Quality Guidelines Re-Write Shows Anchor Text Is Out?

by Alex Graves
Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency

Formerly Google were known for their ‘as many links as you can' metrics in order to provide the signals that they required to justify ranking a website within their search engine results but following continued progression towards cleaning up their organic results, Google have once again made a firm stand in their mission to guide site owners.

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Previously Google issued a ‘Quality Guidelines' section which was designed to help website owners to create websites that were within the standards that Google deemed to be worthy of ranking within their search engine results but following a period of re-evaluation and recovery, Google have now embarked on a war against spam and low quality sites with new releases of updates that are targeted to remove such sites from their organics.

Initially Google rolled out their first round of knockout update with the announcement of Google Panda back in February 2011, a release which affected a reported 12% of search results on a wide scale and showing the first stance against thin content, content farms such as article directories and sites that boasted a high advertisement to content ratio.

The first instance of the update shook the webmaster world as sites saw their organic traffic disappear overnight and Google weren't about to stop there, instead they continued to try to evolve their Panda update over time, sparking a host of releases which Google reported continued to increase the metrics that they deemed to make a site low quality.

Knowing that their Panda update was overall a needed process, Google turned their attention to factors out of the website spectrum, announcing their Penguin update back in April 2012, targeting the off-site optimisation tactics that website owners were deploying for their site, specifically focused towards the backlink profile of sites and how their anchor text links related to their destination.

Google were fully aware that websites were looking to manipulate their search engine results, using anything that they could to send out signals that would increase the search engine visibility of their site within the Google results and they were finally going to try to take a stand against those who do so through guideline breaking activity.

Continued enforcement of their new, so called improved guidelines continued as they frequently pushed out newer versions of their website crushing updates and worked to reduce the amount of collateral damage which these updates brought into action with each fresh release that came into force.

In 2013 Google announced that they were working on a new generation of Google updates, both for Panda and Penguin releases, reducing the grey areas surrounding penalisation of sites to ensure that they offered a more indepth look at sites within the potential scope of the updates and reduced the number of severe reduction that websites that were borderline of action were receiving, which is thought to have been seen in the more recent release of Google Panda that was rolled into action as part of a rolling update in their standardised algorithm equation.

On Friday last week we had it brought to our attention that Google had once again changed their Google Quality Guidelines to fit in line with their aim for a clean search engine, this time tackling the anchor text linking debate that seems to have plagued the SEO community for years.

According to reports, Google updated their Link Schemes section of the guidelines that they published for website owners in a bid to clean up what they had previously documented within the text, removing the exact examples of what they deemed to be in breach of their suggestion to offer a broader reach of the link building practice that so many conduct.

The latest alteration of the guidelines now addresses various sections of link building which have become a more common practice within the industry for a lot of website owners, including guest posting, advertorials, press releases and maybe more interestingly anchor text linking.

Although it will come as little surprise to those that deem these link building practices to be abused on a large scale already, Google have shown their stance towards them in a clear and concise manner, basically outlawing the mass production of any singular or collective use of the mentioned strategies.

Although the document says shows that Google are aware that these strategies are in place and do violate their guidelines, which can come with the risk of penalisation, that is not to say that these strategies no longer work or are to be considered ‘illegal' within the SEO community, instead it shows that moderation is required to ensure that over use is not a factor within your link building techniques.

The Death of Anchor Text Links?

Google have consistently told the online world that they want website owners to not only focus on creating a website for the user but have also advised owners to look to create a brand around their website rather than creating sites specifically to occupy keyword terms.

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As well as their ‘build a brand' message, Google have continued to push forward that their end game is to be able to eliminate the need for keyword specific anchor text in order to be able to switch over to become a knowledge base, something that would allow them to determine what the relevancy of a specific website is to a query that they are served however there has never been a clear indication that anchor text has become a thing of the past, until now that is.

The latest update of the documentation within the quality guidelines refers to anchor text as "optimized anchor text" and makes use of the increasingly popular link building method of press release and news syndication to highlight their stance towards the use of anchor text within news, articles and PR creation, a showing that has caused Search Engine Land to call such instances "an example of an unnatural link that violates their [Google's] guidelines", however Google simply say that "links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites" are what they deem to be an attempt to manipulate their ranking algorithm.

This is an interesting finding and seems to show that Google are once again gearing up in their battle against low quality search engine results and the move seems to be a step closer to their focus of anchor text now being turned off a metric that they consider to gather relevance of a site.

Do you think that anchor text has now died on a larger scale with brand signals now taking the centre stage when it comes to building the reputation of your site or do you still feel that Google are going to continue to use anchor text as a leading metric and are trying to use smoke and mirrors?

Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency
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