Since 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:
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
The 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.