When Paypal's official Web site no
longer ranked #1 in Google on a search for 'paypal,' it
was obvious that Google had become more aggressive in
penalizing sites with 'unnatural' backlink anchor text.
Although the high-profile Paypal example has since been
rectified, thousands of webmasters are suffering the
consequences of not ranking for even their official
company name, let alone their top keywords. It is
important for search engine optimizers to understand both
how anchor text penalties are being applied and how LSI
ensures that anchor text variance will not dilute a link
popularity building campaign.
Anchor Text Penalties
In the past year, webmasters have found that the
aggressive link popularity building tactics that work well
in search engines such as Yahoo! do not fare well in
Google. Google has implemented several features to filter
out sites that appear to have an unnatural backlink
structure; one of these features seems to be specifically
penalizing sites with unnatural backlink anchor text.
It has always been an SEO best practice to use descriptive
anchor text in both external and internal links. But
search engine optimizers have often focused on a single
keyword phrase when choosing anchor text, especially if
their topic has one keyword that receives vastly more
traffic than any secondary keywords. Since good links are
hard to come by, they do not want to 'waste' any of those
backlinks with anchor text that does not contain their
The drawback to this approach is that it can be
interpreted as unnatural by a search engine. A site with
organic, passively-obtained backlinks will have a wide
variety of backlink anchor text variations such as:
'official site title,' 'keyword,' 'keyword synonym,' 'www.thesite.com'
and even 'click here.' If the vast majority of a site's
backlink anchor text is simply 'keyword,' it is obvious to
an algorithm that the link popularity was not obtained
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
Let's now touch upon the myth I mentioned before, that if
a backlink's anchor text does not contain your Web site's
main keyword, its power is wasted. The concept of latent
semantic indexing, which may be more fully implemented by
major search engines in the near future, will prove this
myth to be false.
Latent semantic indexing can help overcome the 'vocabulary
mismatch' problem when a human uses a search engine.
Individual words do not always provide reliable evidence
about the conceptual meaning of a document. For instance,
a Web page that is highly relevant to the term 'laptop'
may never use the term 'notebook,' however it is clear to
a human being that 'notebook' is often used as a synonym
While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss
the mathematics behind LSI, its implications for search
algorithms are simple. LSI can use statistical techniques
to create a semantic analysis for any given query topic.
In practice, this means that a page can be considered
relevant for a particular keyword, even if it does not
contain that keyword. For instance, a page that is
considered relevant for 'laptop' can also be considered
relevant for 'notebook' even if it does not contain the
word 'notebook,' if LSI determines that 'notebook' is
semantically related to 'laptop.'
The principle can be applied to backlinks as well.
Backlinks with anchor text that do not contain your Web
site's main keyword, but instead contain a synonym or
related word, may still be giving your site a bonus for
the main keyword.
Link Popularity Building Best Practice: Vary Your
The recent increase in penalties given to sites with
unnatural backlink anchor text, along with the possible
implementation of LSI, should give webmasters motivation
to vary their backlink anchor text heavily. Rather than
seeking to only obtain links using their main keyword,
webmasters should include synonyms, variations and related
words. Certainly no single keyword variation should be
used the majority of the time; rather, the text of all
links should vary widely, just as they would if the links
were obtained passively. This will ensure a site's
improvement in the SERPs, without drawing a penalty flag.
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