Take Control Of Your Link Building and Avoid The Google Penguin

by Chris · 28 comments

Google Penguin

When the first Google Penguin update struck back in April, many of us were hit by the anchor text over-optimization penalty. All that work that we put into link building for the past couple of years, actually ended up biting us in the ass.

Gone are the days where ranking in the top spots required 50-70% of our anchor text links to be using our targeted keyword.

Now, any keywords at that level now are no doubt stuck in Google purgatory.

It makes sense too. Over-optimized anchor text is just too big a footprint that can be easily flagged by the Google algorithms.

To survive in this new SEO landscape, you need to be building your links in a more natural way. This means you need to carefully plan what anchor text you are using for your links, in order to craft a better anchor text profile.

So how do you know what a good anchor text profile looks like versus a bad one?

Well, I’m going to show you how. In my last post, I talked about using my newly created (and free) Link Classifier tool to look at the backlink profile of any site.

In this post though, I am going to demonstrate how you can use the updated version of Link Classifier script to check out the anchor text profile of any site as well.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to do is to download and upload the Link Classifier on your web hosting account. It can be placed on any domain that you have available. Or if you only have a single domain, then you can add it to a subdomain instead.

Next, you’ll need to get a list of backlinks for the site you want to analyze. I’m currently a big fan of Ahrefs, but MajesticSEO and Open Site Explorer work fine as well.

Using Ahrefs To Get Your Backlinks

For each of these, you just need to specify a url you are and it will return you a list of backlinks to that page which you can then download as a csv file and open up in Excel.

Alternatively, you can use the free Google Webmaster Tools, but this only works for getting backlinks for the sites you own.

Quick sidenote. With any of these services you will want to clean up your links a bit since they often return duplicate urls from the same site. If you are using Ahrefs, I recommend using the option to return 1 url per site. Otherwise, head over to Urlutils.com to clean up your url list before inputting them into Link Classifier.

Once you have your backlinks, put them and your target url into the Link Classifier and give the script several minutes to finish.

When it complete’s you will see something like this:

Link Classifier - Anchor Text Profile

Examining the Anchor Text Profiles Of Authority Sites

So how do you use Link Classifier most effectively?

First, analyze the sites that are authorities in your niche. These are the sites that people link to naturally, because they produce great content or are well known brands. For SEO, this might be a site like SEOMoz. In the blogging space, a site like Problogger and Copyblogger fit the bill. Looking at these site’s will give you a good idea of what a natural link building profile looks like.

When doing this, avoid looking at backlinks pointing to the root domain (ie. http://problogger.net). Since the root domain will often target many different and varied keywords, this will skew your results. Instead, it is most effective to look at the backlinks for inner pages on the site, which only target a couple specific keywords.

The free way to do this is to just search on Google for a handful of popular keyword terms in your niche. Then comb through the results and note down any authority sites you see from the listings.

Alternatively, if you use Ahrefs, then use their Organic Keywords feature to see what keywords a site is ranking for. SEMRush is also good for this as well. Look for any relatively high traffic keyword, that points to an inner page on their site.

Ahrefs organic keywords

Examining the Anchor Text Profiles Of Penalized Sites

Another way to use Link Classifier is to look at your own sites that have already been penalized by the over-optimization penalty. I’ve been doing this with my own sites and it is the best way to pinpoint the link building methods that I’ve been using that no longer work anymore.

Hopefully you are using some sort of Rank Tracking software to track the

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rankings of your important keywords. From there, you can figure out which keywords were hit and which were not.

Then use Link Classifier to analyze both sets of keywords (penalized and non penalized) and compare the anchor text profiles of each. With enough data points, you will be able to figure out an approximate exact match % that is triggering the Google Penguin penalty for keywords on your site.

Recovering from The Over-Optimization Penalty

With the data that you have collected from Link Classifier, you will now have a clearer idea of what a natural anchor text distribution looks like. One thing to notice is that anchor text can be broken down into categories.

Exact Match – The anchor text for a link matches the exact keyword that you are targeted.

Phrase Match – The anchor text for the link contains not only the keyword you are targeting, but other keywords as well.

Branded – The anchor text contains the name of your blog or it’s url.

Generic – The anchor text consists of keywords like ‘Click here’, ‘visit this page’, and ‘read this post’.

Other – With any popular page, you will also find anchor text links that are completely unrelated to the page.

If a keyword has been penalized, then you have too many exact match anchor text links with that keyword pointing back to your site.

I won’t give an exhaustive list of link building tips here, but guest posting, article & web 2.0 marketing, blog commenting are still viable methods that anyone can do. When you use these methods, keep your anchor text profile in mind and dilute it by using Branded, Phrase and Generic anchor text links.

From my own testing, branded links need to make up the majority of your anchor text profile.

Final Thoughts

To recover from any Google Penguin over-optimization penalties to your keywords, you first need to identify the anchor text profile of the pages on your site. And the free Link Classifier is the perfect tool to help you do that.

While I could tell you what I think the optimal anchor text mix should be, you will have better results if you figure out this out for yourself, in your own niche. So install a copy of Link Classifier on your web server, and come up with a plan to stay away from that angry Google Penguin.

Google Penguin image source

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron August 16, 2012 at 5:56 am

Hi Chris, I really enjoyed this latest post! My site was deeply affected by the Google Penguin update back in April and it still hasn’t recovered yet. I’ve lost a huge percentage of my revenue because of it.

I downloaded your Link Classifier script and tried installing it, but I’m having a problem with it. When I input my backlinks and hit the Classify Links button, it doesn’t seem to do anything. The progress bar just seems to sit there at 0% for a long time. Do you know what’s wrong? I’m currently using Hostgator.
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Chris August 16, 2012 at 6:01 am

Hi Ron. Oh yeah, I experienced this problem with Hostgator as well. The problem is with Hostgator’s mod_security settings.

What you need to do is use their Live Chat and tell their technical support that you would like them to “whitelist your domain for mod_security”. By domain I mean the url where you installed the Link Classifier script. Once they do that, you should be good to go!

Ron August 16, 2012 at 6:02 am

Thanks Chris, that worked!
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Sarah Harper April 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Hi Chris,

It sounds to me a great tool. I was having the same issue as Ron facing. But after contacting with Hostgator support, it has been resolved. Thanks for help tip too.
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Freddy August 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Hi, I`m a newbie so sometimes i find all the help and advice out there a bit too overwhelming, luckily I haven`t been hit by the Google Penguin thing but i´m sure it`ll rear it`s ugly head again or something similar will strike in the future, thanks for your help here.


Ana Hoffman August 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Sounds like a great tool, Chris – it’s wonderful that you have the kind of technical skills required for a “I need it, so I build it” person.

The rest of us just reap the benefits. lol
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Chris August 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Thanks Ana! If you get a chance to try it, I’d love to get your thoughts on how to make it better. :)

Elena Anne August 22, 2012 at 1:55 am

I’m like Freddie, sometimes technological information is overwhelming for me but i always appreciate blogs like this because i learn from them.
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Suzanne August 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm

One of my sites was badly affected by one of the updates. I’ve done some clean up and some pages have recovered, but traffic is nothing like it was. The part of this post that helps me most is the classification of links – exact match, branded etc. My problem was that my branded name was the same as the key words “mini business plan.” I am still learning – that’s why I’m here. Thank you, Suzanne
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Devesh September 4, 2012 at 7:40 am

Sounds like a fantastic tool, Chris. I really like the work you’ve been doing here and at JustRetweet.

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Ted September 5, 2012 at 5:40 am

I have been breaking up my inbound link profiles for some time now. I still had some older, well performing, sites hit by the Penguin though. It just reinforced my decision to trend away from using too many exact match anchors. There are other things you can do with your site to help cheat your rankings higher other than anchor text anyway. People have just been too hung up on anchor text because it became easy once you had access to easy sources of links.
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neha September 10, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Really! I Impressed with you Chris. Sounds just like a great and fantastic tools. It’s wonderful that you have the kind of technical skills required for a I need it of this things.Well thanks for sharing this informative post.
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Lee September 16, 2012 at 12:52 am

Hi this tool looks excellent. So all I have to do is download link classifier on to a domain that I own. Sound agreat have bookmarked this post so I can come back and look at it once I have downloaded it.

So thanks great tool lee
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Josh November 15, 2012 at 9:02 am

Looks like a useful tool. I agree that you really have to vary your anchor a lot these days. Your video got me wondering about the types of link ratios as well. Has any of your testing led you to any potential penalties for too high a ration of 1 or a couple link types? Any idea of healthy ratios in this regard?
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AndyT December 2, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I was hit badly by the Penguin update on my very first website, just as it was beginning to build up traffic and revenue. I nearly gave up at that point and ended up ditching the website completely (never completely happy with it to be honest). I have started another one, things are slowly building, so we will see how things go in the next couple of months

I will download link classifier and see how we go….
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Taswir Haider January 26, 2013 at 11:17 am

You have done a great job Chris! I have read the guide. Also thanks for making it free for us.
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Joe Hart January 30, 2013 at 12:38 am

Great tutorial Chris.I also prefere ahrefs, mainly because it shows inbound links which are not listed in Google webmaster tools..I was wondering why webmaster tools is bad at showing live and newly updated links..


Jes February 2, 2013 at 8:09 am

Great post as always. In the past, I made sure that my links are not too optimized (that it may look suspicious, but my rank has dipped so I don’t know what’s wrong. My contents are within my niche (high quality) but SE’s just won’t just put me on number 1.
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James D. February 7, 2013 at 9:08 pm

I am interested in this tool you have posted. I may try it on one of my blog that has been hit by Google update. This is certainly the first step to find out where exactly Google has penalized me. Thanks for sharing this.
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Jessica February 24, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I’ve done some clean up and some pages have recovered, but traffic is nothing like it was. The part of this post that helps me most is the classification of links – exact match, branded etc.


Jessica February 25, 2013 at 3:46 am

Hi!Really! I Impressed with you Chris. Sounds just like a great and fantastic tools.Thanks a lot for your post,,,,,,!


Matt - BPO24hour.com April 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Have to admit Google I find a bit irritating as it changes its mind on a whim, but thanks for the useful post as filtering out where the corporate giant has issues will make it easier to fix.

At the same time I do wonder what is next everytime I hear there is a new update!
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Jessica April 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm

He part of this post that helps me most is the classification of links – exact match, branded etc. My problem was that my branded name was the same as the key words “mini business plan.


QuynhLan June 24, 2013 at 12:06 am

I get a trouble with Google Penguin and now I find your post. Such a amazing tools. I try it and still work! I’m glad to see this post! Very informative once~ Thank you so much
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Helena June 27, 2013 at 1:35 am

We’ve had a drop in rankings since May too, but it’s not catastrophic so always hard to know whether Penguin is the issue. Could spend a lot of time “fixing” that only to find it wasn’t the problem in the first place!
Also I can’t help wondering where this sits in Google’s theoretical plan to provide the best user experience. Surely natural link building will, in many instances, result in a high proportion of similar keywords, pointing to perfectly good sites, which users will now not see. I personally have noticed a lot of poor, spammy sites suddenly appearing on page 1/ 2 which aren’t helping anyone!
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Becky Glass June 30, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Microsite Masters studied thousands of websites to determine if websites that saw decreases in their rankings after the Penguin update had a high percentage of exact match anchor text (target keywords you are trying to rank for in the search results) vs. websites with more diversified and ‘natural’ anchor texts (such as branded keywords, “click here” and other non-target keywords). The results, I’m afraid, were exactly as I had feared. Penalized websites used their target keywords for more than 65% of their anchor text for their inbound links. Note, this may have been a combination of both Penguin and other minor algorithm updates, rather than just Penguin alone.
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Amanda Waters July 16, 2013 at 2:22 am

Ahref is probably the best tool out there! You can spend hours and hours checking your status and you will always find more…
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Indie Game February 6, 2015 at 12:00 pm

This is very interesting, I am doing SEO bad site and I’m taking all these precautions. Yet it is very hard not to fall in the rules of google.


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