Since the dust from Penguin 1.0 and 1.1 has settled, some continuity has been established in terms of what exactly the algorithm update may have impacted. Of course, nobody knows for sure, but there are some overarching opinions that Penguin most heavily hit a few types of aggressive link builders:
- Those who overused “phrase” anchor text
- Those who overused sitewide links
The people and sites who took the fallout from over-aggression from Penguin almost certainly utilized one of those two things – or, as a secondary casualty, they suffered because the sites they built links on (probably in a manipulative fashion) used the above patterns, and then faced the ancillary dampening effect of a lower number of value-passing mentions back to their website.
April 24th, 2012 marks the first day Penguin hit – it has been a significant amount of time since then, and webmasters, generally, have probably made substantial moves to adjust their linking strategy such that it might avoid the update again in the future.
Most have created a “cleaner” looking profile – a plethora of brand mentions, no one anchor text fully forming throughout their link profile, and overall, very few to no sitewide links. This is, of course, a best-practice strategy – however, what it fails to take into consideration, is that within an artificial manipulation of a link strategy to avoid filters, there are also other patterns that take effect that Google might penalize in future iterations of their algorithm.
Enter Term Anchor Text
I am a newly-formed fanboy of site explorer Ahrefs.com, if you haven’t discovered it yet, you need to wake up, because the speed and impressiveness of their updates and web application are astonishing.
Sometime in the past few months, Ahrefs introduced a new way to filter your anchor text – terms. Previously I had only thought in phrases – the exact link text I was using. I thought that was all that mattered – until Ahrefs turned the light switch on about other ways Google might interpret a link profile – such as the specific words that break out across all of the links I’ve received.
If I modify one keyword such as “link building” to be “great link building”/”incredible link building” and etc throughout my profile such that link building was never more than 5% of my link profile – of course, I’d rank really well, right? I mean, that’s natural.
Ahrefs made it clear that it’s not. Because, of course, it isn’t. But before Ahrefs, you couldn’t filter by the “terms” you most frequently use in anchor text. By sorting by terms of one word, two words, three words and even four, you can find patterns in the way links are built back to your website. And in many instances, you might have the prettiest looking “phrases” link profile on the planet – but when you hit that “terms 2 words” button, suddenly you’ve got 50%+ of your link profile using non-brand commercial anchor text in two word phrases – and you’ve got an extremely manipulative link profile.
Since my domain name is RossHudgens.com, it’s totally acceptable for me to have that ratio. However, imagine a situation where my “terms 2 words” numbers were actually 50 percent for link building, even though, under “phrases” (the traditional way we look at anchor text), they never broke 10%. Suddenly it’d be pretty certain that I was doing something fishy there in an attempt to rank for terms like link building or some variation.
Many sites may think they’re doing effective link building by varying around the main commercial terms, but it’s possible that they’re being too “unnaturally natural” across a large number of pages, where this can typically occur. It can be hard to spot consistencies when you have thousands of keywords to rank for and are unlikely to have a high volume of any one term, but when you synchronize the data through term analysis, you can uncover what can be deemed as “aggressive link building” for those larger, more keyword-diverse domains.
I think this data is most useful at the two-term level – one term is something Google might use more for semantic intent rather than webspam (my guess), and three and four terms end up looking more like the anchor text profiles themselves. Two-term is the perfect fit where we can see unique manipulation and act on it.
A Link Profile Analysis Add-On
It’s possible Google is already using this kind of analysis, but it’s my gut feel that they aren’t – at least as a method to penalize/devalue a website. However, this kind of micro-look at a link profile could be used in the future to root out more manipulative linking practices – if they chose to. If Ahrefs can pull the data, you know Google can.
No matter what they’re doing, it’s our jobs as link builders to establish the conditions that constitute a link profile that has been manipulatively obtained – that Google could therefore work to deconstruct/penalize – and make every measure to make sure our websites – and our clients websites – don’t fall under that umbrella of risk. Adding this layer to our backlink analysis is a must to make sure that no negative algorithmic effects face our websites in the future.
Speaking of Penguin, I’ll be speaking on a panel at SMX East on just that subject in the beginning of October. If you’re attending and want to meet up, please reach out. If you missed it, I also recently wrote a guest post on Marketing Pilgrim on marketing companies in the INC 500 - I think the INC 500 is great resource for evaluating the state of the industry and also as inspiration for building our own businesses.