The “Right” Answers to 5 Burning SEO Questions of 2015

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The “Right” Answers to 5 Burning SEO Questions of 2015

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:

The “Right” Answers to SEO Questions of 2015 | SEJ

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:

The “Right” Answers to SEO Questions of 2015 | SEJ

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.

Searchers intent, Personalization, Behavioral factors—all these things seem to be designed with the goal of stealing visitors from your perfectly optimized pages and sending them somewhere else.

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.


Image Credits

Featured image: Gustavo Frazao/
All screenshots by Tim Soulo. Taken December 2015.

Tim Soulo
Tim Soulo is the head of marketing at Ahrefs. He also runs a personal blog called BloggerJet.
Tim Soulo
Tim Soulo
Tim Soulo

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  • Roger Rogerson

    I was expecting to see a “push” piece. I was also getting ready to point out fluff.
    I’m kind of disappointed (which is a darn good thing :D).

    Well done Tim – not only good questions, but more importantly, good answers with solid thinking (I loved the double-check testing, wish more in the SEO field would take it so seriously).

    The whole “keywords” thing is beginning to bug me.
    Okay, I’m lying, it’s been bugging me for ages, but it’s moving from an itch to a burning desire to smack people with a clue-stick.
    Keywords do still matter – but it’s not a simple case of including X and ranking for X and only for X. That changed years ago. G “knows” that X includes X1, X2, X3, and may related to X52, Y17, Y18 and AB859.50-g.
    It’s not just “word” – it’s “concept” and “intent” and “purpose”.

    • Silvio Porcellana

      Very good points. Nonetheless, you have to start somewhere and I think that the good old “keywords analysis” is still a decent way to get an idea of what your target market might be searching for and what words (in the end, this is what “copywriting” means) you have to use.

      Sure, the good times when you could do some Google-bombing and end up on the first page of the Big G with a handful of links are long gone but… you still need to decide on these words somehow!

    • Tim Soulo

      hey Roger.. I guess I have fluff just as much as you do, that’s why you didn’t see it in my article 😉

  • Matt Miciula

    This is some really great SEO research! Thank you for sharing Tim.

    • Tim Soulo

      thanks for the feedback, Matt!

  • Jonathan F. Rodriguez

    The anchor text section was particularly interesting. We have heard for the last several years that anchor text linking is dangerous but this would show that when done correctly, it can still be beneficial.

    • Roger Rogerson

      That’s because the vast majority of SEO’s don’t listen/read to well 😀

      It’s the same general approach G has for most things – there are limits/thresholds. G know that you will naturally acquire links of various sorts, and that things generally fall within certain ranges.
      When G look at a site and it’s link profile, they see several things … such as link source diversity, authority of the linking sites, relevance of linking pages, location of links within the pages and relevance to the destination page.
      When you consider such features, you can start to see how G can quickly identify the more blatant and lame link-building efforts (100 links to a page, all from 3 social accounts? 500 links, all using the exact same link text? 200 links, all “normal” (not a single nofollow) or 200 links spread out over 200 weeks … then not a single link in 5 months, then another 100 links in a week?).
      Combine that with (potentially) things like Return to SERP data (500 links from 400 sites – yet every user that clicks to that page from the SERPs leaves and clicks another SERP listing in less than 10 seconds?), and again you can see how G can qualify link value/activity.

      The point here being that it’s a matter of diversity and consideration.
      I personally don’t advocate “link building” in the typical/standard/common sense – but if I ever did, I’d be advising spreading it out over time, varying link text, throwing in a % of “blanks” (LTs of “here” etc.), ensuring a % are nofollowed, that they appear in-content/in-comments (not in footers etc.).
      You know … making them look “natural” … not that I’d ever suggest such.

      G won’t cripple you for having exact match links, nor getting 5K links in 3 hours … so long as it can see a valid and positive reason. As soon as you start tripping those negative flags, you’re in trouble.

  • Mahesh

    Yes. The anchor text information is explained very clearly. I got an idea about how to rank with using this info.

  • Akash Srivastava

    Should I Hire an SEO or Try to Figure it on My Own? – I would suggest everyone to hire an SEO Expert OR Agency if he/she doesn’t know much about SEO, but don’t forget to monitor the work regularly. With the work, I mean be sure to check your website backlinks, google search console messages, searches…, bing webmaster tool message, searches… and ask your SEO Guy or Agency to give you Backlinks Report on regular basis. If any SEO Expert or Agency declines to provide backlink report, DON’T hire them.

    • Larissa- MarketGoo

      Agree that you have to monitor your Agency’s work regularly and it is SO important to still try to learn about SEO even if you have hired an Agency to do it for you. And make sure the “full SEO audit of your site” is in fact something more the exported results of some tool; otherwise YOU could be the one using that tool, and saving yourself the $$$.

  • kenny marks

    SEO has changed so much. Unless your digital marketing agency understands how Social Media and SEO have merged then they aren’t worth your time or effort. You can’t do one without the other.

  • Rahul Brohma

    Anchor text informative is creative. Nice Post ever!!

  • Akram Pathan

    Great research and insights. I think except anchor text others factors gonna boom in 2016 as well.

  • Rita

    Right. The anchor text information is explained very easily. I got an idea about how to rank with using this info.thanks Tim Soulo

  • Hemang Rindani

    Interesting article. Search Engine optimization is a crucial factor for any website to boost its SERPs. SEO consist of many factors and to address each of them is important. The major breakdown of SEO in on-page optimization and off-page activities where on-page has more than 70% weightage so make sure to satisfy those criteria. Major part of website activity are Meta title, description, URL building, Proper site navigation, H1 and other title tags and content optimization. Even optimizing these things will make a great website. In 2016, I believe it is being easy to satisfy these requirements using enterprise content management systems as they comes with built-in tools to address SEO elements, however to have a dedicated SEO guy is a wise thing. With sophistication of Googles SEO algorithm, you need a person with SEO knowledge to handle the requirements. Bad links as mentioned in the article are hazardous to a site and make sure to rectify them as soon as possible.