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If you’re wondering why this title sounds familiar, it’s because this blog post is meant to supplement Rand Fishkin’s recent Whiteboard Friday about 6 basic changes every SEO should make before Google’s new algorithm is rolled out. As always, Google is very vague about what changes they’re going to make which leaves us with many unknowns and what ifs.

What we do know is that the “over-optimization penalty” could be caused by manipulative on-site optimization techniques that bait the search engines, instead of serving the site user. Rand does a great job of outlining six main onsite elements you’re going to want to revise in the near future, which include: keyword stuffed title tags, spammy or manipulative internal linking, link filled footers with exact match anchor text keywords, keyword-filled content blocks, backlinks from penalty-likely sources (i.e. link networks, reciprocal linking, etc) and individual pages with content/keywords that only slightly vary. Rand covered the onsite, now let’s cover the offsite.

Six Red Flags to Look for in your Link Portfolio

To review these six flags, you’re going to want to look at your OpenSiteExplorer.org link data. Once your data has loaded, review the following steps, as they are the most used, manipulated and abused.

  1. Exact-Match Anchor Text:
    Link building with exact match anchor text worked in the past, and it will certainly work in the future but to what extent is unknown. This element of link building certainly isn’t exempt from the term “everything in moderation”, but “moderation” is about to be redefined by Google. The ratio from exact match terms, to branded terms, to phrase match terms, to URL terms will probably be changing, so an auditing of your most used anchor text is needed.

    Take for example the image below of a certain review website’s most used anchor text on their homepage. Of the 335 links to this page, only 8 different anchor texts are being used. Even more extreme than that, 1 keyword takes up 66% of all anchor texts in all links. Every page is going to have several terms that are used more than most, but I wouldn’t want an individual keyword taking up more than 10-15% of all links. Having 5-7 keywords take up 60% of all links and the rest of the 40% completely unique variations would be (in my opinion) a solid strategy.

  2. Linking from Questionable Sources:
    Look through your links and identify any links pages, foreign pages or adult websites. If you’ve hired a rogue SEO company instead of a reputable one, I wouldn’t be surprised to see links like this. If you do have an excessive amount of links like the ones mentioned, you may want to contact those webmasters to get them removed. Outweighing them with quality links (as we will discuss) will probably be the best plan.
  3. Mass Article Networks/Directories:
    In the export of your OSE link data, filter the website title or URL column with a text filter of “article” or “directories”. By doing this, it will quickly give you a good idea of how many links you have that are most likely coming from article networks or general directories. Compare these links to the overall link count. Are half of your links from spammy sources? Two-thirds? Nearly all? This is going to be a major ranking factor as Google has already become aggressive enough to completely deindex BuildMyRank.com’s network and many others. Hopefully these two link building techniques haven’t been your priority.
  4. Distribution of Links Across Pages:
    The key to link building is to keep everything natural. If there is anything that just doesn’t look organic from the search engines perspective, you’re doing it wrong. If you have a product website, make sure you’ve established the focus products, but don’t ignore others. The homepage is naturally going to have the most links, so if a category page two levels deep has 4x more links than any other page, something could look fishy. To look up your distribution of links, go to the “Top Pages” tab in OSE.
  5. Consistent Domain/Page Authority of Backlinks:
    For the second time, everything in moderation! A normal looking backlink profile has high, medium and low quality links, so if you’re only building links on one end of the spectrum, this could trip a red flag with Google since it’s uncommon. View the “Inbound Links” tab to see the domain and page authority of these pages that are linking to your pages.
  6. Frequency of Link Building:
    This audit requires the use of Majestic SEO’s backlink history checker, not OSE. The reason why the frequency of link building can be concerning is because if you build links in spurts, it can look unnatural. Websites that obtain ~50,000 links every month get them every day, not the first week of the month in a huge push. Again, make this look natural and perform continual link building. If you have the budget to drastically increase your SEO efforts, ease into it; don’t build hundreds of links overnight.

Link Building Methods That Caused This

As with everything in SEO, you need to adapt or die. If all you’re looking for is the quick win with the least amount of effort possible, you’re constantly going to be chasing rankings with elementary, spammy link build methods. Here are five link building techniques that need to be used as little as possible, if at all.

  1. Article Spinning:
    {Pumping|Putting} {out|available} {50+|fifty+|50 plus} {articles|content articles} {from one|from just one} {original| authentic} {article|post } {doesn’t|does not} {mean|imply } {you’re|you are} {giving|offering} {unique content|original unique content} {towards the|for the} {search engines|search engine listings}.If you don’t understand what’s above, give yourself a pat on the back. If you do, delete your spinning software and keep reading.
  2. Article Networks:
    This link building method may fix itself over time as Google deletes more article networks from their index, since they are obviously in violation of Google’s terms and conditions. Article networks aren’t the answer people, keep moving.
  3. Links Pages:
    If you have a page in your navigation that says “Links”, get rid of it! And if you are searching Google for [INDUSTRY] “Links”, stop it and erase your history just for good measure.
  4. Reciprocal Linking:
    This goes hand in hand with the links pages, but this method is just too easy to track and it’s time in the spotlight was up five years ago. This includes 3-way, 4-way and whatever other way you enjoy linking.
  5. Link Purchasing:
    Sadly this technique isn’t going to go away since it works, but it’s just not worth the risk. Your money to buy these links is better spent on employees to work on the good stuff mentioned below. Yea, I’m talking to you JCPenney, we haven’t forgotten.

Link Building that Actually Helps your Link Portfolio

If what you found in the above link building audit is concerning, or if you’ve received a warning via Webmaster Tools, it’s time to start building links via quality content that people and robots alike will enjoy. Here are five of my favorites.

  1. Guest Blog Posting:
    Whether you are requesting content or wanting to give yours away for a link, guest blog posting is a white-hat link strategy that serves more purposes than to boost your rankings, it’s actually good engaging content! MyBlogGuest.com, GuestBlogPoster.com and BloggerLinkUp.com are three excellent places to start building your brand, name and links.
  2. Infographics/Viral Pieces:
    If you haven’t gotten on the infographic bandwagon, it’s finally time. Putting some thought, creativity and work into a quality infographic can land you on industry websites relatively easy. At the very least, it’s an easy way to get on graphic websites like InfographicHub.com and VisialLoop and typically, those types of websites will even spread your content on social sites.
  3. Building Tools:
    This link building method is the hardest, but it can have incredible returns on links. By building a tool that people can embed on their websites, you save them time and give their users an answer to their problems. The easiest example that comes to mind is having a mortgage calculator that real estate agents can then embed on their personal sites. Brilliant, right?
  4. Press Releases:
    This is one link building strategy that has been used and even abused for a long time, but it seems to be pretty easy for the search engines to sort through the nonsense. There are several press release distribution websites, just give it a quick search. Also, make sure what you are publishing in a press release is actually news worthy, not a minor change at your company or something completely made up.
  5. Social Media:
    Who knew that talking to people and building relationships could turn into a link? To combine this method with guest blog posting, I’d check out Ethan Lyon’s post on how to use Twitter to obtain guest posts. I’ve personally used it and have loved it! Get involved with those that are within your industry and start being a resource of knowledge. Also, check out this Whiteboard Friday on the topic for more ideas.

Hopefully the OSE audit, the link building that needs to go and the link building that needs to stay has helped you identify what you need to change before Google lays down their rank-destroying hammer. Remember people, everything in moderation and let’s start using some of these white-hat link building methods.

I know there are other link building methods out there that work, and that the search engines will actually like. Don’t just close this tab in your browser, comment below and tweet @seocom while using the hashtag #WhiteHatTips and share your favorite white-hat link building method and I’ll credit your advice in this blog post.