How to Improve Link Relevance in the Post-Anchor Text Era

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After the Google Penguin updates most experts noticed that anchor text, especially exact match anchor text has lost its magic touch for SEO. It may not be dead but you have to be very cautious when employing anchor text in your SEO campaigns. Google treats anchor text as a negative ranking factor now in cases where it appears to be unnatural.

This post is not meant to explore the kinds of unnatural anchor text, be it exact match or partial match.

Let it be said that in 2013 you don’t link to yourself with generic keyphrases all the time.

For example, we’d rather not ask everybody to link to us with the anchor text “SEO tools” anymore.

Google has shown us for years that relevant anchor text is great both for users and search engines. After all – what’s more useful a link phrase like “click here” or “SEO tools” – when you want to point out as suite of SEO tools? So the more highly relevant anchor text links pointed to your site the better. Now it’s the other way around. In case your link profile is over-optimized Google will downgrade you in the SERPs.

Some people are panicking, de-optimizing their well optimized inbound links to please the new Google algorithm.

On the other hand many SEO practicioners and webmasters wonder:

  • How can I improve my links now?
  • How can I make my links more relevant to my audience without making Google flinch?

After all it doesn’t make sense to de-optimize the links that point to you and make them relevant while at the same time having no anchor text alternative.

There are indeed some ways to improve your link relevance apart from anchor text or at least by using anchor text in a more natural and organic way. Publishers all over the world already do it without even thinking about SEO.

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1. Repeat After Me: The Sky is Blue

Google is getting smarter when it comes to understanding natural language. That’s a good thing. Until now search engines did not understand what they are indexing. They were mostly just counting words and links.

With semantic search being the buzzword for years now and finally being implemented step by step Google at least tries to grasp the meaning of the text it crawls. In SEO we call part of this co-citation. In linguistics it’s called collocation. You can just call it combination. It’s about the right combination of words. This why Google can do the following things:

  • identify machine mixed gibberish and content written by people
  • differentiate between bulls (the animals) and Bulls (the basketball players)

A common word combination like “blue sky” or “Chicago Bulls” is what Google needs to find on page to know that a text is relevant. How can we make this work on a link level and replace anchor text in the process? Until lately we would have most likely linked “blue sky” or best basketball team of all time to make the link relevant. Now we’re afraid to provoke the wrath of mighty Google with it.

The solution is simple: make sure to write like a human being would anyway and to mention relevant word combinations in the text. It’s also simply called context. Without context a link isn’t relevant either. Links to SEO services from fashion blogs or other completely unrelated sites are not organic and Google can spot them for years already.

Now Google will also check on the text level whether such a link is on a low quality scraped site or in a legit editorial article.

Make sure to write proper sentences not just link out of context. Mention the relevant other terms that deal with your main keyword or topic. So when you write about the Bulls, make sure to mention

  • Chicago
  • basketball
  • the NBA

and some more specific details. Likewise make sure to mention travel, weather, clouds, clean air when you write about blue skies. Nothing fancy you see.

Link building is still not rocket science if you ask me. Just don’t overdo it like many did with anchor text. Don’t automate and mention other relevant terms all the time. It’s not about keyword density. Finally add the link somewhere in that sense where it’s most useful. That depends on your site. You can even add “click here” in case it fits.

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2. Be Generous or Die of Hunger

When I think about link building or rather earning links I often think about how Jesus fed his people in the desert while they were starving. He shared two leafs of bread and kept on dividing them until everybody was fed. I was always amazed by this story despite not being very religious. The Internet works in the same way. The more you give away and share the more you get. You don’t divide, you multiply.

Some SEOs are very stingy to this day despite proof that it hurts themselves on the Web.

Some misguided people will even still use nofollow on outgoing links in case they link out at all. We know by now for years that PageRank from nofollow links evaporates.

The mindset of the “PageRank sculpting” era is still with us. Do not give away link equity to others, especially not your competition. Hoard PageRank to maximize its effect on your own site. Silo your site and do not link out at all unless you really have to. SEO experts still work like that.

Linking out to relevant authority sites is key when optimizing link relevance beyond anchor text.

How do I know? I tried it myself. I was even surprised with the effect. One day I ranked top 3 with a highly competitive term on a partly penalized site that lost its other main rankings due to the penalty. I was wondering for a while how I really did it until I recapitulated what I did before.

giveback

I had mobilized bloggers to write about their favorite brand and many did mention that brand in connection with our site. The brand was the same for many bloggers, people like the same brands of their own accord, we didn’t ask them to write about a particular brand or something.

So I advise to actually link out to Apple in the same sentence you write about your latest in case you want to rank [iPhone 5 cases].

You don’t have to link out on the page you show the cases itself. It’s great for user experience and it won’t hurt you but if you’re stingy you at least make those who link to your iPhone 5 cases page link out to Apple as well in the same sentence to improve the link relevance. Ideally you also link out to even more iPhone 5 etc. resources or even other cases to make your link matter even more.

3. Brand Yourself or Disband Yourself

Without a proper brand, be it a name brand or at least a personal brand you can basically give up these days. The days of buy-cheap-iphone-5-cases.biz are gone. I’m glad they are. Exact match domains can work, I have one that ranks well, but you do not want to bet all your time and money on them.

What you want now more than ever is people to recognize and remember you. It’s called branding.

Branded anchor text still matters because it’s the most natural way to link to websites. When someone wants you to find a book s/he will most likely link to Amazon with the anchor Text Amazon. That’s why we have names in the first place in real life. Otherwise we would just call yourself SEO specialist and that would be enough. No need for a name like Tad Chef.

After the Penguin update I have studied many proper link profiles and compared them with those from penalized sites that lost in that update.

There is a common theme: lots and lots of branded anchor text leading to healthy domains and almost none of it for those who lost.

So whenever you can influence a link make sure that your brand is in there or at least mentioned in it or around the anchor text. It doesn’t even matter when people misspell your brand or name. As long as they recognize you and Google can still recognize it’s about you it has a positive impact.

Make sure to brand your company as a whole, allow personal branding along the company brand like Tad Chef of SERPs.com and care for returning visitors. These are the people you are after too. They will come even in case Google decides to change it’s ranking signals again.

The people who remember you and visit you directly are your most valuable visitors.

Don’t just think short term SEO. Your strategy has to encompass and plan on how to retain your visitors and make them come back again and again. Ideally make them link to you too.

More resources:

  1. What is anchor text, and why is it so darn important for SEO?
  2. Does Anyone Even Know What a Healthy Link Profile is?
  3. Prediction: Anchor Text is Weakening… And May Be Replaced by Co-Occurrence
  4. Anchor text future according to 19 experts
  5. Anchor Text Variation in your Link Profile
  6. It’s Not Co-Citation.. but it’s still awesome!
  7. Varying Anchor Text WordPress Plugin

* Creative Commons image by Frank Vervial

** Creative Commons image by Cliff

*** Creative Commons image by Luke Gattuso