After Penguin, Google’s latest algorithm update, a lot of webmasters have been looking at their ‘backlink profile’. I‘ve written about what this is, and why it matters, in the first in this two-part guide, Checking your backlink profile
In this one, we’ll discuss how to look for potential problems within your backlinks, and what those problems might be. Whether or not you’ve been hit by Penguin this is something worth checking.
Your backlink profile rarely used to be something that could harm you. If there was something in it that was doing your site damage, then it would most likely be part of some black hat link building activity, such as buying links from networks or comment spamming.
After Penguin, you might only have been engaging in white hat (above board) link building tactics and they could still be negatively affecting your site.
A big part of this is where you have got your links from and this is covered in the previous post Checking your backlink profile If you have been building lots of site-wide links, receiving links from poor quality domains or links from blog networks then you need to change what you’re doing.
Checking your backlink keyword anchor text density is a matter of finding out what links you have to your site and then looking at the anchor text used within those links. The density refers to the percentage of the links which have keywords within them. In short, too high a ratio of keywords to brand terms and you could be in trouble.
Examine your backlinks
Step one is to dig out your backlinks. This is easy. Just head over to Open Site Explorer and type in your web address (URL). You only get three free searches a day so make sure you use the right one. Making three typos and using all them up is pretty frustrating!
Then click on the anchor text tab and change the filters to show 'phrases' for links to 'all pages on this subdomain'. For Wordtracker the stats now look like this:
This looks as expected for the Wordtracker site. The most common phrases are all brand terms, not keywords.
Now let’s look at the profile of a well known site that was hit by Penguin, but which looks fine when using the analysis from Checking your backlink profile. For the sake of privacy we have replaced the actual anchor text with either brand name, website, or keyword depending on the result.
A mixture of their brand name and website terms appears, but interestingly they also have a keyword as one of their most used phrases in anchor text. So when people are linking to the site it is commonly done using a keyword. Now let’s look at the most common terms, ie, the words which are used most within the anchor text phrases.
Looking at the most commonly used terms within the anchor text we can see that this includes many more keywords. Having a high keyword density within the anchor has a negative effect, so if you see this you will want to use MajesticSEO to dig a little deeper.
Microsite Masters have done some analysis on this using rankings data from a large pool of sites. They used ranking data from a large sample set of websites and analyzed the backlinks of those sites that have been hit:
So all the sites that were hit (in this sample) had more than 60% of their links made up of keyword rich anchor text. And generally, your chances of being penalized increases when more than 85% of your links are keyword rich. But please don’t obsess about these numbers. They are not absolutes as there are almost certainly other factors are involved.
Just like losing weight
Building links is a lot like losing weight. You can carry on with your current lifestyle while obsessively monitoring your calorie intake with food diaries etc. Or you can change your lifestyle by taking more exercise, eating more vegetables etc - all the things your mother taught you.
Similarly, don’t monitor and obsess about the keyword density of your anchor links. Instead, think about the way you're building links. Eat those link building vegetables, and you’ll find that your links are always in good shape. And actually, you’ll probably get more creative as a result and enjoy it a lot more.
There is a great presentation by our link building guru Ken McGaffin that details 25 ways to link build correctly and creatively: note the focus is on engineering situations which make it worthwhile for people to link to you because of the content you provide. We can also help you get links from social media review sites and even from colleges and universities So you can change forever how you build links.
This article, and the first in this guide are meant only as starting points for analyzing your backlinks and trying to spot potential problems. They are not complete guides for understanding and resolving these issues. If you are seeing similar issues to the sites outlined in these articles then you need to dig deeper.
Building links the wrong way can actively damage your domain so make sure you properly research the methods you are using and if you are using a third party to look after your SEO then keep a tight leash on what they’re doing. After all, it’s your brand they’re damaging.
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About Owen Powis
Owen Powis is the lead SEO Consultant at Wordtracker and has a half decade of experience working as an SEO Consultant. That time has been spent working at some of the UK's largest agencies dealing with clients ranging from SMEs to large blue chip organizations. He can be found @owenfantastic on Twitter and also runs his own online SEO training courses.