Your Site is a Sitting Duck

It is not too often that I speak of doom and gloom, I tend to be an optimist about stuff, especially links. I have defended time and time again that links and link building will remain an important part of the SEO process, if not the most important part. What I am about to tell you may seem counter to this, but in reality it is merely a refinement. Those cheap, low quality links that served you so well for so long are about to be your downfall. I am going to walk you through what I see as the next 6 to 12 months of SEO. Let me know if it sounds realistic to you.

Anchor Text Over Optimization

You have heard SEOs, myself included, talk about this over and over. The idea is pretty straightforward. Whatever type of links you are getting – white hat, gray hat, or black hat – if the anchor text is a coveted keyword and it represents a large proportion of your link profile, you are at risk. SEOs calculate that acceptable threshold percentage a lot of different ways, and it is generally relative to the particular industry. For example, we might grab the top 10 sites for the keyword, determine the average anchor text percentages for those sites, and assume we need to stay below that average to be safe. It is not uncommon for sites that rank for words like “wordpress themes” to have the majority of links include valuable anchor text. In other industries, 5% would look enormous.

Well, herein lies the problem. You and your SEO team looked at link data during a slice in time – most likely pre-Penguin 1.0 – to determine what an acceptable threshold might be. Then Penguin 1.0 hit, killing many of your most aggressive competitor’s sites. You felt great about your newly-earned rankings and took it as a badge of honor that you beat Penguin 1.0. What you don’t realize is that the second those competitors got wiped out, the acceptable thresholds decreased. You probably never have to worry about another Penguin because its metrics couldn’t catch your techniques, but now you have to worry about the exact same anchor text over optimization penalties that have been around for years. They may have missed you before because you were hidden by the worst offenders. That buffer is no longer there to insulate you.

Each successive Penguin update will continually expose your site. The aftershocks can be just as bad as the earthquake. Many will survive, many will not.

So, what is the solution?

1. Rethink your link building strategy: You can try and predict future thresholds if you like, but doing so requires intimate knowledge of the Penguin algorithm. You need to earn your rankings with brand links, and start thinking about anchor text solely as a relevancy factor. Once you have a couple of links with the right anchor text, that is all Google needs to know that you are relevant to the term. And here is the kicker – you can get those links in a completely white hat fashion because you only need a few. A lot of us used to assume in back rooms that there were very few if any ways to scale anchor text link building without violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. That still may be the case, but it is no longer necessary, nor smart.

Do you need vps hosting cheap?

2. Reconsider your past link building: Every time Penguin peals back a layer of over optimized sites, they reveal what is underneath. Eventually, it will peal back enough layers to reveal the lack of balance in your link profile. When that occurs, it will trigger a deeper look at your links and, in many cases, result in a penalty. Your best bet is to prepare for 6 months down the road and start looking to remove your unnatural links while replacing them with quality, natural ones. Don’t believe the hype that “if you remove links too fast Google will know”. I have never heard any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that cleaning up your link profile resulted in a penalty. You may lose some rankings, but that is a far better outcome than losing them all. Besides, at least starting the process now means you are prepared to recover more quickly should outcome be bad.

Has Google finally outsmarted the SEOs?

I’ll let you guys figure this one out, but I don’t think so. It assumes that the relationship between SEOs and Google has to always be antagonistic. While Penguin is certainly a feather in Google’s anti-spam cap, it is more an opportunity for you to respond in a way that gives you an advantage over your competitor. Always remember, you are not battling Google, you are battling your competitor. The difference between today and pre-Penguin is fairly simple though – you can’t beat your competitors by simply doing more of what they are doing. Excess is your enemy, now more than ever.

No tags for this post.


  1. Brian
    May 22, 2012

    Google definitely has not out-smarted the blackhats. Check out the SERPs for ‘instant loans’

  2. David
    May 22, 2012

    Loved the article! The feather in the cap was a nice touch.

    – Dave

  3. Eacsoft
    May 22, 2012

    Has penguin even hit australia yet check out the anchor distribution on the top sites for ” web design brisbane” and whats even stranger is the most obvious manipulator has actually increased to first place in the last couple of weeks (around penguin date) please explain?

  4. Nick Eubanks
    May 22, 2012

    Hey Russ – I really enjoyed this post and I’m really glad to see more SEO’s recognize this as a penalty more so than just an algorithmic devaluation of links. I completely agree not based on my speculation but based on a my own personal experience with my very own blog. I just wrote up my story and submitted to YouMoz so hopefully soon there will be more good, real data to help support this claim. Cheers.

  5. Scott Bauer
    May 22, 2012

    Hi Russ,

    As much as I would love to totally agree, I just looked at the back link anchors of a competitor’s page and of all the root domains that link to them the primary keyword is in the anchor text. The anchor phrase is up to five words which they use, but all of them contain the two word money phrase. I understand that these updates are designed to reduce abusive tactics, but I continue to see offenders rank high. Related to this term only Dell ranks higher.

    So some folks may drop but IMO, many still do quite well turning their noses up at Penguin.


  6. Al
    May 22, 2012

    I’m still not sure why people are calling this a penalty. It’s easy to see that if it were negative seo would run wild. I don’t think Google is going to set people up to fail.

  7. SEO Master
    May 22, 2012

    Great post … The real question is whether SMB’s can afford to invest in SEO anymore … it takes a lot more work to get results …

  8. Greg Shuey
    May 22, 2012


    What are your thoughts about internal links? I’ve always been of the opinion that you can be way more aggressive with anchor text when linking internally, but am starting to think otherwise after penguin.

    I like how you say you need just a few anchor text links for Google to know what your site is about, but I also think keyword proximity is going to play a bigger factor as time goes on. If your h1 has your keyword in it and your content surrounding the “click here” or “learn more” anchors has your keywords in it, Google will associate those links with those keywords.

  9. Mike
    May 26, 2012

    My thought has always been if you would use a tactic weather Google existed or not, it probably is a good tactic. I know the great majority of SEO’s would disagree, but it has proved to be effective.

    Author Response: I know I have to disagree with this point. I would gladly buy text ads on websites with relevant traffic. In fact, people do it all the time for non-SEO reasons (you have seen it before, where the text is a javascript link out to some advertiser for that term). You actually have to go out of your way to indicate to google that the link is sponsored (adding a nofollow).

    We have never paid to much attention to Anchor text. We just try to keep it natural. Our clients have seen rankings improve with the recent changes. But, we are a relative small company with some niche industry’s.

    Author Response: Yeah, unfortunately in a lot of spaces full-fledged spammers are pushing out hundreds of thousands of anchor text manipulated links. There is one choice – either use targeted anchor text or go to AdWords.

    I also understand the great frustration of watching other sites that clearly are using the lowest of low tactics, rank higher than a client.

    Thanks for another thoughtful and helpful post. It will be interesting watching how this all plays out over the next 6 months to a year.

    Author Response: Thanks for your comments! They are much appreciated!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *