As you probably already know Google has released Google Panda 3.3 on February 2012 along with 40 other search quality changes. I mentioned some of those changes on my recent rankings drop post and one of the most important changes and probably the one that is responsible for the massive de-indexing of blog networks and many people losing their rankings is the one about link evaluation.
Here is exactly what Google said about it:
Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.
Google only said that they turned off a method of link analysis that they used for several years but they didn’t say exactly what it is. I read what was in my opinion the best explanation to what Google really turned off and I decided to share it with you here as I’m sure you might find it very useful. The article was originally written in Hebrew by Shimon Diament, a project manager at SEO Israel. I asked for his permission to translate parts of his article and share them with you and he gladly agreed.
The truth is that when Google announces on their official blog that “We have changed the way in which we evaluate links” many SEOers are running in frenzy thinking the world has come to an end before they really take the time to sit and analyze what Google really said. So lets analyze what Google said and try to figure out what is really going on.
First, Google admits that they often use certain link characteristics to better understand the content of the linked page. What link characteristics can help Google understand what the content on the linked page is about? A Link or backlink has two important characteristics: the link method(href, JS, Flash) and the anchor text.
So now we know that Google used the anchor text in order to better understand the content of the page it was linking to. Please note that not only the Title, Description, Headings and Content of the page determined what the page is about but also the anchor text that was used to link to that page. If we would paraphrase from web pages to people, we can say that in order to understand who you are, it isn’t enough to hear what you say about yourself (Title, Description, Headings and Content) but also what others say about you (Anchor Text).
The truth is that Google reliance on anchor text has caused them some problems in the past. I’m sure you would recall the following Google bombing cases: Adobe Reader site being ranked number one for the term “click here” because that was the anchor text used on links in millions of pages directing to the download page of the Adobe Reader. And the much more funny case of the search term “Miserable failure” and President Bush.
Google’s latest update, and here we get to the second sentence of their bombastic statement, announces that from now on, a method used by Google for years to evaluate links will disappear:
We are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years.
And the method is the weight given to anchor text to understand the subject of the page to which it links to. It seems that from now on, Google will not rely (completely or partially) on anchor text in order to evaluate what the linked page is about and for what key phrases it should rank for. So the question most would ask is what will Google rely on instead? The answer would be the title, description and the content itself. Google actually implied about such a change 4 months ago on their blog when they said the following:
Better page titles in search results by de-duplicating boilerplate anchors: We look at a number of signals when generating a page’s title. One signal is the anchor text in links pointing to the page. We found that boilerplate links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant, so we are putting less emphasis on these. The result is more relevant titles that are specific to the page’s content.
Google announced that it will show better titles by reducing the effect anchor text had on them (for those that didn’t know, Google did use the anchor text of links along with the title tag of the page in order to determine the title shown on the SERPs).
Before you jump into conclusions and say that Google simply decided to take search back 10 years when they evaluated pages based only on their title and description tags you should read carefully what they announced 4 months ago:
We look at a number of signals when generating a page’s title […] The result is more relevant titles that are specific to the page’s content.
Meaning that the relevancy between the page content and its title tag will determine which title will be presented in the search results. If by Google calculations the title tag is accurate to the page content it will display it, and if not, it will determine a more appropriate title to the page content. Google isn’t interested in displaying “marketing” type of titles that draw attention and raise CTR if those titles are not accurately summarizing what the page is about.
How Does This All Relate to Rankings and SEO Work?
Very simple. Understanding the content of the page and choosing the title of that page will determine for what key phrases that page will rank in the search results. If we would summarize now the link evaluation update that caused the big stir in the SEO world, we could say that:
Google announced this month that it will stop the use of anchor text in understanding the content of the linked page. In addition, Google has recently announced that it stopped using anchor text when determining the title of pages. From now on, Google will rely on page content analysis in order to better determine what the page is about and what title should be displayed for it in the SERPs.
The conclusion for link building is that what you will use for anchor text will not change what Google thinks about the page and therefore will not determine or have any effect on that page rankings for the phrase used as anchor text. It doesn’t matter how many links we will build with “SEO” as anchor text, the ranking of the page that we are linking all those “SEO” links to will not change in Google.
Keep in mind that we are only talking about the anchor text of the link and not the link itself! Google have made no claim that outbound links have stopped promoting the linked pages. The only claim Google made is that it no longer matters what anchor text we will use for those links.
That’s it. Now you decide if this is indeed the most important search quality update by Google in recent years.
I sure hope I was able to translate the article the best way possible and do it justice. As I mentioned earlier, it seemed to me when I read this article that it was the best explanation for what Google meant (not that anyone really knows) about the link evaluation update they announced recently and I do think it makes sense although I personally don’t really believe they turned anchor text off and that they would ignore it completely. I find it hard to believe they would simply turn such an important factor off but it does have its flaws and in general, I do think anchor text lost some of its power and will keep losing it in the coming future, with or without any announcement from Google.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree with Shimon? Do you think anchor text has been turned off by Google? Do you think that they turned off something else? Do you think it is the single most important search quality update of recent years? Where do you see link building and SEO going from here? Do you think all the hype and hoopla about this link evaluation update is justified? Please share your thoughts by commenting below. Every comment would be great appreciated .
To you success (and mine ),