We saw a revolutionary change in link building in 2012 because of one thing: Google’s Penguin Update. Penguin primarily targeted sites which displayed signs of spam and low quality links. A red flag raised was over-optimized anchor text distribution. (See my previous post for a further overview of Penguin.) A large number of sites and businesses saw online revenues drop due to the famous “un-natural link detection” warnings and from being dropped from search indexes. Sites and businesses were forced to re-evaluate their link building and search optimization strategies.
Moving forward in 2013 and beyond, we must shift our entire focus to a long-term link building strategy that will be immune to such updates. Quality must be weighted over quantity. Consider the following as you continue your link building efforts in 2013 and beyond.
1.) Remember Penguin
Penguin destroyed companies and sites. Not only were spam sites affected, but several well-known and reputable brands suffered from the implementation of Penguin. The primary flag that Penguin targeted was an over-abundance of optimized anchor text in backlinks. The majority of backlinks should not contain keyword-rich backlinks. Such a backlink profile is of course not natural. As I perform my link building duties for clients, I always take an extra second of consideration when it comes to the anchor text that a link should display. My recommendation would be to only use keyword-rich anchor text when it makes sense within the context. Otherwise, I stick to an anchor text that typically follows a “Company Name – Keyword” formatted link. Be sure to use a keyword that matches the context of the page and attempt to link back to the most relevant page on your own site.
2.) Start with Your Own Site
I once heard a former pro-basketball player that say “People should get in shape to play basketball, not use basketball to stay in shape.” Ever since I heard that quote, I’ve focused on making my body stronger through cardiovascular, weight-lifting, and stretching routines. By first developing my body, my performance on the courts improved vastly.
The same philosophy can be applied to link building and search optimization. Focus on your site first. Establish the keywords you want your site to rank for (see this article on keyword research), organize your site’s pages into themes (here’s a good article on silo structured content), find and repair any possible 404s on your site, link internally throughout your site where it makes sense, and ensure there are no broken links.
Focus on delivering a good, quality site so that visitors will come back often, and you’ll see your link building efforts return much better results.
3.) Link Audit and Reclamation
Once you have your site polished and ready to show off, examine your current backlinks. Refer to one of my previous posts in which I discussed several link building tools that can help you look at your own backlinks.
Here are some of the things to consider when evaluating your current backlink profile:
1.) Links from low quality and spam sites – Look to get these links removed. Contact the webmaster and see if they can remove the link. If that doesn’t work, Google released their disavow tool that can help.
2.) Monitor your overall anchor text distribution – Ensure that you have a good mix of anchor text throughout your links. You should have links that are your brand name, www.brandname.com, some generic phrases, and a few utilizing target keywords.
3.) Broken Links – Are any of your backlinks broken or resulting in a 404 on your site? If so, address this as soon as possible. Fix the 404 and implement a 301 redirect if necessary.
4.) Long Term Benefit
Your link building efforts should place quality as its top priority. Often as I research, I see several links that are image ads which can lead to great links. However, these can be very costly, and I think there are better alternatives.
What is a long term benefit you might ask? Look for links that will bring authoritative link value and traffic value. The very best sites will boost your rankings, ripple links to other sites that monitor those sites, and deliver a flow of targeted traffic. Use guest posting, contests, news, and press releases to acquire such links (refer to my previous post on long-term link building tactics for additional ideas). Build relationships with influential bloggers and writers in your industry. These are the links that are immune to updates like Penguin and Panda.
2012 made us re-think and re-evaluate our link building efforts. Google has made it extremely difficult for black-hat tactics to have any effect. Link building efforts should include those that produce long-term benefits. Although no one knows what Google may decide to do in the future with its search algorithm, we do know that links will always be important. With that in mind, consider the above and focus on links that will carry value for the long haul.