Should I still use exact keyword targeted anchors in my backlink campaigns?
This question keeps coming up and I noticed Tracey posted about this recently. see Should you vary your anchor text?
A couple of years ago we all knew that you could get ranked well and fairly fast by simply generating a lot of backlinks that contained the keywords you were trying to rank for. I mentioned at the time that you should still follow a natural link profile because G would and has gotten better at weeding out sites that display a link profile consisting of unnatural patterns such as a predominant amount of “keyword targeted” links and a short supply of “brand” links such as your URL, your name, product etc.
To put it simply your link profile should have a multitude of anchors in your backlinks and they should point to a wide range of your posts. Check any authority site and you will see a similar link profile – a wide variety of backlinks using a wide variety of anchors and coming from a wide range of sources pointing at a wide range of their pages. That is a natural link profile. Having 100 links pointing at your site (mostly the home page) from a few sources using 3 or 4 different but exact keywords is not natural – with a few exceptions. Exact Match Domain Name sites are treated different – if your site is doggrooming.com then you will have an abundance of keyword anchors in your backlinks but keep in mind – they all won’t be “Dog Grooming”, many will be “doggrooming.com” or “doggrooming” or “Bob’s Dog Grooming Site” or just “Bob’s Site”. The point is that even Exact Match Domain Name sites still have a natural vs un-natural link profile.
I test a lot and one thing has always stood out – you can easily extrapolate the wrong conclusions for any number of reasons but usually because you are already looking for a set conclusion and quickly jump on any result that seems to prove what you thought in the first place. Or you don’t have enough data – testing on one site only is a mistake.
Case in point – I have been interested in how the G algo treats too many”keyword anchored links” as well as the old standards “will I be penalized for too many links too quickly?” and “I think I’m being penalized can I fix it?”
The answers are “It Depends”
You have to understand G’s version of a Trusted site. If your site is trusted then you will be treated in the algo differently than if you aren’t trusted.
Does your site have age? Again an aged site gets different treatment than a new site.
Links from authority or trusted sites will gain you trust. You can still attain trust over time even without a single link from an authority site – it just takes time.
Now I recently tested 5 sites that are all older than 4 years. They all rank on top for their niche/keywords. They all rank for a number of relevant keywords and I haven’t done a thing to the sites since I built them. They are all 10-20 page static sites.They all have between 300 – 700 visitors a day and have built up a few dozen real links from sites I don’t know over the years. The links I provided to start them off have long since fallen off of G’s radar (even in WebMaster Tools). They basically have a natural link profile and sparingly as they are they all rank well due to poor competition and the fact that my sites have links from relevant sites and mostly contained with in the posts – not sidebars or footers.
So I picked one keyword from each site and had 50 perfectly matched anchor links point to a page on each site. Within a few days all 5 pages dropped to page 10 or worse in the serp’s for the keyword that was targeted. Most of you would immediately conclude then that you will be penalized for using exact keyword links or for using too many or for having them all point to just one page. Well which is it – all of the above? Or is it just because I had too many? The point is you may get obvious results (there is no doubt what I did caused a major reaction with the algo) but there are still many factors you have to weed out before you know exactly what caused it. Rule number 1 when testing. Wait before doing anything. A few days ago 1 site was right back on top of the serps for the term it had been relegated to page 10 for after the link barrage. As of today a second site has rebounded to its former position. Another site has held steady on page 12 and the other two have continued to drop in the serps since the original drop.
So what gives? I did the same thing to all 5 sites and have different results. The fact is you have to consider your competition’s trust factor and yours.
The two niches I rebounded in have no serious competition and my sites have some trust (one has a wikipedia link to it as an authority on a certain topic and the other has several media links). Because of their trust they overcame the sudden influx of keyword only links. My competition have only keyword anchored links and most from irrelevant sites.
The site that is holding steady has some trust but so does the competition and mine has just lost some of it due to the links. It’s not dead and I will be removing the offending links to see if it can rebound.
The last two sites had little trust even though they ranked number 1. The entire niche is trustless (think MMO for example or any spam niche). I ranked well only because the sites were old and hadn’t suffered penalties like the competitors. Even in a niche that everyone is gaming someone has to rank on top – the best of the worst until a trust site emerges. I’ll see if I can reverse them as well.
Yes, but Griz, I have had my ranking improve just using Keyword anchored links. And some of you will see improvement, at least for awhile. It depends on the other factors your site is ranking for and your competition. If you have trust and/or your competitors are all heavy on keyword links then you can get away with it but pass the magic number and you will see a detrimental effect.
If I had to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do I would tell you to stick to Brand links as they won’t hurt you long run. Concentrate on relevant, in content, brand links and don’t worry about getting your keywords in the links. G has come a long way – if your pages are optimized properly then G knows what your page is about. Just get the page a few quality links and your site’s trust factor will rise. The higher your trust factor the better you will rank for everything on your site.
I think many of you have figured out that you can use any link anchor these days and have been avoiding keyword targeted anchors but I still get asked often by beginners (because of the old posts) whether I still recommended the same type of links and I don’t. I strongly suggest you all pay heed to keeping your profile natural regardless of your linking sources or habits.
Too many links too fast is not going to hurt you if natural looking. If they are not natural they may well hurt you. Know where your site stands in G’s eyes. Darren Rowse can get 100 links tomorrow that all use the keyword “Pro Blogger” and he won’t suffer as the links are nothing compared to the overall amount he has and the keywords are reasonable given his site’s name. Plus his site will have a regular and natural pattern of incoming links – usually concurrent with a knew post and most of the links will be to the post page and not the home page. 100 new links wouldn’t raise a flag on his site. If you have a site with a few dozen total links and suddenly have an influx of 100 links that all use different anchors and point at different pages you probably won’t raise a flag either. If all the links are identical keyword links you probably will raise the flag. Everything is relative to your own metrics and your competitions. As such there is no right or wrong answer. What may work for one site may not work for another. If you’re in this for the long haul then be safe – go natural and be patient.
And speaking of links I know many of you have already changed or removed your links to the old MMOFB site but for those that haven’t you should. A few dead links on your site aren’t going to hurt you but its always better to do away with dead links. It’s a pain checking sites for dead links but you should from time to time as I have seen improvement in the ranks after giving sites a good housekeeping.
On a side note it has got to the point that even dinosaurs like me have to use CSS and PHP these days and can’t just rely on their cut and paste HTML talents anymore. These bloody themes (if using blogs on WP for example) require you to muck about with stylesheets and PHP if you want to get them optimized properly. Yes there are lots of plugins for us idiots but they can be a challenge as well. For those interested RT Cunningham is slowly posting some articles aimed at the novice wanting to know some of the basics. He has had two posts to date and you can find him here; PHP Programming for Beginners
For that matter – many of my old friends are code monkeys and I welcome any posts that any of you would like to share regarding WP Theme optimizing, plugins etc. Hit me up as I get asked a lot of questions that I can’t answer.
Ok – long enough. Have to get back into the long posts slowly.