The roll-out of Google’s Penguin update on 24th April has created a plethora of new content as search marketers and webmasters try to understand the changes, complain about them or report on their experiences.
One of the key topics that seems to be trending amid the post-Penguin melee is quality of links on a website, specifically in relation to keyword-stuffed anchor text.
For the uninitiated, anchor text is the text that anchors a link on one page to the destination page. For example, let’s say you are a boiler engineer and your boiler repair web page is perfectly optimised for the phrase “boiler repair”. What SEO people would then do is to put links around the website where the phrase “boiler repair” is linked to your boiler repair page. This sends relevance and popularity signals to search engines, which would then reflect in rank.
The problem for websites since the release of the Google Penguin update is that these kinds of links can now bring a ranking penalty. Google is now, more than ever, actively looking for a natural set of links. The problem some websites have is that their internal links look like spam to new Google.
Compare these two examples:
“We provide office cleaning services to businesses in Chelmsford. With a team of 10 professional cleaners, we have more than 15 years’ experience and excellent references.”
“We provide office cleaners in Chelmsford to local businesses. We have a team of 10 and more than 15 years of experience in providing cleaning services.”
In the first example, the word “services” would link to the company’s services page while “excellent references” would link to the page of references from customers. Both are legitimate navigational links that help the customer first and Google second.
In the second example, the phrase “office cleaners in Chelmsford” is a phrase designed to capitalise on people searching that phrase on Google. The phrase does not imply any navigational relevance to another page of the website and it is clearly designed to boost rank for the phrase.
Furthermore, if most of the external backlinks pointing to your site have the same anchor text, Penguin is likely to assume you are artificially boosting your page rank for that term.
Google wants us all to act natural
A natural collection of external backlinks will include a wide variety of anchor text phrases. Human beings tend to link using the full or partial URL, the brand name or “click here”, for example. What they don’t do is use your most important SEO phrases to link to you. So, along comes Penguin to check out your link profile and he sees that most of your links are not the result of human citations.
If you want to contrive a link profile that Penguin likes, here are some tips to help:
- Do you have a footer full of links? If so, are these navigational links with logical navigational anchor text, or are they stuffed with SEO phrases?
- Do you have lots of pages that pretty much do the same thing, where each page has been created to capitalise on a key phrase? For example cleaning-service-chemlsford.html and office-cleaners-chelmsford.html. If you have a load of pages that exist only for building keyword rank, consolidate them into a more sensible structure.
- Don’t carry site-wide links to other sites especially if they are not relevant to your own site. This will appear as though you have sold the links to help pass page rank from your site to another site.
- Avoid the temptation to use automatic services that blast out thousands of directory submissions over a short space of time or where all the links will be the same.
Final tip – don’t obsess about links. Depending on your business and your niche, it is possible to rank well without many links at all, if your on-page stuff is done well.