Do SEOs Still Have a Job? Updating Links Post Penguin and Panda

SEO has always been a fast moving field – so much so – that what you knew 5 years ago is hardly relevant and potentially harmful today. Since Google’s latest updates, beginning with Panda in February of 2011 (rough times), and then EMD in 2012, the change rate has intensified even more. In fact, most of these updates could put SEOs in serious danger.

Panda&Penguin Update

Credit: Ognian Mladenov

Even more, as Google has created these changes, many SEOs have lost their writing privileges. With content as king, you are being replaced by “content strategist”, “copywriters”, and “content managers”… The old way of SEO writing – is not relevant.  

You probably already know that.

In fact, you probably landed on this article because you have fallen to such woes. There are not many articles out there answering questions you are looking for. Such as, “How do I continue to grow my link profile in 2014?”, “What do I do to protect myself against the next Google Zoo? (Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird)?”

In this post, and ones to come, you’ll get an in-depth look on the SEO world, and some strategies that you can take to help you in the future. Plus, an answer to the question, Do SEOs still matter?

 

How Did We Get Here to Begin With?

Life Before Google (Pre 1998)

yahoo-1996

Credit: Dharmesh Patel

 

Google is only 15 years old, but it is hard to think of life before Google. What was life like before Google? AIM ruled the day. AOL told you that mail had arrived, and Yahoo ruled the web. Pre-Google, the most important elements were meta keywords and keyword density. And you wonder how we got here? Keyword stuffing was the name of game.

Google Takes the Stage (1998)

Google Homepage 1998

Credit: Brent Payne

 

Google changed the game. Their algorithm (PageRank – thanks Larry) was based on links pointing to a site. In the easiest way to explain it, their algorithm was very similar to the “Facebook thumbs up”. The more links you had (thumbs up), the better you ranked.

It makes sense.

The more links you have – the more credible your information. This seemingly simple idea led to Google’s dominance. Why? Because their algorithm created significantly better results for the user. For the first time, pages were being ranked based on their quality and relevance to the user, not their hidden keywords.

The Venice Update (2009-2011)
People rarely discuss the Venice update. In Google’s attempt to create a more personalized search experience, the Venice update automatically accounted for the location of the searcher, even if they did not use localized keywords. For example, if I searched for “mechanic,” Google recognized the location of my computer’s IP, and pulled in a list of local results. If you looked in your browser settings, you noticed that you could change your current location.

What did the Venice Update Do? It meant you did not have to write sentences like this: “Boston mechanic is headquartered in Boston, MA. Our team of Boston mechanics ensure that any person looking for Boston mechanic services gets the help their cars need.” Not the most beautiful sentence every written, right? But thanks to the Venice update, your content did not have to be stuffed with keywords in order to tell Google you’re a local business. Plus, it gave small businesses a voice.

Panda (February 2011)
A happy farewell to link farms and hello to branded sites. Panda aimed to lower the rank of “low quality sites” or “thin sell sites”, and return higher-quality / branded sites near the top of the search results. Panda was something completely new for SEO. As SEOs, for a long time, we were doing the same things: keyword research, building [hopefully good] content, putting those keywords in the content, making it accessible, and then trying to get some links via social media, other bloggers, promotions, etc.. But now, you have to think about something more, brand and visitor trust.

Penguin (April 2012)
Penguin brought the following inspirational quote, “If you work in SEO, be good at it, not great”. Ironically, we want to be great at everything we do, except for optimizing anchor text. Penguin was the over optimization penalty – those with too many anchor text links were pushed off the front page. Penguin also ate those who used black hat techniques (the ones that Panda didn’t squash).

If you did not get hit by Panda, and you still use black hat techniques, your time is coming. Google will run an update of Panda every 2-3 months.

Welcome EMD Update. GoDaddy, Your Revenue is Going Down. (September 2012)
Have an exact match domain? It won’t help you that much. Payed 5k for AtlantaMechanic.com? Sorry, but now TheGoodMechanic.com will have about the same advantage as you…

 

The New Way is the White Hat highWAY

There was an 8 year span where black hat ruled the world (Google’s Front Page). Using terrible content, link farms, blog networks, anchor text, these sites won the algorithm game. But now, you are out of business  – or your business is struggling (and should be). If you want to continue growing, you need to adapt to the new SEO.

It used to all be about the keywords. If I wanted to rank for “mechanic in Boston”, I worked on that keyword by creating content, stuffing keywords, adding anchor text, and within a few weeks/ maybe months, I was #2. Then, with minimal update, I could keep my position on Google.

Not anymore.

 

What Should You Be Focusing on Now?

According to Matt Cutts: “It is pretty constant. [You should] make a great site that users love, a site they will tell their friends about, bookmark, come back too, visit over and over again”…

But what else, Matt? 

Links.

Google and Matt have been talking, tweeting, and discussing links all year long. In fact, at a recent conference, Pubcon 2013, Cutts talked about links a lot. Good links, press release links, bad links, disavowing links, paid links, etc…

Based on Cutts, Google, and the updates, you need to start focusing some (not all) of your attention on links. As we discussed earlier, links are the fundamental variable in the Google Algorithm, so how do you focus on links – without over focusing on links? It is a tough journey, but we have to begin somewhere.

 

Where do you start? Anchor Text Distribution

After Penguin, Panda, etc – YOU must begin at step 1. Check your links. You can start writing great content today, but if you don’t check your links, it won’t help much.

Before you start adding new links, creating great content, and changing your SEO landscape, make sure your foundation is solid. One of the best places to start in a post penguin – post panda world is your link profile.

Over the years, there were many ways to manipulate your rankings on Google, and links were one of them. Google has always been aware of this, and they are finally cracking down (in fact, anchor text misuse will trigger the Penguin filter quickly). Working for a company in-house, and for a handful of clients, I know how important it is to analyze link profiles. In fact, if the website is older, your job may be much harder (this is one crack in the “old websites rank better” foundation).

Why is it important?

If you over optimize your anchor links (past and present), you are going to get penalized.

anchor-text-diversity-penalized5

anchor-text-diversity-not-penalized4

What does this mean?

It means that every single site we looked at which got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a “money keyword” as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links. On the other hand, the sites that were not hit by the update had much more random percentages. – MicrositeMasters.com

 

Common Objection:

If these links are coming from other sites, how can I control that? You can.

How? Because you probably placed those links.

Let’s use an example. Say your company is entitled “Outstanding SEO” and your link profile has over 70% anchor links with “Link Building Agency” or another “exact match” as the anchor text.

I don’t know about you, but it is awfully difficult to have your competitors or those in your niche write a post about you, with a link back to your site, with the anchor text being “Link Building Agency”. In fact, you would be lucky to get a link that says, “click here”. Google knows that. Thus, if you do have a high percentage of links with the same text, you probably placed it – making them unnatural…

Obtaining links from websites or pages in a similar niches and with relevant content to the keyword you’re trying to rank for is generally much harder to manipulate. This reality and ease of the manipulation obviously prompted Google to create this update. – MicrositeMasters.com

 

What Links Do You Need to Examine?

BRANDED LINKS

Branded anchor text includes any link that is a brand name (StudioPress), URL or domain (studiopress.com). Google wants to see these brand referrals. If you notice that your link profiles has higher branded links, that is okay. It is more natural.

COMPOUND / PARTIAL MATCH

Compound, also commonly known as ‘partial match anchor text’, is used when the link contains the brand or targeted term, in addition to other words that you aren’t targeting. For example, Studiopress may target ‘Studiopress WordPress Themes’ as a partial match…

EXACT MATCH

Exact match anchor text can be considered over optimization. This refers to the words in the links (anchor text, ie… WordPress Themes), exactly matching the keywords that you are trying to rank for. If you have a keyword, that is the H1 on your home page, included in your page title and contains a high volume of inbound links containing the anchor text, expect a smack from the Penguin…

WHITE NOISE/ GENERIC

‘Zero match anchor text’ or white noise / generic use call to actions to drive users to targeted pages. Example: click here, learn more, follow, read more, etc…

NAKED URLS

A naked URL is simply the domain name or page you are linking to. For example: https://elioverbey.net

TITLES

A commonly used form of anchor text is the title of the page you’re linking to (commonly seen in Academia). For example, a post I published a while back, “What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Is it Still Important?“, makes the title the anchor text.

IMAGE ANCHOR TEXT

Often overlooked, but are still powerful links, are links on images, which have keywords in the alternate text of the image…

Now Check Your Site’s Anchor Text Distribution

The first step in avoiding a link penalty is knowing your links. How do you do that? Hello Ahrefs, Moz Open Site Explorer, and a personal Favorite, Majestic SEO.

Based on a study by Majestic SEO, you want to make sure that your links look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 12.53.59 PM

This is a great rule of thumb to follow:

  • 70% brand, URL, brand+keyword, and non-targeted anchor texts (Branded Links, White Noise, Naked URL, Titles, and Image)
  • 25% partial, phrase, and broad match keyword anchor texts (Compound)
  • 5% exact match anchor texts (Exact Match) Why So Low? You are going to get exact match anchor links without knowing it (You will probably make them yourself).

The easiest way to find your link distribution is through the Site Explorer tool at Majestic SEO. With a free account, you will be able to run the reports below.

For this case study, we are going to examine the links for Studiopress. First, go to Majestic and enter the URL you want to research:

 StudioPress

Below is the Anchor Text chart for Studiopress. This is a fairly natural looking Anchor Text distribution.

Studiopress

Studiopress

Studiopress does fairly well. If you examine the chart closely:

  • 41% of studiopress.com links come from “Genesis Framework” which is a branded identity of Studiopress.
  • 8% of searches include Studiopress, and
  • 36% include the other types of links: Naked, URL, etc..

Be Careful Genesis

One thing Genesis can improve upon is creating more links for Studiopress instead of the Genesis Framework (if they are going to use Studiopress as the main brand. I know people who are confused about Studiopress and think the Genesis Framework is its own brand). In  fact, it would be a fairly simple change: Studiopress has a referral program that uses Genesis Framework as the anchor text… (but that also brings up the question – are those technically paid links? – another post – another day)

What if you do not have a natural link portfolio?

Apply Natural Link Building to your Campaigns.

Keep an eye on your links. If you do not have a natural profile, consider diversifying some of your links:

  • Add “click here” in an author biography.
  • In Web Directories, change it up a bit.
  • In Guest Postings, keep it natural.
  • If you do ask for links, don’t demand specific anchor text. (Be careful soliciting links)
  • Don’t send all of your links to the homepage.
  • Most importantly, do your best to let links come naturally.

So, Do we SEOs still have a job?

This post is part 1 in a long series. Other posts will include: Broken Link Building, EDU. and GOV. links, Submission backlinks, content building, and more. Based on that response alone, you should have answer!

Absolutely.

You can’t just “start writing great content”. Forbes recently published an article that stated:

Invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants. Grow your internal thought leaders to where they can add value to your audience and positioning in the market. Follow internal SEO practices to make sure it is found and sees the light of day. Take the time to make it so compelling that people talk about it and share it.

If you have a bad link profile, struggle with page optimization, or can’t get links, great content won’t be your miracle. A company can write the best content, but have an old domain with spammy links, and still won’t be able to grow.

That is why you need SEO.

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