March 03, 2014
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complicated, technical, and sometimes shady practice of massaging Google’s search algorithm in your favor. It is a big deal because top ranking for key terms can mean hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars of revenue gained.
SEO has evolved through the years, but the last two have been the most volatile. Some are calling it it the SEO apocalypse. It has been a rough ride, but it is all for the better.
Google’s algorithm changes are a good thing
Google’s goal is to serve the best, most relevant results to you (in .2 seconds or less!). Spammy SEO hijacks this by oftentimes getting undeserving sites in top results. Google has FINALLY cracked down on this in a couple key ways: links and anchor text.
How Google’s crackdown affects you
You might not even know Google thinks your website is spammy. Some big brands have been badly hurt by Google: Expedia and Rap Genius, just to name just a few. These penalties are a big deal because you can often disappear from search results. This is bad for business. Lost visibility directly affects ROI, brand recognition, and more.
Even if you just have a passing knowledge of SEO, you can protect your site. Though Google has cracked down on links and anchor text, with the right tools you can find what Google calls, “unnatural link profiles.”
Links, links, links
Google is a link-based search engine. Links are at its core and in its DNA. The amount and types of links you have make up your link profile. Having a diverse, healthy, and natural link profile will help you rank well and protect you from penalties.
The word(s) or phrase linked to a site is called anchor text. In the past, you could rank well for “cheap cars” if you had tons and tons of links with that wording. Now this is seen as unnatural and spammy. Nobody links to you like that! Most of the time they will use “click here,” “learn more,” or your brand name.
Low Quality Links
A few years ago the more links you had, the better. Their source didn’t matter. I have seen links from Malaysian flower shops and deodorant websites linking to local companies. You can be 99% sure that such links are irrelevant for most websites.
Tools of the trade
Your linking information is not publicly available, so you will need to use a tool to gather it. Our personal favorite is Link Research Tools. Using one of their quick audit tools, I can see a word cloud for python.org that shows distribution of anchor text:
(This is healthy anchor text. See how the biggest terms are all branded and not commercial in nature.)
I can also see the distribution of the links for any site. The lower quality links are on the far left. If you see a spike, it’s a good indicator of suspicious link building.
If your word cloud shows a lot of “money” terms (i.e. - your service or product) and not your brand, change the anchor text to a branded term or disavow them completely. Do the same with your low quality links. Remove them if you can. If not, disavow them. Doing so will help you prevent your site from a painful Google penalty.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me on Twitter or comment below, thanks!