What’s the biggest problem with finding answers to your SEO questions?
Opinions. Specifically conflicting ones.
And the deeper you go down the rabbit hole with your research, the more differing opinions you’ll be likely to encounter. It’s a fundamental problem caused by:
- The fact that nobody knows exactly how Google’s algorithm ranks web pages
- The fact that the algorithm is constantly changing and improving (what works today might not work tomorrow)
At Ahrefs, we’re not in the business of SEO consulting, but we are regularly asked all kinds of SEO related questions by our customers and, naturally, try and give at least a few reliable pointers. So in this article I’d like to do a brief recap of some of the most common questions that came our way during 2015 and how we answered them.
1. Should I Build “Anchor Text” Links?
This isn’t just a question that we’ve been asked a lot, it’s one we’ve been asking a lot, too. So we decided to run a research study to find out the answer.
We chose a sample size of 16,000 random keywords and collected the top 20 Google positions for each of them. We then researched the backlink data of each page, to see if the exact match keyword or partial match keyword was present in the anchor text of incoming links.
Here are the results:
Clearly exact match anchor text links do correlate with high rankings.
But we decided to take the study a step further.
From the original 16,000 keywords, we ran a filter to pick out only those keywords where the top 5 results’ UR (Ahrefs’ URL Rank) had standard deviation less than 30% of their average value. In other words, we wanted to exclude the influence of a powerful backlink profile and only focus on the effect of anchor text links.
The resulting sample was reduced to 2k keywords based on these criteria, and here’s what we saw:
Exact match anchors still positively correlate with rankings, but less so than partial match anchors.
So the answer to this burning question: yes, you should definitely be building anchor text rich links if you are able to do it in a white hat way.
2. Should I Look for Bad Links and Disavow Them?
Should you monitor your backlinks to keep an eye on bad links coming your way? Absolutely! Especially if you have outsourced your link building to a company or a freelancer.
The most common reason for getting your site penalized is a poor link building choice from an SEO agency.
Should you file a disavow request once you see some bad links coming your way? No. Unless you got a sternly worded email from Google telling you that you need to, in which case, you should go and take care of that immediately.
But you do still need to remove them. That is what Google tells you to do:
“First and foremost, we recommend that you remove as many spammy or low-quality links from the web as possible. […] In most cases, Google can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most normal or typical sites will not need to use this tool.”
Here are two simple ways to do that:
- Reach out to the linking site: Simply send the site owner an email asking for the link to be removed. Save the email as a template so you can re-use it in the future to save time.
- 404 the page: If you can’t get the site owner to remove the link you can just 404 the page the bad links are pointing to. If you do choose this option, then make sure to check if there were any quality sites which were also linking to the page and if so, ask them to update their link and point it to a replacement URL.
3. Does Keyword Research Still Make Sense?
It looks like Google is slowly but steadily making the “Build your site/page/business around these keywords” approach more and more obsolete.
So should you still care about keyword research or just settle with the “build your site for humans, not the search engines” mantra?
I’d say you do both.
Keyword research will still give you a pretty accurate idea of what people are searching for and what kind of search volume you can expect if you rank high for that term.
But when creating your content around these keywords you should think much further than just putting 500 words on the page and using your target keyword in the title and headline.
These days “meeting searcher’s intent” is becoming a ranking factor that is almost as strong as having a keyword in the title of your page.
You may still have reasonable control of selected “short tail” keywords, but you have absolutely no control over dozens of longer tail keywords that this same page may rank for.
Providing stellar user experience is the only thing you can do here.
4. Should I Make My Website Mobile-Friendly?
Yes. This one is an absolute no-brainer.
The exact same site will have two separate rankings for mobile and desktop, and Google has been pretty forthcoming about the fact that they give a lot of privilege to sites that are mobile-friendly.
Not only is adopting a mobile friendly approach better for your overall SEO, it’s also better for you as a business.
This year we passed the tipping point where millions of people are using mobiles over desktops. This means going mobile isn’t just important, it’s essential.
5. Should I Hire an SEO or Try to Figure it on My Own?
This is a tricky question to answer, because there are a lot of factors that come into play.
Website owners usually ask this question for two reasons:
- They’re not sure if they will be able to figure it out on their own;
- They’re afraid of scammers, who will charge a lot of money for little to no result.
Here’s my best suggestion for people who find themselves in this situation:
First of all, dig as deep as you can for yourself. A lot of SEO is nothing but common sense and if you’re using a popular CMS such as WordPress to run your website, you’ll discover that basic optimization is no rocket science.
Secondly, use your knowledge to hire someone who won’t scam you. Scammers prey on the SEO illiterate. However, if you know what a PBN is and that “full SEO audit of your site” may mean nothing more than the exported results of some crawl report tool – the chances to scam you are pretty much 0. Use common sense and research your options before diving in.