Why Anchor Text Matters More Than Ever Before

You know what anchor text is, right? Any hyperlinked word or phrase is anchor text, and it can be on your own site or on a site that points back to yours. The anchor text can be your keyword phrase, your name (as often happens with a blog comment), or it can be as simple as “click here.”


PANDA (Photo credit: kamome)

Why is it important?

Anchor text is important because it gives your website reputation. It tells the search spiders what your website is about, that information is fed to the search engine and things go ’round and ’round.  Have enough anchor text that points to what your site is about — that describes it accurately — and you’re doing better in the SERPs.

But, if you’re using the same anchor text, time and time again, to place external links (pointing back to your site) it can hurt you, and with the newest iteration of Google’s Panda algorithm filter, it’s more important than ever to use anchor text so that it creates a “natural” linking pattern. If you’ve been using a linking service or using blog networks to distribute your content, this new update could be a problem for you.

When Google sees too many links with the identical anchor text, they start thinking that it’s a “link scheme,” where a service uses one snippet of anchor text and places it all over the Web. And they’re cracking down.

Here’s the email that some webmasters are getting at Webmaster Tools and was posted to the Google Webmaster Tools forum, but I’ve seen the same note in multiple places now:

Dear site owner
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.
If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.
If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team

Whoa. See? I keep telling you that Google just knows things. It’s not hard for them to figure it out, if you’re using those link wheel doobies or a linking blog network or whatever. It’s not difficult at all for them to figure things out.  And when their algorithm doesn’t catch it, there are plenty of Google quality checkers out there actually looking at these things.

Google isn’t always right about this stuff, though. You may not have paid for links or participated in any linking “schemes” at all, but just keep using the same anchor text everywhere you place a link. Or you may have done nothing to gather links at all, but Google just thinks you are.

First, never post tons of anchor text that’s identical.  Never do that!

But… You can also get bad links from sites that scrape your content. You can’t do much about that, but you can use Tynt.com and tell people where the content originated.  (It happened to me 103 times last month alone!) But you can’t stop people from lifting your content, which can create crappy links and give Google the heebie-jeebies.

If the email above comes to you from Google, there are some things you can do, but the actions aren’t terribly palatable. However, you may not even be penalized. If there is a small portion of links that appear to be non-Google friendly, you may not be affected by this at all. But if you see your ranking drop, well… You probably need to do something about it, if the problem isn’t too extensive.

First, figure out where the links are. You can use a service like SEOMoz to find your backlinks and anchor text. Go to those links and try to change the anchor text or if the site is just crappy, ask the webmaster to remove the link. (Not that they will, but you can try.) But if you have been using a linking service or a blog network, tracking those links down will take forever. And if you’ve been buying links, well… you’ve pretty much screwed yourself.

Buy a new domain and start over. I’d advise against buying an aged domain, too, unless you know what the linkscape looks like for that older domain. It could have lots of those duplicate anchor text, purchased linkage or other issues, so be careful.

But listen, this is exactly why I’ve stood on creating links slowly over time, in varying your anchor text, and keeping things pretty much the way Google wants to see you doing them. This is really black & white SEO that Google advocates. Really, they don’t hate SEO; they only hate SEO that tries to game the system.

Linking helter-skelter or without a method may have worked before. It won’t ever work again. Get over it. If you want to build links, build them with cool content. That’s it.

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