New Quality and Trust Signals in the Post-Penguin Age

A few weeks ago Matt Cutts, Google’s anti-spam team lead, posted a video to his blog that “pretty much every SEO should see,” if his Twitter feed is to be trusted. The topic? Penguin 2.0, and hints into what Google is changing this time around with the algorithm. In other words, the (more immediate) future of SEO – and while there’s always a grain of salt involved with Google gospel, it does seem to follow along with what we knew – or suspected – about authorship: quality and trust signals are increasingly surrounding content and the individuals who write them.


Pre-Penguin, Value Passed Through Links

Traditionally, value traveled with links. If more people link to you, the thought goes, then more people want to know about you, and the search engine would assume that more people who search would want to find you. If more people linked to you around a specific keyword, then you would be returned for that keyword. And so the first rendition of Penguin targeted a profile too heavily weighted toward keyword links as opposed to brand links, or links coming from sites that aren’t trusted, or links going to sites that aren’t trusted (considered to be a sign you are trying to manipulate the search engine).

This type of trust signal also made things harder for the little guy – any niche business trying to compete with a big box store, for example. The move toward branded links made this especially true: a business with an older site and a larger audience, that also competes within your niche, will have amassed far more in link profile than you. Either you were a big box store with a full-fledged link profile, or you were a smaller niche business with no way to compete (assuming, of course, that you’re in a competition-heavy space. The year that I spent in B2B printing label startup-land was link-building heaven).

Post-Penguin, Quality Signals Shift to Content and Authors

And so the shift toward content and Penguin 2.0, as heralded by chatter around lexical coocurrence, authorship, and people noticing that other people search for longtail keywords (“how do I house-train my dog,” as opposed to “dog”). The algorithm update will, among other things, begin to shift trusted referrers – so-called “quality signals” – from a linking domain or specific, linked anchor text to the authors of site content. Here’s how it could work:

Lexical coocurrence solves a problem that happened with Penguin 1. If the algorithm works against a link profile heavily weighted toward keyword links, then we’re no longer mounting link-building campaigns around keyword-specific anchor text. Instead, we’re mounting links around brand-specific anchor text to pages that exemplify (I mean, are optimized for) those keywords. But you can do more now: as you work to drum up buzz for the product line (let’s say for example, a new lipstick line), people will naturally talk about the lipstick line on the web (assuming your product line/PR campaign is any good). As they talk about the lipstick line, they’ll link to you, and probably also steal images off of your site (which you can then go after for additional links. Just saying). Because the linking page uses keywords for which you want the linked page to rank, the linked page will rank higher for those keywords. The anchor text is irrelevant.


As in any PR campaign, you want influencers to be talking about your product line. These are people with large audiences, or people with important audiences (i.e., influencer marketing, or – in the case of B2B – industry people, less relevant in a retail scenario). Here’s where the social signals come in. With authorship, the blog post that you write on these lipsticks is ranked higher than other pages optimized for these keywords, because you wrote it. (Gross oversimplification notwithstanding.) Author profiles become important algorithmically. Moving forward, we’ll probably see more weighting toward social signals, like tweets or Facebook posts (unless we’re to believe that Facebook is trying to compete with Google…), and companies looking to take on bloggers and industry experts. This gives a chance for a smaller company to compete with a strong stable of writers/influencers.

[…] While there’s always a grain of salt involved with Google gospel, it does seem to follow along with what we knew (or suspected) about authorship: quality and trust signals are increasingly surrounding content and the individuals who write them.

SEO Moves Towards Traditional Marketing

In other words, Google is working toward SEO mirroring traditional marketing. As it does, we’ll focus more on writers, influencers, and audience segmentation and personas. Keywords will be phrases that reflect what you’re trying to sell, which is itself based on company logistics and the company’s audience: what people want it to sell, what it wants to sell, and the happy medium between the two. Data platforms with blended SERP view and competitive intelligence will be all the more important, especially those that integrate conversion, AOV, and ROI data with organic ranking data that emphasizes long-tail keywords – that is, content – and the cooccurence of certain phrases with other phrases.

Or maybe I’m dreaming. I have a degree in poetry, and I’d really like to use it.

8 Responses to New Quality and Trust Signals in the Post-Penguin Age

  1. Clayburn says:

    People matter. Marketers know this, but SEOs usually forget.

    • Ty says:

      This a gross assumption that SEOs forget people matter…. The industry has been shifting the last few years and many SEOs have embraced this shift.

  2. Rivka says:

    Yes! But if the search engine is remembering that, then SEOs will, too.

  3. Adam Dince says:

    To Nathan’s “people” point, links will be valuable if they’re useful to people. That means the days of acquiring links on high PR pages will not be enough. They’ll have to be useful to a reader and foster click-thru.

    As it applies to social signals, it will absolutely matter how influential a Twitter account or a Google + account holder are. The future of influencer algorithms is something exciting to think about.

    I still think that many of the traditional principles of SEO (e.g., on-page optimization, I/A optimization, U/X optimization) will be effective. The more things change the more they stay the same. However, the quality/authority signals will definitely be split much more between inbound links from relevant high quality Websites and social activity.

    • Rivka says:

      Hey Adam – it’s so true. I often feel that the ultimate measure of a link’s quality is the click-through it gets, but I’m not sure if the algo sees it the same way. Unless the algo just evaulates the symptoms that lead to click-through, like authority of site.

  4. James says:

    The truth is that spammy low quality work can still work. Competitors in the rubber flooring niche still outrank us by paying to links which pass on PR.