19 Mar Thinking Organically: Link Optimization in a Post-Penguin World
Links are currency; links are like gold. Links are votes; links are like suggestions. Links are electricity. Links are soldiers.
These are just a few of the sentiments expressed when you dive into the search results for link optimization. Few topics fascinate the search-engine-inclined more, and few topics inspire the same breadth of debate and divide (How many should you have? Where should they come from?). For SEO specialists, the conversation around link optimization changed forever on the day Google plugged Penguin into their algorithm. Gone are the days of indiscriminate link building—many webmasters experienced a rude awakening when their rank plummeted, pulled down by spurious, low-quality links.
As Google and other search engines continue to improve their algorithms to recognize natural behavior (as industry insiders like to say, “Google ain’t gettin’ any dumber”), we’re experiencing a web-wide transition to seamless, intuitive organic search. Our job as savvy marketers is to adjust our link optimization techniques to match natural behavior and to encourage organic linking and sharing activity . . . but what techniques are those? One mantra stands out above all others: Think organically.
Weed out broken links
Double check your website for 404s and broken links, which aren’t bringing any value to your site. If you notice that an incoming link from another website leads to a broken or nonexistent URL, contact the webmaster and try to change it. Not only are broken links ineffective for your SEO, they are frustrating to any readers trying to access your content. Rather than trying to navigate their way to the information, they will likely abandon ship.
Make sure your internal links are in order, too. Good internal linking reduces your website’s bounce rate, as readers can easily find and browse your content. Since you control the anchor text within your website, it also helps search engines determine what keywords you believe match the page best. Google and other search engines will crawl your site more effectively, and readers will have a more positive experience.
Sow the seeds of high-authority links
Having your website linked to by an established, trustworthy site is good for you in two ways: Search engines will give that link more value, and readers are more likely to click on it. You’ll get more “Google juice” from links on high authority websites, especially websites which are relevant to yours in some way. And, because of their good reputation, readers are more likely to trust links and follow through with a click.
Worried about some of the links pointing to your website? If you’ve noticed low-quality links coming in from an untrustworthy source, Google has introduced a tool to disavow certain links from their assessment of your site. However, this tool should be used very cautiously. Reserve this action for times when your website is being dragged down by negative SEO or linking schemes.
Branch out with diverse anchor text
In the past, optimizing your anchor text meant choosing a relevant keyword phrase and sticking to it. In the post-Penguin era, it’s time to branch out—with diversified anchor text. Rather than sending out as many links as you can with one iteration of anchor text (for example, “gardening tips”), do some research to see what other keyword phrases fit the bill (“home garden ideas,” “help growing flowers,” “planting guide”). Warning! Even though the goal is to diversify, remember to keep all keyword phrases highly relevant to your site. You want the links that point your way to reflect what readers will find when they get there. Never, ever, ever—under any circumstances!—use the anchor text “click here.” Vague phrases like these are a wasted opportunity, and the counterproductive pitfalls of “click here” have been explored in many articles.
Nurture your link building
Search engines are becoming better and better at detecting unnatural behavior. When you obtain a large number of links in a short time with the same anchor text, they get suspicious. Rather than going for a huge “dump” of links in one day or even one week, stagger your link building over time. Continuously search for good opportunities to share your content so that your garden of links is always growing. Using social channels like Facebook and Twitter is an excellent way to distribute your content and encourage others to do the same, bringing you a variety of great incoming links. Depending on your site and its content, you might find great opportunities on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr, or Reddit. See what’s out there and spread your roots!
Link optimization has changed—there’s no denying it—but even after algorithm updates like Penguin, there are still effective ways to optimize your website with SEO. Contrary to what the Chicken Littles out there say, SEO is not “dead.” It just takes a little more pruning these days to produce healthy, organic links. You might have fewer links, but that’s okay, because more doesn’t mean better. Websites that appear over-optimized look like giant, nuclear tomatoes to search engines, while organically grown websites are far more appealing. Take this opportunity to examine your link optimization techniques by thinking organically—and never stop growing!