I’m not sure when the switch was made, but Google have changed their “link schemes” webpage (in the Webmaster Guidelines).
There are a few interesting points that have been added (and some removed), but one in particular no-no that I thought I should bring your attention to is this:
“Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links”
Well we all knew that we had to be careful with article marketing, but the guest posting bit will come as a shock to many.
Guest posting is basically where you create content and offer it to other websites in exchange for a link(s) back to your website.
Now, let me say one thing up-front. I do not believe that Google are trying to penalize guest posters. After all, writing for other leading websites in your niche is a good thing, right? Getting your well-written content on other websites to boost your reputation and authority in a niche is what we should all be striving for.
No. What Google are trying to stop is the “unnatural” way that guest posters typically link back to their site, that is, with optimized anchor text.
When it comes to optimized anchor text, it’s not just guest posts that are under the spotlight, it’s every type of link on every type of webpage. Google hate keyword optimized anchor text, wherever it is.
You can see that further down the “link schemes” page where they point out other violations of their guidelines:
Those keyword rich anchor texts in the screenshot are the problem. Why on earth would a webpage naturally link to a totally separate domain using anchor text of “wedding rings”, “wedding”, “best ring”, “buy flowers” or “wedding dress”, unless of course the domains they linked to were the number 1 authority on those topics? If these were internal links to pages on the same site, they might make more sense.
In this video with Matt Cutts, he says exact match anchor text used in internal linking doesn’t typically cause problems for a site.
So, the big problem then is using exact match anchor text in any link pointing at your site from an external domain.
I know what you are thinking. If this is true, then how can you rank for specific keywords?
Well, Google don’t want you to be able to rank for terms of your choice!
Google want to decide whether to rank your page, and what it should rank for, based on their algorithmic factors.
I know there are a lot of grey/black hat SEOs still preaching the virtues of exact match anchor text, and to be honest, it can still work well if not over-done, but I do believe that Google will continue to tighten their tolerance levels to this type of “unnatural” link. If you think this is unlikely, read “Study Finds Google’s Penguin Update Getting Stricter Over Time”.
If you want to be on the right side of present and future algorithm changes, I think it’s time to abandon exact match anchor text in links pointing to your site, and build up your site/author authority. If Google know you are an expert in your niche, they’ll rank your content higher. At least that is where I think Google are trying to head.