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27th March 2012 |  Written by Justin Butcher

5 Crucial Takeaways From The Latest Panda Update

panda updateSince Google’s Panda 3.3 update rolled out a few weeks ago, and the smaller Panda 3.4 rolled out over the last few days I have been pulling in data, looking at lots of link profiles of winners and losers and trawling SEO forums and social media platforms for other people’s views on the current state of play.

Here are 5 lessons I believe should be learned from recent events.

Be even more careful with exact match anchor text

Anchor text over optimisation filters and penalties have been around for a long while. However, with the latest Panda update, and especially in very competitive niches, we are seeing sites with a high percentage of exact match anchor text links which were ranking very well prior to the latest updates suddenly disappear altogether for certain keywords. It seems Google has definitely toughened its stance on this.

Look at the following anchor text distribution pie chart for a site which ranked very well in the ‘car leasing’ SERPS prior to Panda 3.3:

Anchor text distribution

This site is now nowhere to be found for this particular search query. Whilst we wouldn’t go as far as to say that having keywords in anchor text in some form doesn’t count for anything anymore (yet), we would definitely say that you should be adding more brand, naked urls, synonyms and natural noise to your anchor text profile, if you weren’t already.

Go for links on relevant pages

Following on from the last point, from what we have seen so far from this update, Google has turned the volume down on exact match anchor text and has increased the volume on relevancy signals from the linking page ie we think Google is looking at on page elements such as page content and title tags to pass on relevance for certain keywords, possibly using these elements over anchor text in some instances.

Having seen many sites rank well in competitive niches with a high percentage of links from irrelevant pages pre Panda 3.3, I have previously been sceptical about how much of a part relevance really played in Google’s algorithm. I have always believed, however, that it would be something which Google would eventually try to address. In this update we have seen sites with high numbers of links on unrelated sites who were ranking very well pre Panda 3.3 dropping down the rankings.

The early signs are that some attempt has been made to address the relevancy issue. Of course, not every link you get is going to necessarily be on a totally relevant site, but it seems that relevant ones may count more going forward.

Avoid private blog networks like the plague

Build My RankThe use of blog network services to distribute spun articles with favourable anchor text across an array of sites has been a popular tactic for a long time. The reason why this method became so popular was that it offered scalabilty, the anchor text of your choice and most of all…it worked. The problem was that since it resulted in lots of low quality content being distributed across the web, Google hated it.

There have been warnings for a long time that they would do something about this practice so what has happened cannot have come as a surprise to many people. Panda 3.3 has resulted in huge numbers of blogs from these networks being de-indexed thus rendering these links completely useless. One of these services, Build My Rank, recently wrote this blog post announcing their closure as a result of the crackdown. Other similar services have also been hit, and there has been huge ranking volatility in certain verticals.

Diversify your link profile

This point isn’t necessarily specific to the latest updates but Panda 3.3/3.4 serves as a reminder of the dangers of relying on one link building tactic too much. Google is always looking to improve its algorithm and if they decide one particular tactic is being used too heavily to manipulate rankings and is decreasing the quality of search results they will eventually take the appropriate action. Diversification has always been the best course of action and is the best way to future-proof your link profile.

Utilise social media to attract links

SEO is changing rapidly and as far as we are concerned, the use of social media to spread content and attract links has become an integral part of the link building process. Doing your homework on key influencers in your niche and creating shareable content which grabs the attention of those with the power to link can result in a large amount of links from quality, diverse and relevant sources. Since this kind of tactic involves quality content, it will also keep Google happy and give you links which are resistant to algorithm changes. If you are not already utilising social media in this way and are worried about the effects of recent and future updates, surely a solid social media strategy for link acquisition is something worth considering?

What are your thoughts or experiences of the latest Panda update? Let me know via Twitter or share your thoughts in the comments below.

Your Comments

  1. The demise of private blog networks has been a long time coming. They worked for a long time but the latest Panda update combined with the link evaluation update seems to point to a reduction in emphasis on exact match anchor text (although this definitely isn’t always the case) it does seem to be becoming more and more prevalent.

  2. I believe at least 40% of your anchor text should be your website’s name or the company and even click here or http://domainname.com.

  3. All five of these takeaways have to do with links. Isn’t Panda about on-page or on-site factors?

  4. From what we have seen, this recent update is definitely more about links than on site factors.

  5. Hi Dewaldt. I agree that this would be a sensible course of action to make the anchor text profile appear as natural as possible.

  6. Hi Sebastian. I think a lot of people saw this coming and would agree that it was about time it happened.

  7. I agree with what has been said about the blog networks had it coming to them for quite some time. The first iterations of Panda hammered a lot of these websites and the subsequent ones have been doing a ‘better’ (if you can call it that) job of finding them.

    For anyone who has been hit by Panda then I did an epic blog post which is continually being updated on the topic over on my blog: http://www.michaelcropper.co.uk/2012/02/ultimate-guide-to-the-google-panda-algorithm-821.html

  8. Really interesting article. I do find it ironic that more of us will be adding junk anchor text such as ‘click here’ from now on

  9. Great post/article.

    Any research/data on that [exact match] being your company name or domain name. As Dewaldt mentions, 40% are brand terms, which in my opinion is a natural link as we have seen through PR initiatives – writers linking to our site with our company name. Do you see that being penalized as “too much of the same anchor text”?

  10. In regards to exact match anchor text I’ve noticed that too. A competitor of ours has ZERO links with the keyword we’re targeting in it’s anchor text. But I’ve noticed that he has a lot of links with his brand and his domain in them. All of sudden he came out of nowhere to being on the front page.

  11. Social Media is definitely an important take-away from the update. The importance of Google + relative to other social networks is also a big talking point – it would be probable that Google are biased in how they rate each social network, and so if this were the case then Google + is a platform that companies need to be involved with.

  12. Thanks for sharing your research Justin. It’s welcome news that Google has placed greater effort on serving its clients — searchers — thereby penalizing those who are manipulating results for the benefit of their respective clients.

    Just back from Link Love Boston, which was also heralding social indicators and building influence through quality content.

    Makes a former journalist like me happy.

  13. Awesome piece Justin,
    Just as you had predicted, social media platforms have become crucial to SEO campaigns.
    There is no better opinion than that of real human beings, and social signals are a testimony of high-quality content and sites.

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