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Google Groundhog Targeting Shady Links

Already twice this year Google has, seemingly, sent signals that is wishes to continue the disruption of link-building schemes and shady linking practices as it has done numerous times in the past. Google has released two unconfirmed algorithm updates in an effort to support clean linking practices and punish those who continuously try to game the system.

With constant algorithm updates the question must be asked, “How should I build links in 2017?” In the words of Elmer Fudd “Be very very careful.”

Don’t use unnatural or black hat link building practices. It’s easy and quick, but you will regret it. Instead, invest in an amazing content marketing plan.  The key to a winning content marketing plan is creating content that is novel and most of all informative and useful to the audience. Once the content is created, promote it through every channel possible. This sounds easy but a successful content marketing campaign is anything but. However, this is the type of link building effort Google prefers.

2017 Link Building Updates: 

Google released its first unconfirmed update addressing shady link building on Feb. 1. This update is being called Groundhog and targets a widely used linking scheme in private blog networks (PBNs). A PBN is a network of websites (usually all owned by the same entity) used to build links to your site for the purpose of ranking higher.

2017 Link Building Updates: 

The second, and also unconfirmed update is believed to have rolled out on March 8 and has been named Fred by the SEO world. There is some confusion on if the update was a Penguin or Panda refresh. SEO Roundtable’s Barry Schwarts believes the Fred update was intended to de-index ad-heavy sites. Those websites, primarily created to generate income through ads, are of no purpose to the average person.

Yet, after evaluating the URLs that were affected, it was revealed that many sites also had poor link signals. If your site has been affected by this or another update, we recommend performing a simple task to try and mitigate any damage. First, check webmaster tools to see if you received a manual action. If you have a manual action against you and your site is ad heavy, try removing all but 25 percent of the ads and see if your site recovers. If issues persist, you should consider evaluating your links and using the disavow tool to clean-up your backlink profile. Once you recover from a penalty it is important to create more relevant and authoritative content that is helpful to the user. Finally, whether it be links, content, or other schemes, STOP trying to cut corners by using black hat SEO tactics. Below you will see examples of what to look for and what to avoid.

2017 Link Building Updates: Keys to Good Site Health

The key to good site link health is relevancy.  It is really quite simple; build relevant links from authoritative sites that have good signals. Look below for things you should look for when building links.

Say yes to the link: 

  1. Does the page rank in Google or other search engines?
  2. Is the link relevant?
  3. Is the trust flow greater than or equal to citation flow?
  4. Are other people linking to the page?
  5. Does the page have a low spam score?
  6. Are people commenting on other posts?
  7. Are people sharing the post on social?
  8. Is there valuable Page and Domain Authority?

Avoid the link: 

  1. If it is paid.
  2. If you have to exchange for it.
  3. Gained through automated link processes.
  4. Text link ads.
  5. Spammy guest blog, press release, or comments.
  6. Footer Links.
  7. Comes from a PBN ( see click here above for more insight on this).
  8. Link seems shady or too easy to obtain.

For content, even for websites created to generate money through ads, relevancy is key. What is the user looking for? The key is to not create shady content that misleads the consumer. Google’s main goal is to make searchers happy by returning the most relevant result. Shady websites and tactics that mislead users could lead to searchers bouncing off your page and going to the competition.

2017 Link Building Updates: How to avoid penalties.

The first step to avoiding penalties when link-building and creating new content is to research what has already been indexed and is ranking high. Find a keyword you want to rank for and do a search for it. Find out what other content has been shared on the topic to learn what Google is looking for but avoid simply restating what has already been said unless you are adding a perspective that has not been explored. Some easy content ideas are turning a checklist into a written blog and adding solutions or key points. If there is an infographic, create a better one that answers questions or addresses negative comments you see in the feed. Create a video that entertains and at the same time educates the reader and encourages them to share or post on their site or social platforms.  Using these tips should ensure your content doesn’t fall prey to future algorithm updates and that you build lasting value to your website.

About the author


Marcus Howling

Marcus Howling, the SEO Doctor, is a SEO strategist at Amuse Digital. As one of the largest full-service digital marketing firms in Houston, it is able to help you increase your online visibility. Marcus excels at on-page optimization, natural link building, keyword research and analysis.


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  • Thanks for the update. Seems like if you want to rank anymore and not be penalized in 2017 and beyond, white hat is the only way to get there. Your “Say yes to the link” list, is a great place to focus on, thanks for the tips.

  • Thanks for the great tips. It seems that Google won’t let us enjoy our hard work, we shall have to work more and more to get readers to our blogs.

    • No you should avoid PBN’s they are frowned upon by Google. If your network is caught your site will be penalized.

  • I think the same thing happen with my website. Previously all of my Government Jobs keywords ranked but now they are all gone from the Google ranking. Someone please provide the solution…

    • Hi Shivani, thank you for reading. If you need help feel free to reach out anytime. Our company website is in the Bio.

  • Great list Marcus! I’ve used/read about 90% of these but it’s great to have them all in one list. It makes it very useful for anyone to get started in link-building. I’ll be using this as part of my training for new SEO’s at my company! Once I get the time I’ll write a blog post and include a link to this for sure!

    • Thank you for the comments. I appreciate the feedback and I am glad you found the article useful.

  • With all of the changes in ranking algorithms, it’s best to stick with quality over quantity now for sure. A few great backlinks definitely outweigh hundreds and thousands of low quality ones. Excellent article, thanks for the information and tips.

  • I LOVE this post! So helpful. In the past, I’ve avoiding links to my site because I haven’t understand how they play out. For clients, I will only type there web address on the page, but no link, I’ve done a few Do Not Follow Links for friends, are those bad as well?

    • Hi Laura,

      No Follow links are okay, but they do not pass as much link juice as a do follow link…Does this make sense?

  • The author uses an antiquated and deprecated Google parameter (i.e. “page rank”) as the first criteria to accept a link? -> “Does the page rank in Google or other search engines?”

    Google has repeatedly tried to bury that ridiculous concept many times and SEO people keep resurecting the putrid carcass. You can’t meaningfully “rank” millions of search results into just ten “ranks”. What possible difference could there be between the 300 millionth and last site in page rank 6 compared the the 300 millionth AND ONE site that is the first of page rank 7? A pixel was defective or something?

  • Absolutely agree. I am working as independent SEO expert during 10 years, only white hat and went thru all of this crazy updaters with a little less.

  • Wow it’s really difficult to keep up with all these different zoo animals Google has. My site is been stuck on the second page for a number of keywords because I have been reluctant to use pbn links. My site is taxi site so it’s very hard to find relevant niche links.
    But links for social media sites such as Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter can do wonders for a backline profile. You should also consider using something like SEO spyglass to check your competitors backlinks and use the most relevant ones to help boost you in the search engine ranking position.
    I truly enjoyed reading your article and found the information very useful. Thank you very much for your time and effort in this blog post.

    • Hi John,

      Those are great tips. If you have a good back link profile and still stuck on second page you should try to improve your content. Make sure your pages are not stuffed with too many of the same terms. Also make sure your technical signals ( meta data is properly optimized) Also try beefing up your sites content. Thank you for your kind comments and good luck.

  • Really really a good approach. I think the inner links are getting higher in importance.
    Links inside paragraphs as a keyword link without repetition is also great practice ( i think! ).
    Thanks for sharing! & keep up the good work!

    • Thank you for the feedback inner links do seem to be have a higher impact but only if not over optimized. I would try to keep it to a min of 1 to 3 links unless it is a resource of some kind.

  • Hello Marcus, one of my blogs was hit by google update, please what are the tools to check for Spammy backlinks, so that I can disavow them. Or what is the best step for me to take.