Recent Changes @ Google
In keeping with the norm, allot of things have changed during the recent Google update(s), specifically the "Penguin" update. The information that I am about to show you concerning this update is very important! However, because this is a relatively small detail I believe that most SEOs will either inadvertently overlook it and just not realize how important it is, or purposefully overlook it because they have done so many of the wrong things that they simply don't know how to fix them! Additionally, many individual site owners (regular ole' people like myself) may not ever even be told about this small detail simply because it just didn't seem significant enough for the "big guys" to even talk about!
Sticking your head in the sand does nothing!
There is one thing that's for sure, running around in your front yard, waving your flag of ignorance, and yelling at your neighbors saying things like: "SEO is dead!", or "Google just wants you to think that SEO is dead so they can push their PPC ads on us!", or writing ridiculous blog posts that try to back up these quotes with even more ridiculous "data" that you pulled out of somewhere, well frankly, your not helping anyone and your only hurting yourself!
Come on people! Google is making insane amounts of money already from their PPC ads, so there's not really any need to force them on us because they already have a gazillion 'self-adopters', plus SEO is NOT dead. Just get your head out of the sand for a few mins and read along with me.
Anchor Text -- What is it?
Well, before I get ahead of myself here, what exactly is anchor text, you might be asking. Please refer to the handy little Info-graphic from SEOMoz for a great explanation of link anchor text:
As we can see, the words "Jon Wye's Custom Designed Belts" are the anchor text in our example because that is the click-able part of the link.
Anchor text, how you use it, and varying the words that you use in your anchor text is probably one of the single most important parts of SEM in today's search market, without question.
See folks, here's what all the fuss is about. As it is described by Rand Fishkin, "Search Engines use anchor text to help determine the subject matter of the linked to document" (We now believe that has been devalued as the primary way to determine what a page is about). As you can imagine, over the course of time, web spammers, big corporations, and even some of the little guys all started abusing this technique / capability very heavily even to the point where they were able to get their website's pages to rank for terms that the page wasn't even about at all! Or worse yet, just by having links with the appropriate link text (even though those links weren't from relevant pages, or pages with similar information as their own pages), these spammers were still able to get their page to rank very highly in the search engines just by "keyword stuffing" the anchor text in their in-bound links!
...Yeah! Obviously Google realized, eventually, that they had to put a stop to this behavior because people were obviously gaming their system (Google's search engine algorithm) and it wasn't really helping the SERPs at all! In fact, it was indeed making them less relevant than they were before mostly due to the fact that humans are inherently greedy and always want more (money usually). Meaning, people were making websites rank for terms that were not even relevant or original just so they could make money from unknowing search engine users that were clicking away on these sites as they tried to find the information they were looking for! So there you have it: The birth of Google's "Penguin Update"
Varying Anchor Text -- How To Do It
After the Penguin update some of us started to notice things (allot of things) like:
- Some websites were completely gone from the SERPs
- Some sites partially disappeared
- Some sites no longer ranked for certain terms, but still ranked for others!
...and when the dust had completely settled, we finally began to understand what was going on. Google had started penalizing those sites whom had been stuffing keywords into all of their anchor text and thereby virtually forcing some pages to rank for terms that they either were not relevant for or maybe because their on-page content wasn't relevant to the types of links that they had been building to that page (Ultimately, most of those pages should have not EVER ranked for the terms they were ranking for!! ...because of a variety of reasons that we won't get into here).
New Rule: Sites / Pages can no longer rank for a term / phrase just because all of their inbound links have that phrase in their anchor text! Actually, they will in-fact be penalized and removed from the rankings (usually not permanently, but sometimes permanently because of the extremity of the violation).
Note: Neither myself, nor anyone that I know in this business actually knows what Google's internal rules and guidelines on this subject matter are, all we know is what we have studied and observed them doing over a period of time.
Below are some helpful hints on varying your anchor text and avoiding these penalties:
- Synonyms – Using synonyms is the easiest and most popular way to vary your anchor text. Using this method works very well because the word you are going to use means the same thing as your primary keyword phrase, but it is not a duplicate and it does not technically say the same thing. Synonyms are actually very easy to find simply by using the Google search engine, in-fact they are even labeled in bold every single time you do a search! (E.g. Do a search on any phrase that you can dream up, and just look up and down the SERP page...you see all of the words in bold text? Those are all either going to be the phrase you searched on or a synonym of that same phrase.) See, Google is already recognizing synonyms, so why shouldn't you be using them in your anchor text?!?
- Long Tail Keywords – Yet another great way to bring targeted traffic to your site. Think about your primary keyword(s) and then using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, and the Google search bar, start to figure out what some of these "long-tail-keywords" for your primary keyword will be. I have a very detailed write-up of how to find long tailed keywords (also known as auto-complete suggestions) here that you can use as a reference. I refer to the Long Tail Keywords as "auto-complete suggestions" in this post I just referenced, but they are exactly the same thing.
- Website URLs – Using the URL that you are linking to as the anchor text is boring, plain, and indeed abit ridiculous (to look at), but again, if you think about it, it is yet another great way to accomplish our goals of simple, non-keyword type anchor texts. This is a very simple way to change your anchor text. Although this involves changing your content a little bit, it’s probably the simplest way to diversify the anchor text. Another great thing about using this method is that it can have the side effect of creating great brand-awareness and just generally help the internet community start to remember your domain name (brand) which will in turn create allot more traffic to your website.
- Normal Phrases – Phrases such as “click here”, "go here", "can be found here", "start here", etc., are usually not the first choice for online entrepreneurs, brick-n-mortar type business owners, or anyone for that matter, but there isn't anything else you could do more of to help your content look natural than to use these phrases in your anchor text! Even though it may seem like you will never rank for anything if you do this, you must trust me on this one. You really need these phrases in a minimum of 30% - 40% of your links' anchor text. Don't worry about what will help you rank better just at this moment, rather consider that if you don't make this move very soon, you are probably only mere weeks from either loosing position in the SERPs or loosing your rankings altogether! It merely depends on when Google rolls out this update to your set of servers.
I mean think about it, if other people are making links for you back to your website from theirs, just imagine that they don't know you or what terms you may be trying to rank for, so they just do a write-up about you and when they create the link to your site, it says something like: If you would like more information on this guys weird post, then <a href="http://example.com/some-weird-post" title="Some Weird Post">click here</a> to read more. That is what they would / will do, so if you are out there building your links in some type of automated fashion, but you want them to "appear" normal to Google, then you should definitely follow this pattern.
Even though the idea that either changing some of your existing anchor text, or simply adding more links that contain "Normal Phrases" or "Website URLs" is so easy, many companies and individual site owners are & will continue to ignore its importance! I really do wish that I could reach more people with this VERY IMPORTANT MESSAGE.
Just remember this: Even if your website did not take a hit during the Penguin update, there is most likely going to be another update in the near future that will catch your website! It is extremely important to understand how anchor text works now so that you can avoid making any of these types of mistakes as you move forward with your marketing plan.
P.S. Using synonyms in your anchor text is VERY, VERY powerful. You will be completely amazed at the power in that one simple trick, trust me! You can read more about it by click here and reading our next post in this series titled: Different Types of Anchor Text.