relevant guest blogs, and most importantly create fantastic content.

Build Your Brand Name

Google cares about brands. Luckily, you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to convince Google that your brand name matters. Branded anchor text is highly valuable as Google rolls out Penguin updates. Keep in mind that building your brand from an SEO perspective is a long game. Focusing on your brand is going to help you gain traction not only with Penguin, but also with every algorithm update Google might throw your way.

Set up Monitoring for Your Backlink Profile

The Penguin real-time update makes it essential that you keep a close eye on your backlink profile day to day. Using a variety of tools along with relevant Google Alerts and close monitoring of your Google Search Console will help you recover quickly from any links that could be hurting your site, including negative SEO attacks.

Preparing for the Penguin 4.0 algorithm update is about communicating to Google that your site can be trusted based on your overall link portfolio. Gaining Google’s trust will help your site with every algorithm update and is critical for success from both a Penguin and overall SEO perspective. Following these best practices will help you get through 2016 penalty-free and will keep your website rankings strong as the update rolls out in real-time.

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Nicole Hagerman
Nicole has worked for Tiko Digital, a digital marketing agency based out of Canada, since 2013. She spends her days driving measurable results for clients using data-driven search engine optimization and pay per click strategies. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains and finding fun events around the snowy metropolis of Edmonton, Alberta.