Google’s Penguin algorithm cast a long shadow over link building in SEO. With many kinds of links apparently getting devalued, some wonder what the search engine considers important or relevant anymore. Even anchor text has come into question. What’s an SEO or a site owner to do?
First, remember that Google’s algorithm updates are designed to fix what it sees as attempts to manipulate your standing in the SERPs. The search engine tries to deliver the most relevant results to searchers, and as we all know, it uses links (among many other factors) to signal relevance. So if a website links to your site with “dog training school” as the anchor text, Google figures that it thinks your website is relevant to that search.
But Penguin seems to be changing that. According to Pratik Dholakiya, writing for Search Engine Journal, Google is starting to think that anchor text is “too easily manipulated.” As he explains it, “A link with highly optimized anchor text simply doesn’t look natural. It means there’s a much higher chance you had direct control over the creation of that link. If most your links have optimized anchor text, it probably means you built most of them yourself.”
Google does not want to see links you’ve built yourself. It wants to see links that other people built to your website because they believe the content is so interesting and so compelling that they want to share it with their friends. In other words, it wants to see natural links – and someone giving you a natural link, in many cases, won’t include any special anchor text in it. At best, they’ll add the bare link (which is another reason you should set up your headlines and pages so that they include keywords, but I digress).
Dholakiya goes on to discuss co-citations, which he and a number of others believe Google will be giving more weight to than anchor text in the near future – assuming the search engine isn’t already doing this. Co-citations are a little more complicated to understand than simple links, though they have a long academic history. Let me see if I can show you how these would function on the web by using a fictitious but true-to-life example
Say you’re writing a blog post on the best strategies for enriching your soil for the upcoming gardening season. You have a local readership, and you really want to encourage them to get out and do the work themselves. You know some of them may already compost, but others are just getting into the game, and still others will be starting “fresh,” so they need sources of good, pre-composted material. As you’re talking about options in your blog post, you provide a short summary of how to compost, and link to a fuller description. You also link to websites for your local agricultural cooperative extension, which offers free compost; a local mushroom farm which sells cheap compost; a company that provides a kit with special worms that consume household trash and turn it into compost; and a calendar page for your local library listing the date and time of a talk one of the area gardening experts will be giving, which you know will cover composting.
All of those links you’re making in your blog post are co-citations. Since you are citing all of these sources in one article, Google will look at them and assume that they are all relevant to each other. Within the context of your article, they certainly ARE all relevant to your topic, right?
The key point from Google’s point of view is that co-citations are much harder to manipulate than anchor text for links. Think about it. It’s one thing to write an article and get a link back to your website for it. It’s another thing to cite several others in the same article – some of whom are probably competitors. Indeed, why should Google pay attention to you in an article in which you’ve linked to yourself along with several others?
Google is paying attention to industry influencers – that well-known gardening expert with a blog, for instance. As Dholakiya notes, “you cannot manipulate the industry influencers who make your co-citations possible. They only promote the content that they feel is best to share with their readers.”
So how do you get on the radar of these industry influencers to get co-citations? Go back and read my headline. Dholakiya explains that “You cannot have great co-citations unless you have actionable content which people love to read and share.” A lot can and has been written about how to write killer content, but Dholakiya offers three tips: stay up to date on the trends in your niche; produce original content on your subject that hasn’t been thoroughly covered by others; and create content that, one way or another, makes waves in your industry such that it influences the direction of posts made later.
Isn’t it funny that I started by talking about Google’s Penguin algorithm/filter, which focuses on links, and ended up talking about content, which is supposed to related more to the search engine’s Panda algorithm/filter? Yes and no. If you’ve been doing SEO or running a website for any length of time, you know that killer content leads to links. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s the way Google hopes to encourage it to be. There are no lasting SEO shortcuts. Just do it right the first time, by writing the best content you can. Good luck!