Hello, everybody. Let’s play a game. I bet you I can spot SEO links from a mile away. How do you tell who’s been deliberately building links to achieve higher search engine rankings and who hasn’t? It’s all in the anchor text, and if I can spot the obvious signs of manipulation so easily, don’t doubt for a minute that Google can’t do the same. With their polarizing Penguin updates, Google has been cracking down on the techniques that have effectively positioned websites at the top of search engine results. Fortunately, even if you were impacted by Penguin, there’s no time like the present to revamp your link profile and get in good standing with Google again. This handy guide will break down the Dos and Don’ts of post Penguin 2.0 link building anchor text.
Why, Google!? Why!?
First, we have to understand why it is that a website may have been (or is slated to be) targeted by Penguin. Search engines, including Google, heavily factor in the links pointing to a site as a sign of authority and value. Thus, backlinks are one of the key tools SEOs use to get a site higher in rankings. After all, if enough people are sharing a website and its content, it must be pretty good. Moreover, a backlink with an anchor text such as car repair Brooklyn that points to the website of a Brooklyn auto repair shop sends a very clear and specific signal to search engines like Google and can influence a website’s rankings. So, in the past, if you wanted to rank for “car repair Brooklyn” you could post on forums and in the comments sections of blogs, making sure to include that kind of “exact match” anchor text to your website. It could only help, so you’d continuously do it until you reached the position you wanted.
However, because Google wants to deliver the best, most relevant content to their audience, they’re not fond of this kind of manipulation. Therefore, they are seeking to diminish its effects on SERPs rankings in the way of Penguin algorithm updates.
Having a Look at Your Link Profile
How do you know if a website is at risk for being Penguinated? You examine its link profile. Google Webmaster Tools provides backlink information, provided your Google account has been granted access for a particular website. If you do have access, you can visit the “Links to Your Site” section contained within the “Traffic” menu.
In this section, you will find information on which domains link to your website the most, your most linked content (i.e. web pages with the most backlinks), and the most used backlink anchor texts. All of this information is invaluable when assessing a website’s link profile.
Numbers in the hundreds or thousands are often the sign of spammy site-wide links and other forms of unnatural linking. It’s also imperative that your top backlink anchor text is either “non-anchored” (i.e. the website’s URL) or branded. If this isn’t the case, then you have some clean up to do.
Want a second opinion? You can also check out Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer. You really don’t want to see obvious exact match anchor texts dominating your link profile, or there’s a good chance that you could be hit (or perhaps were already) by Penguin. Also, quantity of exact match backlink anchor texts isn’t the only thing to be looking out for, it’s also about quality. For example, if you have exact match anchor text links for a site about online gambling on forums about pet grooming, Google will smack you. In other words, you want to build links in places that are relevant to your field while avoiding “bad neighborhoods” (low PageRank sites — or even sites that have been de-indexed from Google search results).
So how do you go about building links moving forward, and how do you maintain a clean link profile? It’s all about going natural.
“Natural” Link Buildling
The process of building links isn’t exactly “natural,” but there are ways to go about it that won’t get you in hot water with Google and their quality guidelines. This entails keeping a varied link profile which should include the following (in order of importance):
• Branded anchor texts – Ex: Lucky’s Shoe Warehouse
• Zero match anchor texts: – Ex: www.luckysshoewarehouse.com OR click here
• Partial match anchor texts – Ex: Best place to get cheap shoes NYC
• Exact match anchor texts – Ex: cheap shoes NYC
You still want to pursue some exact match anchor texts, but it should not be your primary focus. A website’s link profile must be dominated by branded and not-anchored links. Only 15 – 20% of the anchor texts in your website’s link profile should be exact match. Although you may feel that cutting back on exact match anchor text backlinks may hurt your potential to rank, you have to counter this by building higher quality, more relevant links. Click the following zero match anchor text link for a handy guide on how to do that.
Link Profile Cleanup
This process involves some dirty work. You have to crawl around the backlink data in Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs and/or Open Site Explorer and determine which links are hurting more than they’re helping at this point. If a single domain is pointing hundreds or thousands of links to your site, you first want to contact the owner and ask him/her to kindly remove the links. If you find that a website owner isn’t responding to your requests, you can just add their domain to a .txt file and upload it to the Google Link Disavow Tool.
Additionally, if you find that exact match anchor texts dominate your link profile, you’re going to want to review these in depth and especially remove the ones that appear on irrelevant websites with low PageRank. As to how liberal you should be in removing links is a polarizing topic.
In the following video, Google’s Matt Cutts suggests taking a hatchet, rather than a scalpel to get rid of those pesky links that you suspect could be getting you into trouble.
So, if you won’t take our word for it, you might as well take Google’s. There’s nothing fun or easy about link building the way Google wants you to, but following these tips, you’ll sleep a little better at night knowing that you’re that much safer when the next Penguin update rolls around.