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Anchor text repetition, deoptimization, and user experience

     
7:31 pm on Dec 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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A couple of my pages rank on the first or second page of Yahoo and Bing, and on the 6th or 8th page of Google. After discussion on these forums, I thought I was being penalized due to keywords in internal anchor text pointing to the penalized pages. I've since changed the anchor text pointing to these pages from "Big Red Widgets" to "Big Red" with no affect on ranking.

I just read FranticFish's post <#:4045479, dated Dec 18, 2009> in this thread:

[webmasterworld.com...]

and it clicked. I've been penalized for the anchor text which appears *on* the penalized pages, not pointing to them. For example a page titled "Big Red Widgets" contains many links to products, each with anchor text like:

"Big Red Long Widget"
"Big Red Hairy Widget"
"Big Red Exasperated Widget"

So it's the many times repeated "Big", "Red", and "Widget" anchor text on the penalized pages that causes the penalization? If so, I could deoptimize but I think a list of links to products with anchor text like this would be confusing for users:

"Long"
"Hairy"
"Exasperated"

Is that what Google expects me to do?

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 8:07 pm (utc) on Dec. 21, 2009]
[edit reason] fixed linking problem [/edit]

2:58 am on Dec 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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It can be a dangerous leap to say "yes, that particular factor is exactly the cause of this penalty."

Still, I have seen many examples where backing off on keyword repetition in the on-page anchor text was followed by removal of a penalty. The first time things went that way was dealing with a friend's website after the Florida update. Then after the advent of phrase-based indexing a couple years later, I saw more examples of penalties that were lifted after the same kind of changes.

But to say this happens "after" a certain action does not prove that it happens "because of" that action -- I have also seen similar penalties that did not budge even when on-page anchor text was "de-optimized" to a major degree.

I found that I had to make a shift in my overall thinking. I've been doing web marketing since the mid-nineties, and back then the way to compete and have the search engines acknowledge a page's relevance was to shout at them, over and over again "[keyword] is what this page is about!" Then as search algos matured, that successful habit became a doorway to potential penalties.

In some cases it can take a good deal of creativity to maintain the user experience without looking like a keyword stuffer to the algorithm. Images of keyword text used judiciously have been one tool I use. Sometimes placing a keyword heading over a list of links, (such as "Types of Widgets") can clarify the experience for the visitor and still allow for keyword reduction in the anchor text.

The biggest issue I found was when those repeated keyword links are in the content area of a page - even in a right-floated sidebar. And the second most problematic area has been the footer. Repeated keyword anchor text doesn't seem to be as damaging when it is in a clearly defined main navigation section.

The overall context of the page is king, both for the algo and for the user. When the cues for that context are clear enough, then repetition is not needed as much.

3:56 am on Feb 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I'm considering de-linking all of my site's anchor text that is duplicated by an adjacent image link to see if I get released from a penalty. It would be a huge of amount of anchor text out the window. Could I be setting myself up for a major drop in ranking by doing this?
11:06 am on Feb 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Possibly.

You say that this is a penalty. Just to be 100% clear, were the pages previously ranking in Google? If they have never ranked, it might not be a penalty. You just might not have enough trusted links.

The two examples of -950 I've personally seen were as follows. First was a site I worked on, second was a site that a friend worked on and discussed with me.

1) 2006. Site had cruddy link profile (but then so did all in the niche). Heavy keyword repetition, small site, less then 10 pages.

Content on the site changed; text headers which didn't contain the keyword were replaced by images. -950. Rolled out the previous version and the site popped back in.

Conclusion: driving the KWD beyond the acceptable on the page pushed the site over the line. Moving forward we switched link-building terms completely also to balance the link profile. No further problems.

2) 2009. Site had fairly weak link profile, was not excessively optimised in my view. 200 directory links purchased overnight on two closely-related terms by the business owner, -950'd just for those terms. Deoptimisation of the site and urgent work to get quality links has meant a partial recovery, but at the moment the site is not yet quite back to where it was.

Conclusion: overuse of anchor text from low quality link sources.
11:41 pm on Feb 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I removed all of that anchor text last night and I noticed a drop in rankings this morning. I re-linked the text this morning and my previous rankings have returned. So it sounds like I took de-optimization too far. I really feel like I'm walking the Google tightrope between user experience, optimization for rankings, and avoidance of over-optimization for penalties.

To clarify, over-optimization penalties come into play when a particular page has too great a keyword density, either inside anchor text or outside anchor text, correct? Are keywords inside anchor text more of a penalty/over-optimization problem than keywords outside anchor text?

For keywords inside anchor text, it isn't the linked-to page that receives the penalty, but the page on which the links appear, correct?

New plan.

Home page linking to category pages:
I've included the full name of each category in the anchor text.

Category pages linking to sub-category pages:
I've included only the adjective portion of each sub-category name in the anchor text.

Sub-category pages linking to product pages:
I'm not including any anchor text at all. The product names are not linked, but the product images are.

How does that sound? Any critique of this layout?
6:34 pm on Feb 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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over-optimization penalties come into play when a particular page has too great a keyword density, either inside anchor text or outside anchor text

That's what I've seen myself.
Are keywords inside anchor text more of a penalty/over-optimization problem than keywords outside anchor text?

I couldn't say, I've seen one of each case.
For keywords inside anchor text, it isn't the linked-to page that receives the penalty, but the page on which the links appear?

Again, couldn't say, the example I've seen as external anchors not internal.

It's hard to comment on your layout idea without seeing the pages. I think Ted's comments about looking at the pages as a whole and then seeing where certain keywords could be inferred is a good start.

Also, if your rankings returned when you upped to optimisation then perhaps your problem isn't OOP, but just not enough trust for the terms you want to rank on. You might not have any penalty at all.
8:34 pm on Feb 17, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Tonearm you say

"I removed all of that anchor text last night and I noticed a drop in rankings this morning. I re-linked the text this morning and my previous rankings have returned. So it sounds like I took de-optimization too far. I really feel like I'm walking the Google tightrope between user experience, optimization for rankings, and avoidance of over-optimization for penalties. "


I think you're assuming too much cause and effect here, it's hardly ever this simple, nor this fast - make changes at night, see results in the morning, switch back and all sorted again by the afternoon.

i think your rankings would have likely done that anyway if you'd done nothing at all.
3:19 am on Feb 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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How much repetition are we talking about here? Dozens?Hundreds?
8:48 am on Feb 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Is your file path like widgets.com/blue-widgets/light-blue-widgets ? also, do you repeat the keywords in your meta title?
8:57 am on Feb 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I saw such paths: widgets.com/blue-widgets/light-blue-widgets ranking very well in google.
5:50 pm on Feb 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Serenoo: and i have seen such sites getting penalised, i think if you have your main keyword in your root domain, you don't need to repeat it in your category and then subpages!
4:26 am on Feb 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I removed all of that anchor text last night and I noticed a drop in rankings this morning. I re-linked the text this morning and my previous rankings have returned.


I have yet to see any search engine - including the Caffiene infrastructure assess and reposition a website this fast. The drops and rises, although they seem to be coordinated with your actions, are likely unrelated since you are mentioning that the time timeframe literally 24 hours.
2:11 am on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I saw such paths: widgets.com/blue-widgets/light-blue-widgets ranking very well in google.

One of the sites I manage was an alexa 10k with URL patha like the above and was doing very well until Florida and BD.

I too had to revert to widgets.com/12457.html and wrote a rec request few months ago, when the site lost 90% of traffic over a period of 4 years, I had to act. Now, post December and after about 5 months of that request, it is steadily regaining traffic and higher positions weekly. I pointed out to them the keyword repetition which was giving the site an unfair advantage (amongst a couple of other problems, though lesser in importance in my view) , and I asked them to lift the handicap filter.

Now, it may well be that there was no filter at all or after giving the site a general de-op coupled with the sporadic caffeine results go the site to start picking up. One clue though, which make me think it is a very strong indicator and even a proof, this particular site was totally banned from the Y! index for 4 years, at the same time I wrote one final req request to Y! pointing out the above problem, and bingo, the site which had close to 1m indexed pages in Y! to none for 4 years, appeared after 6 weeks from that. With Y!, I tried over 6 requests, G* the same but always had the links as they were (widgets.com/blue-widgets/light-blue-widgets-12345.html), the last request to both of them I reverted to pre-Florida URL path structure, the site is in Y! and gaining more and more indexed pages and a similar story with G*.

B*ing also improving, however, this particular site needs another 6-9 months to completely regain its 100% traffic level at this rate, but I am not bitter!

Maybe webmasters with such optimization do well for a year or two then get handicapped with a filter, I feel strongly that I was caught in such a web of SEO boom (as in spider web, not the www, or did I)

How's that as food for thought!
9:50 am on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I saw it many times ranking well. Probably it is like you are saying: after 1 or 2 years it will be penalized. But I see very old websites with that path that rank in the top 10. My opinion is that if you own an old, authoritative website you can build all the paths you wish.
3:02 pm on Feb 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I'm considering de-linking all of my site's anchor text that is duplicated by an adjacent image link to see if I get released from a penalty.


H2: Combining adjacent image and text links for the same resource
[W3.org...]

You have an ecommerce site huh? And lot's of products being displayed? It sounds like you have an HTML structure that is not conducive to a clean indexing. When I say clean, I mean free from all the duplication, triplication, etc?

The above link provides information about this particular issue. It is bad practice to saturate links in one particular area, at least that has been my finding. For example, if you're using tables and have an image, title, description clustered together and links from each (3 total), you're saturated and most likely not getting the full benefit that you should.