The Google Penguin update has again changed the way the Google ranks pages, with link anchor diversity appearing as one of the key factors in the new paradigm. One question that arises among online marketers is how to integrate brand mentions into the new link anchor diversity equation?
Ever since the earlier Google Panda update, website owners have scrambled to increase the diversity of their backlinks anchors. The search engine optimisation community did not exactly greet the Penguin update warmly, but they have no choice but to adapt to the new changes.
Link anchor diversity
The anchor text of an internal or external link has been an important factor for search engine rankings as the text helps search engines to determine the overall theme, or meme, associated with the web page. Technology such as latent semantic indexing (LSI) helps in this regard. In order to help improve search results, web marketers in the past sought to “load” links, particularly backlinks, with targeted keywords.
However, in an effort to reduce the amount of spam-based results in their search engine results pages (SERPs), Google began issuing penalties to sites for lack of diversity starting with the Google Panda update. The latest Penguin changes place emphasis on diversity in the link anchor text.
One common practice in the past was for websites to offer ready-made links to pages in order to encourage backlinks from visitors. While these links are completely legitimate, because they all use the same anchor text, it is difficult for search engines to distinguish them from spam.
What Google does now is either devalue links where the link anchor text repeats too often, or in extreme cases, issue a penalty against the site, as in the case of negative SEO. The new algorithm instead looks for links that are more “natural” especially when they occur within normal textual content (contextual links) rather than in the typical advertisement or link format.
Of course, these changes created problems for websites that had done nothing wrong, but which had many of the “bad” links with repeating anchor text. These sites had to come up with strategies to convince the linking pages to change their anchor text.
Tools like Open Site Explorer help website owners and online marketers track down all of their backlinks, but the work in making these changes is very tedious. On the other hand, adapting campaigns to ensure that future incoming links have diverse anchor text is much easier.
In the early days, brand building was not as important in web marketing as more basic keyword-based SEO. However, with the evolution of search engine algorithms, factors like topicality and branding have become increasingly relevant in the quest for top rankings.
The evidence points to search engines giving brand names some additional “juice” when it comes to placement on SERPs. While many people believe this is unfair, since brand recognition does not always equate to quality, it is nonetheless another reality that web marketers must accept. Brands of all sizes, including SME’s, can benefit from links using their brand name as the anchor.
A “brand mention” is simply an instance when someone mentions your brand name on social media or on another website. The brand mention does not have to be in link anchor text although there is some disagreement as to whether unlinked brand mentions have any direct impact on SEO, thus leaving linked brand mentions as being the preferred choice. Of course, unlinked brand mentions can help in building up general brand recognition, but these are more for building human awareness and social media referring traffic and not directly an SEO benefit for organic search rankings directly.
The idea behind giving juice to brand names stems from the search engines objective to provide improved “real world” results. Since people tend to search for brand names when they go out to shop, the idea is that search engines should also give preference to these brands in online search.
Presently, brand mention quantity is a key factor, i.e., getting as many brand mentions as possible across a wide network of sources. Many web marketers mainly work on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ in their brand mention campaigns, though of course LinkedIn can be of some (albeit declining) importances as can sites like Pinterest, Digg and Stumbleupon.
Social media is not the only source of brand mentions. When creating content as blog guest posts, social bookmarks, forum posts and signatures, web 2.0 mini-sites, press releases, and so on, using the brand name, or a derivative/combination thereof, is a great way to convey the importance of the brand in relation to the information contained in the post, bookmark, site or story.
Integrating brand mentions and link anchor diversity
Experts seem to agree that the best type of brand mention is one that occurs as part of link anchor text. However, the problem here is that you have to remember the importance of diversity in building such links.
On social media, in most cases, you cannot add links to text updates. Twitter makes hashtags into links, but these are links within Twitter itself. Therefore, the links are almost always in the form of URLs.
On other website content, link anchor text offers more opportunities. The trick is to avoid using the brand name alone as the anchor text 100% of the time as this will create too much duplication. Instead, you can combine the brand with other text to create a more natural randomness to the anchor text.
Of course, the link anchor text does not need to include the brand name at all times, but rather a recommended 40% of the time, following the Carbide 40-20-40 rule. Simply put, 40% of link anchors should be brand mentions, 20% fluff (like click here, learn more, or the URL itself), and 40% keyword related matches.
Be sure you are using brand mentions, at a proper ratio, and that you keep diversity in mind when conducting your next link building campaign.