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Keyword Specific Penalties for Overused Anchor Text?

     

DXL

2:48 am on Nov 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Interesting scenario that I just noticed. Company A had been #1 in Google for years for "Cityname Website Design", "Cityname Web Site Design" and "Cityname Web Design", thanks primarily to anchor text for inbound links.

Company B an almost identical title tag, 10% more backlinks, but almost never uses keywords as anchor text in inbound links. Company B moves to up #1 for "Cityname Website Design", but not for the other two sets of target keywords. The keywords they are #1 for happen to be the most used keywords in Company A's anchor text for inbound links.

Is this an indication that Google is penalizing just for the overused anchor text keywords? Otherwise, I can't figure out why there's a drop in rank for just that one set. Would reducing the use of target keywords in anchor text reverse the drop in ranking?

6:02 am on Nov 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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If one anchor text phrase shows up an unnatural number of times in a backlink profile, Google can indeed invoke a penalty on just that search term. Now whether this is exactly what's going on in the case you're looking is another question. I suspect that purchased links with that anchor text can also create the problem, as well as a sudden an "unnatural" growth in links with that anchor text.

Google benchmarks all kinds of things and has a statistical measure to use of what the norms are in each market. We had quite a thread about this a year ago:

[webmasterworld.com...]

DXL

5:54 pm on Nov 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Well this situation wouldn't involve paid links, nor would it involve an unnatural growth (i.e. hundreds or thousands of backlinks in just weeks).
7:09 pm on Nov 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Here's a thought: it's common for some web design companies to get backlinks from all their their clients, no matter what market those clients are involved in. It's rare that a web design company has a client who is also a web design company, so those backlinks are really off-topic in many/most cases.

So because of this report, I now wonder if Google is tightening up on off-topic links. In that case, this wouldn't really be a penalty but just a devaluing of some backlinks that used to give more of a boost.

9:47 pm on Nov 7, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Also that web designer could have gotten a ton of footer links. Most of them install footer links when they make sites (I promptly delete them when they do that). So footer links and (as mentioned) off-topic links probably got discounted.

Google is definitely -not- punishing inbound anchor links though. I keep track of one of my competitors who primarily gets links through link/counter spam; when he is dumped, I'll believe it.

12:19 am on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Does designer A also use "Cityname Web Site Design" and "Cityname Web Design" in client link anchor text or only "Cityname Website Design"?

DXL

7:05 am on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Also that web designer could have gotten a ton of footer links. Most of them install footer links when they make sites (I promptly delete them when they do that). So footer links and (as mentioned) off-topic links probably got discounted.

Both companies include footer links on every site that they design, so we're talking an equal amount of sitewide footer links for either. The only difference is that Company A uses keyword-rich anchor text, whereas Company B only uses their company name as anchor text.

Does designer A also use "Cityname Web Site Design" and "Cityname Web Design" in client link anchor text or only "Cityname Website Design"?

There's a variation, but the majority of anchor text used is "Cityname Website Design" (compound word) with only a handful of uses of "Cityname Web Design". So the keywords that the drop from #1 to #2 occurred in were for the ones that were used most.

Tedster's theory about offtopic links would certainly be more likely were it not for the fact that these are two design companies in the same city, designing numerous websites for businesses that aren't related to web design. You're looking at a comparable number of inbound links from completely offtopic sites.

7:09 am on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I now wonder if Google is tightening up on off-topic links. In that case, this wouldn't really be a penalty but just a devaluing of some backlinks that used to give more of a boost.

Matt Cutts at Google has comments [mattcutts.com] on this topic from 2006 I was reading yesterday. He even has screen captures of sites with off-topic footer links.

"a real estate site ... Aha, checking out the bottom of the page, I see this: Linking to a free ringtones site, an SEO contest, and an Omega 3 fish oil site? I think Ive found your problem. Id think about the quality of your links if youd prefer to have more pages crawled. As these indexing changes have rolled out, weve improving how we handle reciprocal link exchanges and link buying/selling."

I read G has been tackling link exchanges in the RE sector again lately, so it may be another round of link devaluation. I'm not in RE, but I just had a few sites with link exchanges zapped; so he may now be taking the link exchange algo beyond the RE industry.

p/g

7:51 am on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Company B only uses their company name as anchor text

Aha - let's add that to the Real Estate connection and it could point to an attempted clean up of all Local Search spam. How does that sound? To me it seems a bit more hooked in than my earlier idea of links from off-topic urls, although both angles could be woven together here.

7:58 am on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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There's a variation, but the majority of anchor text used is "Cityname Website Design" (compound word) with only a handful of uses of "Cityname Web Design". So the keywords that the drop from #1 to #2 occurred in were for the ones that were used most.

I'd tend to think that, as tedster suggested, many repetitions of narrowly focused anchor text might be the major factor here... but it's also hard to generalize. It may well be that none of the effects we're talking about is applied evenly across all search phrases in all market areas.

Ontopic links might be an important factor for more competive searches, eg, and not matter at all for less competitive phrases. "Topicality" could require a kind of lexicon mapping that Google hasn't applied everywhere.

Or, it may be that Google has done lexicon mapping for this area and recognizes that valid link recommendations for web designers may well come from a variety of business types.

Also, no mention has been made of how well the pages themselves are optimized. If the inbound anchor text is discounted because of too much narrow repetition, the search might be uncompetitive enough that onpage factors plus company name links could win out.

DXL

10:52 am on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Also, no mention has been made of how well the pages themselves are optimized. If the inbound anchor text is discounted because of too much narrow repetition, the search might be uncompetitive enough that onpage factors plus company name links could win out.

Company A is optimized better, with no Black Hat techniques. Company B has virtually no onsite optimization, save for a good title tag, which is almost identical to Company A's title tag (same keywords in title almost word for word). So onpage factors shouldn't come into play.

Looks more and more like saturation of keyword-rich backlinks could be the culprit. But what's odd is that I've seen other sites in an almost identical situation, only with no apparent penalty.

10:56 am on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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"..many repetitions of narrowly focused anchor text might be the major factor here."

Or the introduction of variations which could point towards the intent to manipulate...

1:17 pm on Nov 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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While I am a firm believer of Google's ability to tell on and off-topic links apart ( as of yet - 11.08.2007. - at least for competitive, popular themes ) this sounds like keyphrase overuse.

Except that...

...you haven't really mentioned that for the phrase ( that distinct word order ) which Company B does better ie. is number one, where is Company A?

Number two?
Down at #11, #31, #51, #121, #501, #951?
Where exactly are they?

IF they are not in the top ten, this is most likely a case of overuse which more often than not isn't intentional, and can be fixed by diluting the overall link profile with links using anchor text of different word order (for example).

But if they're like top ten, just not number one, that doesn't tell much, as it only goes to show that in this area with all the devalued footer links, anchor text has less influence on the sites than let's say locality, trust, weight, on-page optimization... and so on.

Where are they?

btw. the keyword overuse filter doesn't only do exact match searches for strings. It'll look for substrings starting from the first character.

So...

mycity webdesign
mycity webdesign company
mycity webdesign studio
mycity webdesign website

...will all count towards the imbalance. Obvious overuse of 'mycity webdesign' in the link profile?
CLICK. *ha*
( what's the official sound effect for a Google penalty? Let's start a thread... )
While...

company mycity webdesign
website of mycity webdesign
studio at mycity webdesign

...will be considered much more natural, and stop pushing the site towards the pit.

As for the penalty, yes, even if it's in place for mycity webdesign (or whatever)... rankings for 'Webdesign mycity', 'my-city web site design' or 'my-design webcity' might as well be untouched, even though these phrases are built up from the same keywords. Reason is simple, they ( could ) mean completely different things.

So it's not 'keyword overuse' but 'keyphrase overuse'.

...

Also, it's not really overuse, as it's not about the number of same anchor links, rather a natural balance of the anchor text used within a link profile. 'Not enough variations' means irregularity. Perhaps Company A is yet to use a word order that'd be of key importance to make them look natural?

Google won't flip the algo upside down for industries such as webdesign - which don't really get links from anywhere else than their clients - and thus such sites need to evade the 'suspicion' that even if indirectly, they control much of their incoming anchor text. Even if this being natural in the webdesign industry is actually a fact of life, the algo won't listen *grin* ... Because such site behavior for most industries/themes - that have natural linking habits for users - means the links are manipulated. Which is the ultimate antiGoogle for a good reason.

DXL

1:34 am on Nov 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

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...you haven't really mentioned that for the phrase ( that distinct word order ) which Company B does better ie. is number one, where is Company A?

Number two?

I did point out that Company A dropped from #1 to #2 for one set of keywords, which were the overrused ones.

company mycity webdesign
website of mycity webdesign
studio at mycity webdesign

...will be considered much more natural, and stop pushing the site towards the pit.

Its varied. Its only "mycity" keywords for sites relating to businesses in the same city, whereas the keywords change ro reflect the type of business that the site is for (or the city that its in). All in all, the overrused keywords do not make up the majority of anchor text out threre, but do represent the keyword phrase most used.

 

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