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Google Changes Link Guidelines

Posted on Thursday, August 1st, 2013 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEO

linkingLast week, Google continued their attack against manipulative link-building strategies by updating their webmaster guidelines.  The updates call out various link-building tactics that SEOs use to manipulate search engines but which Google warns “can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.”   Most of the changes were both warranted and expected.  The most jarring update, however, discourages the use of “links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites,”  suggesting that websites will suffer in the rankings if they are using “optimized” anchor text in distributed content that links back to their sites.

This new guideline would be less of a discussion point if it didn’t directly contradict advice Google has provided in their Search Engine Optimization Guide.  This guide explains that anchor text “should provide at least a basic idea of what the page linked to is about” – definitively supporting the value of writing descriptive anchor text.   It seems that, in Google’s attempt to slay the many-headed Hydra of manipulative link schemes, Google became a two-headed monster itself.  How can we describe a link’s content without raising the ire (and penalty) of Google’s web spam team?

The answer materializes through hairsplitting of the word “optimized,” which Google seems to distinguish from “optimal”.  Google’s goal is to accurately rank sites based on the quality & relevance of the content they then present to human visitors in a curated (most relevant) order. “Optimal” anchor text is written with the human visitor in mind to communicate concisely what is being linked to and what would be expected post-click. Ideally, Google wants anchor text that is designed with the user in mind AND that enables the search bots to accurately assess the linked page’s content.  This sort of anchor text, which Google encourages in their SEO guide, is what Google would consider “optimal.”

Conversely, Google sees the use of “optimized” anchor text as a tactic to manipulate search engine results in anchor text by:

  • Describing a page through a high value ‘money’ keyword as opposed to a description based on the actual page content.
  • Using a high value ‘money’ keyword as anchor text to target a website’s homepage.
  • Using the same high value ‘money’ keyword in many different distributed content pieces for targeting a single page.
  • Omitting a no-follow tag on external links that are obtained through content distribution, (unless, perhaps it uses the brand or web URL as the anchor text).

Embedding keyword-focused links in distributed content has been a link builder’s go-to tactic for a long time. In publishing updated guidelines that highlight these violations and their potential negative impact, Google creates a line in the sand which link builders cannot cross without consequences.

High-quality links are still one of the major factors Google uses to rank sites in the organic searches, so how can webmasters manage to build links without resorting to manipulative, “optimized” tactics?  The answer is fairly obvious: Google has tirelessly underscored that “the best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.”  That being said, maybe it’s time to put optimized anchor text to rest and just focus on producing better content?

SEO folk… what are your thoughts? BS or 2013 ‘must do’?

About Grant Simmons

Grant Simmons+ is an Online Marketing Professional at The Search Agency driving product development & innovation as Sr Director, SEO and Social Product.

Grant has over 22 years experience in both traditional and digital marketing, working with such companies as; Paramount Studios, Countrywide Wholesale Lending, M&M/Mars, Disney, Napster, Warner Bros., UPS, SunAmerica, Red Bull, Young Presidents’ Organization, GE Plastics, Amgen and Fox Sports.

As an entrepreneur, Grant has been key to the successful branding, development and launch of several thriving and innovative Internet startups.

Described as an online marketing strategist, motivator, entrepreneur, idea machine, experienced bridge between marketing & technology, Grant prefers; father, sailor & innovator - though not necessarily in that order when there's a fair wind.

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3 Responses to “Google Changes Link Guidelines”

  1. Matt M. says:

    The most interesting and concerning part to me is Google calling optimized anchor text in distributed content such as articles and press releases that links back to their sites a violation. But then I saw the example they used below and agreed it’s unnatural and over-optimized.

    “There are many wedding rings (linked) on the market. If you want to have a wedding (linked), you will have to pick the best ring(linked). You will also need to buy flowers (linked) and a wedding dress(linked).”

    Thanks for the update, Grant!

  2. Matt

    The over-optimized nature of many ‘old hat’ SEO tactics are the main contributors to Google reinforcing their existing guidelines.

    The challenge is two-fold:

    1) How do search engines match a user’s search intent to a website’s most relevant content based on query comprehension and context and from a vast index of potential matches?

    2) How do SEO practitioners help (client) websites match the user’s search intent and context to ensure (client) websites gain greater visibility in the search results and have a greater propensity for users to click on their results?

    #1 is the most obvious ‘black box’ of their algorithm, and the search result’s ‘holy grail’ that Google does a pretty good job at BUT needs to mitigate spamming potential to present the best results and engender trust (and usage) from users.

    #2 is why we’re in business :-) We – as SEO evangelists – are investigating what our clients should be visible for, asking why they should be visible, and then helping improve their visibility in the search results by making them; *indexable* and *most relevant* to search queries we believe can be answered by our clients.

    Manipulative tactics don’t present the most relevant results. SEO folks who resort to using them, therefore, aren’t working with the user’s best interests at heart.

    I know here at The Search Agency, though, we’re not in the SEO business just to help Google get it right… we’re here because we *can* do what’s right for users and our clients… one search query at a time :-)


  3. Sherry says:

    I found it interesting that while I did a search on scholar.google.com for Google your article appeared in the first 10 results. I am not sure how that happened or whether that is what you were aiming for, but you got it.

    The anchor text rules went from direct keywords to indirect keywords. Since we all want specific results, I find it confusing to figure out what Google wants us to do.


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