Over recent weeks we have seen an acceleration of the trends which people have been reporting since the middle of 2012, where the value of links to a site are changing dramatically.
Google seems to have decided that by using multiple algorithms at the same time to help determine the correct order in which to present search results, it will create a better end user experience and consequently we are seeing a significant amount of variability in the index since the start of 2013.
The upshot of this is that the SERPS have been extremely volatile since just before Christmas last year and a quick look at Mozcast at any point in the last three months has shown considerable turbulence in the SERPS.
The main changes we’ve noted appear to be as follows;
- Multiple links from a single source are being discounted or penalised
- Previously benign links are now being reclassified as toxic and harming rankings
- Any link that appears manipulative in any way is starting to attract penalties
- Links from higher PR sites (5 and above) are being regarded by Google as suspicious
- Over optimised anchor text is enough to attract a penalty
- Any site with more links to its core keywords than its brand is regarded as suspicious
- Paid links from any sites which do not contain an ‘no follow’ attribute will mean a penalty (see Interflora for a great example of this)
We have recently had experience of sites dropping in rankings and being penalised for their backlink profiles, many of these links having been in place for many years; in some cases over seven years. This effectively means that a major part of the work we are now obliged to do is to help clean up any previously created links which might now be regarded by Google as suspicious.
Now we know that in all of this Google is simply trying to enforce its Webmaster Guidelines, but the problem with this is that by doing it algorithmically they are making sweeping assumptions about sites and penalising good sites as well as bad sites. As a consequence the rankings are extraordinarily volatile at the moment and we expect to see an acceleration of this over the coming months.
The future of all this is of course speculative however we expect the following to hold true in the coming months;
- Backlink profiles on every site will come under greater scrutiny
- Genuine links from relevant and/or related sites in the sector will be of value
- Quality links will start to out rank quantity
- Directory sites will be largely worthless unless they are specific to the niche in which your site operates
- Articles will add value but they need to add to the sum of human knowledge and not simply be a rehash of something previously published
- Brand name anchor text on links will be crucial and add more value than exact match terms
- Press releases designed specifically to generate links will become worthless – a press release will need to be genuinely newsworthy.
- On page and on site content will become even more important, as will site usability.
- High site and page bounce rate, when coupled with low dwell times will be seen as a sign that your site does not meet user expectations and will result in a drop in the rankings
- Co citation will increase in importance (your brand name and website being mentioned in the same sentence as what you do on a third party site, but NOT with any physical links back to your site).
Of course we may be wildly off the mark with some or all of these but the signs appear to be there that some of these are already happening. Is this the future? Is this the end for SEO companies? We don’t know but watch this space for updates.