By Rich Bernstein, Published November 11, 2014
Linkbuilding is one of the most important elements of any successful SEO strategy. Google takes a number of factors into consideration when analyzing your link profile, including the domain authority of sites and the anchor text used in the link. Most companies used to focus primarily on generating backlinks with their target keyword in the anchor texts. However, Google has since changed its algorithm to encourage companies to work on building branded links instead.
Google’s Evolving Algorithm
Google is constantly improving its algorithm to thwart spammers. It’s algorithm was originally based off of a concept called Pagerank, which was an algorithm used to measure the volume of links referring to a website. Incoming links were weighted according to the number of backlinks to the pages they originated from. The Pagerank concept was an innovative approach to minimize the effectiveness of keyword stuffing, but the engineers at Google soon discovered that spammers were using unscrupulous tactics to boost their pagerank.
Google tried to deal with spam by introducing new variables to determine relevance of incoming links. They began paying close attention to the anchor text of inbound links to determine the relevancy for specific keywords. For example, a company that had many incoming links containing the phrase “Boston plumber” would be more likely to rank for that keyphrase. The new approach wasn’t highly effective at stopping link spam, because many website owners caught on and started manipulating their rankings with anchored backlinks.
Matt Cutts and his webspam team at Google realized that they needed to continually update their algorithm to stay ahead of spammers. They have changed the focus of different variables over time to discourage these manipulative tactics. The newest algorithm update rewards companies that build high quality, branded backlinks.
Focus Turns Towards Branded Links
Branded backlinks use a company’s name as in the anchor text. Branded links have become much more important in 2014. Using branded links is a great way to build links for small businesses. Here are several things that website owners should be aware of.
New Patent Application Suggests Focus on Branded Links
Google filed a new patent application in March. The new application suggests that Google is going to change its focus towards branded links.
Popular Content Farms Still Rank Well
You have probably noticed that many content farms still rank well, even though most of their content is total garbage. Bill Slawski, the editor at SEO by the Sea, has a theory about this. Slawski said that many of these sites have numerous backlinks with their brand name used as the anchor text. Despite having low quality content, they are still ranking well due to their strong brand. Content farms with fewer brand mentions seem to be suffering much worse.
Statements from Matt Cutts
Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s webspam team, so most SEO professionals listen intently to everything that he says. Earlier this year, Cutts said that guest blogging was a bad SEO strategy. He said that the process has become very spammy, so people should avoid using it to avoid being penalized.
However, Cutts’s statement did contain a couple of caveats. He said that website owners should still be willing to accept guest posts from people that they know. Cutts said that guest blogging remains a good way to build your brand reputation. While he suggested that companies use the no-follow link attribute, he did say that it is worthwhile to take guest posts from people that the website owner can vouch for. His statement indicates that guest blogging can still be an acceptable way to build backlinks, but it should be done prudently and the focus should be on establishing a brand rather than using spammy anchored links.
Branded Links are a Safer Approach
You need to execute your backlinking strategy carefully to minimize the risk of a Google penalty. Here are some reasons that is safer to use branded links:
- There is a lower chance that someone else will report you.
- You are more likely to survive a manual link audit from Google.
- You are less likely to trigger Google’s linkspam algorithm.
Building lots of anchored backlinks used to be a very effective way to boost your SEO rankings. Unfortunately, the process is no longer safe, so it is best to focus more towards using your company’s name instead.
However, it still important to be careful not to overuse your company name. Overusing the same anchor text is still likely to trigger a penalty. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- It is still useful to include some anchored backlinks in your link profile. You just need to build them conservatively. You probably should limit anchored links to 20% of your backlink profile.
- Try to use some generic anchor texts in your backlink profile. Common phrases such as “click here”, “like these” and “such as this” are great ways to make your backlinks look more natural.
- Try to use effective, relevant calls to action to draw the most interested visitors rather than focusing purely on crafting a link for Google. Google pays close attention to bounce rate, time on site and overall user engagement to determine rankings. Make sure to pay close attention to your Google Analytics to understand your website and SEO. Using a term such as “find out more about the benefits of receiving an oil change every three months” is a good way to draw customers that are looking for specific information. The people clicking on the link are more likely to stay on your site, which will boost your rankings.
Google has changed its algorithm significantly this past year. Start shifting your linkbuilding strategy to focus on building branded backlinks. You may also want to consider changing the anchor texts of any backlinks that your site has already earned to avoid a future penalty.