Avoiding Penalties from the Link Police

Link Police -- Avoiding Penalties from the Search Engines

When it comes to SEO, make it a point to ensure that your website links are safe. This very simply means that your links are honest, clean and built so that they won’t prompt Google to penalize your site. There are links which are considered spammy or low-quality in the eyes of the Google bots. There are more, but a few of the linking strategies that Google is now penalizing for are; poor quality non-contextual links, paid links and link directories & networks. I’ve never agreed with any of these strategies anyway and so I was happy to see Google finally (and hopefully successfully!) address these issues.

What Causes Penalties

To help you understand what makes a quality link in Google’s eyes, let’s look at what causes penalties in the first place. Over the past couple of years, Google’s been rolling out updates to their algorithm resulting in literally killing rankings and negatively impacting the financial income of thousands of sites. Although these updates are well known by name amongst those who work in SEO, understanding what the updates are targeting is sometimes another matter.

The Panda Update

The Panda Update filter first hit in early 2011 and its main objective was to keep websites containing poor quality content from being found in Google’s top search results. Google still refreshes Panda every now and then but I there’s been talk that Panda may simply become an integral and normal part of Google’s everyday indexing process.

Even in this day and age where just about everything is automated, Google doesn’t like automation when it comes to rankings. There were people who’d upped their site rankings by use of automated tools to build a massive number of links back to their sites and bookoodles of sites that were nothing more than spam farms sprung up and managed to suck people into exchanging useless links with them. Panda was built to recognize and weed out the bloated link-backs and canned spam sites. Unfortunately, if your site contained backlinks from these low quality sites, Google slapped your hand by penalizing your site as well.

The Penguin Update

Penguin hit in April of 2012 with two updates since and another (supposedly major one) is expected sometime in 2013. Penguin’s mission was to locate sites that practiced link spamming techniques such as anchor text and keyword stuffing or participated in cloaking. Need a little help with the terminology?

Direct from Google; cloaking is “the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines.”

Also from Google; Keyword or Anchor Text Stuffing is “Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings”.  Some ways in which this is done are:

  • Using white text on a white background,
  • Locating text behind an image,
  • Using CSS to position text off-screen,
  • Setting the font size to zero;
  • Hiding a link by only linking one small character — for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph.

Website text content should flow and sound natural, like normal every day conversation. Using your keywords as anchor text virtually every time you make a link is unnatural and unnatural gets you penalized by Penguin.

The EMD Update

EMD stands for Exact-Match-Domain which is a Google filter launched in September of 2012. So what is it? Ever seen a site named something like, “bestbluedogboots.com”, for example? It’s rather obvious that this domain name is trying to rank for a specific keyword phrase (in this case, “best blue dog boots”).  If you also searched for “best red dog boots” you’d probably find search results linked to “bestreddogboots.com” and another for best yellow, green and other color dog boots as well. Just the thought of paying for all those and other keyword phrase associated domain names every year is not only mind boggling but think of the dent it would put in your wallet!

EMD compares a site’s domain name to the anchor text of their links and the text on their page. If it is blatantly obvious that a site is stuffing its domain name everywhere as a keyword, it gets the EMD penalty.

How to Build Your Links Safely and Avoid These Penalties

Avoiding these penalties is actually quite simple, here are some guidelines:

  1. Vary your anchor text a lot. If you’re trying to rank for a specific keyword, make sure you use it as the anchor text in your links only about 10% of the time. Use other generic keywords like “click here”, “visit their site”, “more information”,  etc. for the rest of your links.
  2. If you’re ranking well for a term that resembles your domain name, make sure to be even more careful with your anchor text. Consider reducing it to about 5%.
  3. Do not post to spam farm sites. Do not intentionally build links in free blog comments and low-quality bookmarking sites that are filled with other spammers.
  4. Build your links at a steady pace. Major increases and decreases in the rate of your link-building looks and is unnatural.

Following these tips will help you avoid getting dinged by Panda, Penguin and EMD. Penalties may be significant and recovering can be painful and costly. Some penalized businesses believed they couldn’t recover, that the effort would be too costly or maybe simply blamed it on the poor economy and opted for closing up shop. Others are literally starting over from scratch including ditching their old domain name.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to have to resort to any of these options.

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