In the ongoing battle between SEOs and Google to outsmart each other, Google has turned the game upside down with its Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. Nearly every web owner has seen or felt the updates’ impact on the SERPs, which has left many jostling for position and floundering to come up with new tactics.
It seems Google is trying to downgrade sites that appear unnaturally or overly optimized as it’s assumed such sites are more interested in rankings than in providing real value. Still, the changes have even affected those who tried to “play by the rules” by combining savvy SEO and great content. Case in point: backlinks.
How Backlinks are Different
Prior to Penguin and Panda, a quality backlink with keyword laden anchor text was the holy grail of all backlinks. Now, not so much. In fact, now that Google checks your anchor text distribution, you may be punished for having an abundance of anchor texts which are too relevant. This is may sound crazy but the reasoning is that backlinks don’t naturally occur so optimized. Most would simply say something like “click here,” or “this site,” and many wouldn’t have an anchor text at all.
What to do about it?
Although, you could try to go back and remove your old backlinks, that could take ridiculously long and there’s a good chance those links are still providing some benefit. The best approach is to concentrate on adhering to Google’s new standards from this point forward. Additionally, here are some tips on building links and backlinks that will be invulnerable to the next wave of Google updates and hold their value indefinitely.
1. Acquire Links that Matter
Don’t put links on your site and don’t try to accumulate backlinks that aren’t unequivocally related to your niche. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Will this link genuinely help my readers?” If you can’t honestly say it will then don’t include it. In addition to having relevant links, make it your mission to get links from sites with authority. These sites will give you an almost instant SEO boost and, because they are undoubtedly committed to the industry, they will deliver value to your site for years to come.
2. Give Every Potential Link Site the “Human Test”
There are several online tools that can help you pinpoint websites in your industry with the greatest authority. And although such tools can serve as a launching point, you should always inspect a site on your own and give it the “human test.” In other words, is it designed to provide an optimal experience for people (user-friendliness, awesome content, attractive layout, respectable following, etc.) If not, it may not stand the test of time as Google is increasingly becoming more adept at determining which pages are legitimately helpful to people (not just nicely optimized for search engines).
Focus on building links with sites that are first and foremost designed for humans as they are most likely to be unscathed by any future algorithm updates.
3. Get Manually Approved Links
It’s true, getting links from sites with a manual review process can be frustrating since you’re totally at the mercy of someone else’s schedule and opinion. However, manually approved links are the only links capable of doing anything for your site. All others are junk and will have a negative impact on your SEO.
4. Diversify Your Content
Having fantastic content is the best thing you can do to update-proof your site and ensure folks continually want to link to your pages, and a great way to keep your content interesting is to mix-it up every now and then. For example, if you normally write a standard blog, consider implementing something like “video Friday” or adding a monthly guest blogger. There are tons of other types of content (infographs, eBooks, cartoons, etc.), so try experimenting with different mediums to see which ones really resonate with your followers.
5. Follow the Anchor Text Formula
For greatest results, 70% of your links should mention your domain name, brand, or URL. 10% should include your keywords in the anchor text. And 20% should be a combination of your brand and keywords, partial keywords, and broader terms.
That said, don’t get too hung up having the exact right percentages. Generally, if you allow your backlinks to build organically, they will naturally fall somewhere near this formula.
6. Forget Link Building Shortcuts
Mass link building strategies haven’t been a viable SEO option for a while, but if you need reminding . . . don’t do it! Other than having viral content (which you won’t be punished for), Google knows the only way to accumulate huge numbers of links in a short period of time is through suspicious means. Thus, such behavior is a red flag which will undoubtedly result in penalization for your site.
7. Use Social Media
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a definite human factor in Google’s new algorithm, and one of the main indicators to prove real people like your pages is through the level of social activity on your site.
Thus, it’s vital to provide quality content and have prominent social buttons (like, +1, share, tweet, etc.) so visitors can spread the word. This will not only boost your position in the SERPS but simultaneously lead to more backlinks.
8. Track Your Inbound Links
It’s important to use some type of webmaster tool to see where your links are coming from because, try as you might, your inbound links may originate from sites outside of your niche or with the wrong balance of anchor text. If that is the case, you likely need to reevaluate your content and your own outbound links.
Additionally, when you know who’s sending you links, you have the opportunity to reach out to them, reciprocate, and build a relationship.
9. Checkout Your Competitors
Although you never want to copy your competitors outright, it’s always a good idea to analyze what they’re doing so you know what you’re up against and to gather ideas.
For instance, if they have a link from a major influencer in your industry, see if you can get an equally valuable link from someone else. Additionally, you’ll want to scrutinize their keywords and anchor text to determine if you want to go head-to-head with the same terms or choose something less competitive you can make your own.
10. Make Connections in the Real World
Despite the growth and pervasiveness of technology, some of the best ways to acquire worthwhile and long-lasting links are through real world relationships. Meeting someone face-to-face creates a level of trust and loyalty that is almost impossible to duplicate in an online setting. So, make an effort to connect with those in your field. Go to seminars, ask contacts to lunch, and stay active in your industry community.
The Bottom Line
Eventually, Google’s algorithm will change again. And while your SEO strategies will always have to change and adapt, you can avoid any catastrophic hits to your SERP rankings if you just focus on keeping things “real.” In other words, offer stuff people need and like and most other things will fall into place. After all, that’s Google’s primary goal, and if you make it your goal too then your site will be rewarded and backlinks will naturally flow.