The Great Link Paradox

We used to link feely on the web and anchor text has always been a matter of context and choice. Google changed everything with its profound dependency on link signals. Designer anchor text is not a pure SEO invention, Googlers themselves asked us to use descriptive anchor text to help them understand our pages better:

“Writing descriptive anchor text, the clickable words in a link, is a useful signal to help search engines and users alike to better understand your content. The more Google knows about your site—through your content, page titles, anchor text, etc.—the more relevant results we can return for users (and your potential search visitors).” (Source)

They even give an example to use anchor text “basketball videos” instead of “click here”.

Current Situation

Today we’re back on “designer anchor text” stage but this time we’re supposed to pretend we don’t know what anchor text does to rankings and are purposely dumbing it down in order to please Google and avoid penalties. I’m seeing entire link profiles which are obviously finely crafted with just the right amount of branded text, click here, URLs and commercial anchor text. What a charade!
If you had a website which focused on basketball videos and majority of your anchor text was as descriptive as suggested in Google’s article you’d not only be flagged by Penguin, but would most likely not pass a manual review either.
Whether it’s the sheer size of the challenge, lack of talent or funding, we’ll never know, but much of what we observe today points at the fact that Google’s search quality team just isn’t good enough.

Shifting Policy

Crafty webmasters remain at the edge of Google’s exploitable elements, while the rest of the web remains in the dark. Google’s webspam team shifts their tolerance policy to embrace the latest high-impact trends. We’ve seen this happen with link exchange, anchor text over-optimisation, blog commenting, forum spam, profiles, article marketing and finally guest blogging. The problem is that uninformed webmasters and business owners often become victims of something that used to be OK, that is not OK any more.

Out of Touch

Google’s systems are capable of flagging spam. Humans can report spam too. So when it comes to manual actions, we’re talking about a group of trained people who deal with spam eight hours a day, five days a week. This could cause bias and skew perception creating a risk of harmless links being flagged simply due to matching patterns of real spam.

Google’s Definition of Webspam

To Google’s search quality team, spam is anything that’s clearly manipulative. You could have the greatest piece of content, if it’s a guest post and you have a link in the author box – it’s spam. Their employees couldn’t possibly have the level of expertise required to judge the quality of content in every subject so they rely on patterns, much like their algorithms. Search quality team at Google appears to have one primary role and that is to patch up the aftermath caused by vulnerabilities in their algorithms.

Penguin is Too Slow

Penguin is now as stale as toolbar PageRank. Such slow rate of roll-out allows manipulators to enjoy the benefits longer and puts everyone else in disadvantage. Not only that, but many are turning to manipulative techniques designed to work between Penguin releases employing throwaway domains.

What Needs to Happen

At a risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to say it again, Google needs to abandon link-based penalties and gain enough confidence in its algorithms to simply ignore links they think are manipulative. The whole fear-based campaign they’re going for doesn’t really go well with the cute brand Google tries to maintain.
Google’s webspam team needs to go out there and spend a day with a real business, hear real stories and rethink their policy.
There’s a small group of Googlers who are more in touch with the real world than anyone else – Webmaster Trends Analysts, most notably John Mueller (whom I’ve taken liberty to canonise).
John Mueller

Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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