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.
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.