If you were looking at your Google Analytics around the dates of March 21-23, then there is a good chance you saw some changes to your site…
Like a 10% to 30% drop in traffic.
It could be on sites you were working on…or sites you hadn’t even touched. Some speculated that the long-term search was being affected with keywords disappearing in the Google Suggestions.
In fact, what happened was Google rolled out a fresh update of Panda in February…and then another one in March.
Some significant changes have been made through those updates that can affect your link-building strategy. So, let’s explore those and other changes to help you maintain, if not increase, your rankings.
Mistake #1: Too many exact anchor text links
For us, as SEOs, it’s natural to obsess about exact match keywords in text anchors, but if you do this too much, you can actually be penalized and lose rank.
JC Penny is the most popular example of a website that gamed the system by getting unrelated sites to link to its site with exact match anchor texts.
An investigation by the NY Times into why JC Penny was ranking so well revealed that these links were in no way natural. This violates Google’s Webmaster guidelines, and Matt Cutts deranked them manually to speed up the process.
Google took it a step further on March 23, when they announced via Twitter the Panda 3.4 update:
One of the unnatural link building signals that Panda 3.4 aims at is too many exact anchor text links. Standard practice used to be: you’d aim for about a 30% to 50% match…now those numbers dropped drastically. So, test the waters out and start with 5% or so and increase slowly.
Mistake #2: Not enough semantic keyword anchor text links
To get around the problem of creating too many exact-match anchor text links…you just have to learn how to create semantic keywords.
These aren’t just synonyms of certain phrases, e.g., “amber” or “gold” for “yellow.” Semantic keywords extend into the word’s uses, e.g., “egg yolk,” “interior house paint” or “coward.”
The reason for using semantic keywords is to help the search engines like Google figure out how you are using your keywords. A liberal use of semantic keywords can help them.
If you say “yellow,” then they will know you are actually talking about the color since you also used a link “egg yolk” to describe it…versus describing a personal attribute like in a phrase “a yellow-bellied coward.”
Once you start creating links with semantic keywords, you’ll notice your rankings going up.
Mistake #3: You don’t have enough junk anchors
Panda 3.4 is also looking for the quantity of junk anchors you have on your site.
Junk anchors are text links that could be used anywhere on the web and include such links like “Click here,” “Read more” and “Buy now.”
You might think that you would want fewer of these, but the truth is junk anchors look natural, and you can’t really avoid using them when you create calls to action.
In fact, a careful use of junk anchors in your copy can lead to higher conversion rates. You can do this also with other junk anchors like “Like this post” or “Tweet this post”:
Mistake #4: Not enough brand mention within text links
The key to getting this one right is to link from internal pages to your homepage.
For example, when I’m writing a blog post and mention QuickSprout (the name of my blog or, in other words, the brand name), I link that text to the home page.
On the other hand, if I was writing copy for the home page of QuickSprout and mentioned that term, I would not link at all.
It would be unnatural.
With Panda 3.4, Google is looking for these types of anchors texts to determine the quality of the link building. An absence of these types of links might suggest that someone is out to game the algorithm since most spammers do not think beyond simply creating masses of links.
You should also try to get outside sites to link to your site with your brand name within the link.
Mistake #5: Not enough social signals
With these latest updates, it looks like Google is trying to depend less and less on inbound links to determine the value of a site and is looking at something that is harder to manipulate like social signals.
This was true with Google+ and Search Plus Your World.
That’s okay because when it comes to getting more traffic, attention and higher rankings, there is one concept that is starting to have a huge impact on those goals: increasing the number of shares your content gets across social media.
In other words, Google has started looking heavily at the number of social signals a page gets to determine its value and rank position.
For example, if you have a page on “attracting high-authority links” with 1,343 tweets, 99 likes, 42 +1s…plus nearly a hundred saves in Delicious and StumbledUpon combined, then your page is going to rank better than a similar page that is not doing well on the social web.
That means you need to get on the ball and start promoting your work! Here are some suggestions on how to increase your social signal strength:
- Make all of your social site buttons very visible on your page – Use a plugin like Scrolling Social Sidebar to provide an easy opportunity for people to share on the social web.
- Ask readers to share content – Just installing a social share plugin won’t get the job done. Tell your readers to share!
- Tap social influencers – Promote the content and interact with social influencers who may, down the road, share your content. The exposure to their audiences will prove huge to your content getting across the social web…and increasing your social signal strength.
- Use Tribber – This social site will increase the number of social shares you get when you join this community.
- Buy Tweets with Sponsored Tweets – Get a celebrity to tweet your content, and you can drive significant traffic to your site. The traffic may not be high-quality, however.
- Create great content – Finally, people share content for one reason, and one reason only: if it’s great content. If you’re not creating a high-quality blog with high-quality blog posts, then you are not giving your audience something to share.
Mistake #6: Buying links
While this isn’t connected to Panda 3.3 or 3.4, it continues to be very important. That’s why I also wanted to share valuable link-building alternatives to this mistake.
Even if you can achieve a top three position for a fairly competitive term by buying links, you have to remember three things:
- Paid links might drive some traffic, but it will be low-quality traffic compared to the traffic you get from natural links.
- You will pay way more than these links are worth.
- Most importantly, buy links and you run the risk of getting caught and penalized by Google.
If you are going to buy anything to optimize your site and drive traffic, then buy a blog. That is a sound link-building strategy.
Mistake #7: Exchanging links on a mass scale
If you think that exchanging links with another webmaster is a legitimate way to optimize, you are wrong. And if you think that doing this on a mass scale would be even better, you are headed for trouble.
Exchanging links for the sake of a link back is a scheme frowned upon by all three major search engines. But even if they didn’t frown upon link exchanges and just ignored them, a mass link exchange wouldn’t do you any good.
I mean, how do you know that you are even getting good links? Are you going to sort through all of them if you hundreds of them? Do you have time to do that?
And if you ever get an email requesting a mass link exchange, treat it like spam and get rid of it. Here’s an example of a mass link exchange email from an SEO specialist:
There’s nothing personal about this email. Just a wide variety of places where she’d like to place the links. That is spam, and it won’t deliver relevant, useful content to your audience.
Are there times when an exchange of links is okay?
Yes, when there is a strategic view on value delivered to your site and the other site…where their readers and your readers will benefit from the exchange of content delivered by a link exchange.
Otherwise, just create killer blog posts, and you will naturally attract high-quality links.
There is no short cut to long-term ranking results. Buying links, creating hundreds of exact-match anchor text keywords and automating link exchanges may get you short-term results…but you’ll eventually pay for it with a dramatic drop in rankings!
It takes time to build relevant, useful and compelling links that both people and Google view as significant and valuable. By focusing on things like creating good content and providing value through your product or service, you can speed up the process.