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Post-Penguin Anchor Text Case Study

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Posted by Court Tuttle

It's no secret that Google's Panda and Penguin updates caused a lot of panic. SEOs and marketers were FREAKING out and honestly, I got tired of reading about it – I'm sure most of you did too. Although I'm pretty turned off to information about these updates, I've been really interested in the anchor text issues surrounding the Penguin update. If sites that have over-optimized anchors lost traffic due to the update, it seems to make sense that sites can move up with relatively few (or without any) anchored links. I wanted to test that idea and decided that it was time for a good, old fashioned case study.

Designing the Case Study

Instead of trying to sound cool and acting like I designed a super professional case study, I'll just tell you how it really happened. I simply wanted to know if I could take a brand new domain (with no links obviously), and get it to rank for a decently competitive term, in an oft-spammed niche by getting links (mostly non-exact match keyword anchored) from relevant pages of relevant sites.

Finding the Keyword Phrase

So I wanted to use a semi-difficult keyword phrase that was in a spammy niche. That way the case study would be more conclusive. I looked at a lot of different options for keywords – most of them were in the finance vertical and were based on credit cards, loans, or credit. I decided eventually that I would try to find a credit-related keyword. That way, I wouldn't end up with a ranking for a loan or credit card keyword, without being able to provide the actual loan or credit card the searcher was looking for. Credit keywords, on the other hand, are informational in nature and fit better with the content (which is admittedly ghetto right now) I could produce. The phrase I ended up choosing is '650 credit score'. Using the SEOmoz Pro Keyword Difficulty Tool, the phrase has a keyword difficulty score of 50, which is in the range I wanted. It's difficult enough for a good test but not difficult enough to make getting results impossible. Here's what the phrase looks like:

Setting Up the Site

On August 14, 2012, I set up the site on a brand new domain – (not going to link from here because I don't want to compromise the case study). I used WordPress as my CMS and wrote six articles about having a credit score in the 650 range. The content is passable but honestly, not amazing. I do know a lot about credit and have improved my own credit score from under 500 to over 800. I was also personally in the 650 range for a while. On top of that I spoke with a loan officer to get information about getting loans with a 650 score. That said, I didn't take 10 hours to write each of the articles. The site design is horrendous (not my strong point).

I'm fully aware that the site is not the 'ultimate resource' on this topic, in fact I wouldn't be surprised if the site had 'Panda' issues at some point. My bounce rate is ridiculously high. The keyword phrase I'm going after is on the home page twice – once at the top in a heading, and once as a label for the comments. I'm not using spammy linking strategy inside the site. All of my articles are linked to from the sidebar but I've used anchors that don't contain the exact phrase, on purpose.

Linking Strategy

I wanted to get relevant links from sites that either were exclusively about credit or credit scores, or already had a lot of information on one of these topics. I wrote guest posts for sites that I found in the Finance category of PostRunner (a guest-posting community/portal that I co-founded) as the source of all of the links, with the exception of one link that I got from making a cheesy video that I posted on YouTube (not my greatest accomplishment). This link is of course no-followed like all links from YouTube. Here are the anchors for the links that I used in the case study, in the order that I got them:

  1. here
  2. Doctor 650
  3. my site
  4. Dissecting The 650 Credit Score
  5. here
  7. here
  8. (no-followed link from YouTube)
  9. resource on 650 credit scores
  11. clicking here
  13. 650 credit score

As you can see, I got only one exact-match anchored link but I did get three that contain some version of the phrase.

Results of the Experiment

On Oct 6 – 53 days after I 'launched' the site – the site popped up at #4 in Google for '650 credit score'. It also ranks pretty high for a lot of related terms. It has steadily climbed from where I first saw it (in the 80s) without any major jumps. It's moved a few positions at a time, for the most part. I found it interesting that the site seemed to drop a few positions each time I acquired a new link, and would then come back stronger than ever after a few days. As of today, the site ranks #2 (it's been moving up and down between #2 and #4). Here's the ranking analysis from the SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty Tool:

As would be expected, my domain is by far the weakest in the top six, in fact it's the weakest in the top 20. The site only has 13 links and they are from good sites that aren't exceptionally strong.

Probable Conclusions

  • It's possible to positively influence rankings using significantly few exact match anchored links if they are from highly relevant pages on relevant sites.
  • It remains possible to rank for fairly difficult phrases quickly with a brand new domain.

Things I Wish I Had Done Differently

  • I wish I had NOT used the main keyword in any of the links. Now I'm interested in designing a similar case study that doesn't use any exact-match anchored links. My thought process in using one was that this site doesn't have the necessary swag to get some on its own but now I'm wondering where the site would be ranked without that link.
  • I wish that I had not made the YouTube video. I made it mostly because I wanted to see where the video would rank on its own since I know that I could push traffic from the video to the site. But, it's impossible to measure whether the video is affecting the case study and I wish it wasn't there. I considered deleting it, but wanted to leave it there in the spirit of TAGFEE. It was created and I wanted to disclose that.

The Future Of the Case Study

Right now the case study is in a holding pattern. It's still moving up even though it hasn't had any new links since mid-September (that I'm aware of). It might get to #1 on its own but it might not. If it doesn't move up in the next month or so, I'll get a few more links that aren't anchored with keywords. I'm also interested in expanding the site into a more valuable resource, one that can better stand the test of time. To be honest I'm not sure exactly what the searcher who searches for this phrase wants, so I'm going to have to figure that out. If you have ideas that can help me turn this site into a better resource, I'd love to hear them. You and I both know that it needs help.

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