Anchor Text in a Post Penguin World

penguinWith the Penguin 2.0 update that rocked the SEO world in late May, anchor text became quite a big topic of discussion in the SEO community. What level of exact match anchor text is appropriate to use in a post penguin world? What about partial match anchor text? How do we get over optimized anchor text links changed, and how much will it impact rankings? Before you go a little overboard with making anchor text changes, you should take a few other factors into consideration in order to develop a strategy for dealing with the Penguin 2.0 updates.

Backlink Quantity

The Penguin 2.0 update was much more than rearranging websites with unnatural anchor text allocations. It’s main purpose according to Google was to target websites that had links from completely irrelevant sites, websites that require payment in order to have a listing, and other low quality pages or sites that violated Google’s Terms of Use, i.e., existed just to manipulate rankings. That means if you were affected by the Penguin updates, it might not have been a result of anchor text, but in the quality of your existing backlinks. You can easily get backlink quantity metrics by using something like Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer. To understand their quality, you have to dig a little bit deeper by exporting backlink reports from Majestic, Open Site Explorer, Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools, and any other service you can get your hands on. Ignore anchor text for the time being, and see the types of sites you’re getting your links from. If the majority of them appear to be unnatural, and are there just to manipulate search engine rankings, then you need to try to have them removed. If having them removed isn’t a clear option, you can turn to Google’s disavow links tool, however I would only use it for links that you know are bad and if you know what you’re doing.

Change Anchor Text to an Extent

You can do a sweep of your backlinks to see which anchor text links are over optimized and should be changed, which will get you mixed results from my own personal experience. While you can do one clean sweep and change links to branded names or URL links, it’s easy to obsess over changing what’s in the past, when what you should be doing is building the right type of new links now. Additionally, you can work on changing anchor text to more “natural” anchor text variations, yet Google might think that’s unnatural, especially if you change all of the links to the same anchor text. For example, if you change every anchor text link you have from “my target keyword” to “my brand name”, you might swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, and have an unnatural level of branded links.

I worked on a site where the anchor text distribution for the target keyword pontoon boats was far higher than other competitor websites. While changing all the pontoon boats links to branded names had a marginal benefit, it didn’t seem to appease Google as much as expected. In Majestic SEO, we noticed that the “Other Anchor Text” section of the anchor text pie chart, which would include links like company website, link, click here, etc. were at a much lower level than other related websites. Since working on expanding those types of diversified anchor text links, results have steadily improved. Since making that observation, I’d estimate that a healthy level of “Other Anchor Text” for a company home page should be around 35-45%.

Monitoring Changes Where Other Anchor Text Matters

Much like over-analyzing anchor text, you can easily over-analyze ranking changes while you try to twist the Google knobs to the appropriate levels. Many people speculate that while rankings can be impacted from the immediate changes, many actions won’t take effect until the next major Google algorithm update. Others have gone as far as to say that Google is making rankings unpredictable as a way to expose link networks and other unnatural link building methods that they see as a threat to their search engine’s integrity. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, I certainly think websites shouldn’t take too many drastic actions in the wake of any major algorithm update, and we can’t rely on ranking changes as concrete evidence for our actions. As long as you work steadily at building higher quality links to your website that competitor sites don’t have, and don’t try too hard to manipulate anchor texts used for link, you should be able to weather the Google storm better than most.

Strategies for the Future

While Google has always remained unpredictable, one thing can always be certain: Google will consistently roll out quality updates to its algorithm named after animals that start with the letter P (I hope next up is possum) and the SEO community will go ablaze as it gives them something new to talk about. To avoid wasting time speculating the impacts of the updates and adjusting to Google’s future unwritten guidelines, focus today on practicing what they preach. Make great content that relevant website visitors in your industry will find interesting and useful- getting the right links will come easy, and anchor text won’t be a concern.

If you have any questions, please ask below!