Today sees the first in an exciting series of articles we are calling ‘Ask the Experts’ where we will (unsurprisingly) be speaking to some of the internet’s most respected professionals about some of the internet’s hottest topics.

First up we speak to Koozai’s Head of SEO Oliver Ewbank. We are big fans of Koozai here at Boom, so to get Oliver to agree to do this was a bit of a coup. We didn’t go easy on Oliver either; we jumped straight in with some quite testing questions.  I hope you enjoy, as Oliver has responded with some excellent answers.

Q. We are hearing a lot about over optimisation of anchor text at the moment. Have you guys seen any instances of this? 

A. For years, successful link building campaigns have been based around anchor text optimisation. In the past we have suggested an anchor text sweet spot of 30% exact match, 40% brand name, 30% variations.

Google’s recent algorithm update has clamped down on anchor text spam. In particular we have seen instances of clients getting warnings from (pre Koozai) link building. Evidence would suggest this came from over optimised anchor text.

Google message:

Google Webmaster Tools Message

When we reviewed the clients’ previous link building activity in tools like Majestic SEO, it became clear that the percentage of keyword-targeted anchor text was very unnatural.

Q. There are lots of opinions out there as to what the correct ratio of keywords in anchor text to non-keywords in anchor text should be. What do you think the balance should be? How often should people be using exact match anchor text?

A. In Google Webmaster Tools they have a specific section which reviews how your data is linked. If it’s too good to be true then I would change your strategy immediately. We would suggest changing this to 70% brand name, 15% variations, and 15% natural links across a mixture of followed and nofollow links.

I would have no more than 10% on exact match the rest should include:

  • URLs
  • Brand Name
  • Click Here
  • Synonyms
  • Natural language
  • Plural keywords
  • Misspellings
  • Combined keywords

In particular I think people tend to get caught out with site-wide links. If you have a premium directory listing or a link on every blog page it’s going to have the same anchor text which looks extremely unnatural. A site-wide link can lead to thousands of similar anchor text links and a penalty.

Q. The hot topic at the moment is link spam. I recently spoke with Pierre Far about whether links can carry any negative weight. He categorically said that bad links do not carry any negative weight. Danny Sullivan however, joined in our discussion on Inbound and said that he thought Pierre was wrong and that bad links did carry negative weight.  What are your views on this?

A. Yes, links from a bad neighbourhood can certainly carry negative weight. Google explains clearly that they frown upon link schemes in their guidelines. Do they have an algorithm capable to determine if it was a competitor? Evidence would suggest not. It’s a little unsettling to think there is such a thing as ‘negative SEO’ but we have seen this happen.

Google have even implemented a “reconsideration request” within Google Webmaster Tools, so that should you buy links or be the unfortunate victim of such an attack, you can report said dodgy links for review.

Q. So if SEO’s say they are not going to engage with spam, what’s the alternative, what creative link building techniques should people try?

A. It may sound cheesy but good quality content is still the way forward. Guest blogging for industry specific websites is extremely effective. Engaging and unique infographics can pick up huge authority. Hub pages targeting long tail keywords are a great way to stream relevant traffic and gain a valuable link. Video marketing, product reviews, PR and social bookmarking all have their place too.

My rule of thumb would be to create content for referral traffic and the links will follow.

Q.  How far do you look at tying social media into an SEO strategy?

A. Social media is now an integral part of an SEO strategy. At least 50% of the top social sites give a link back to your domain. Profiles on sites like YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are also extremely important for ‘page one domination’. You need to register all social profiles to protect your brand but the citations and social mentions are also valuable.

Social bookmarking sites are an excellent way to push your content and help build more authority behind your pages.

Q. How do you see the future of search and the impact of social signals? 

A. There is no doubt that search is becoming more social. Search for anything and the chances are there will be a Twitter result, YouTube result or even a list of personal results linked to your Google Plus circles.

I think it is important for companies to build up a social following, as search will become more dependent on social signals. If you want to buy a T shirt and search results show a friend is a fan then you may be more inclined to make a purchase.

Q. Wil Reynolds from SEER Interactive has talked a lot about how little impact he thinks social has. Do you agree with him?

A. I agree with him in some terms. People tend to get massively over excited by social media and forget that a good SEO strategy should be based around content (not likes). If you had to choose between links and social you would choose links every time.  The impact will also depend on what industry you are in.  For example, a fashion retailer would be more dependent on social signals than a legal firm.

Q. Have you seen any evidence of social media links outside of G+ having a direct effect on rankings (Google or Bing)?

A. Yes, on several occasions. Our brand protection service secures the top 200 social media profiles which tend to have an immediate benefit from the links it provides. Simple bookmarking sites like Pinterest and JumpTags have also shown evidence of a direct effect on rankings (Google & Bing).

Q. We recently saw Lexi Mills of Distilled give a great talk at Brighton SEO on using PR as a link building technique. Do Koozai currently place much emphasis on PR? If yes, how much and what you do? If not, do you plan to implement it/change your approach after hearing Lexi’s speech?

A. Yes, massively. We feel it is extremely important to push Koozai in the media. The publicity has been extremely beneficial not to mention the great backlinks we have received. We publish a range of regular newsworthy press releases and have had huge success writing guest blog posts or being interviewed on sites like BBC News, Virgin, The Guardian and Econsultancy.

We are always looking for new innovative ways to get in the media. Lexi’s speech showed the value of networking with journalists and providing unique compelling content. We also looked at this in more depth with a presentation in this area. This is certainly something we will continue to focus on in 2012.

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com. As Head of SEO at Koozai, Oliver enjoys all aspects of online marketing, including Search Engine Optimisation, Pay Per Click Advertising and Social Media management. To date, he has won a number of awards for his SEO work and has also been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.