This week I’ve noticed a number of interesting changes in the way Google ranks web pages. The following article is based on my observations and theory rather than fact. Please comment if you have noticed similar issues.
Quite a number of the queries we track have altered recently and websites that previously ranked have dropped down by a number of places. This doesn’t appear to be a penalty – just an alteration in the algorithm.
The common characteristic all the sites have is that their rankings were based very heavily on anchor text rather than on-site optimisation. The changes don’t seem to have affected major commercial queries yet but they are visible when you search for particular peoples names.
For example a search for “patrick” used to bring blogstorm.co.uk in 5th place, this week it dropped down to 35th place. The sites above all have better on-site optimisation for that keyword but previously a few good anchor text links was enough for Blogstorm to rank.
Last December I did a study to see how a few SEO bloggers ranked for their own name which gives a good barometer to see how the algorithm has changed since then. Some blogs have moved up and some have moved down but in general the trend is downwards depending on whether you use google.co.uk or .com (there are geographical fluctuations going on as well which affects the results).
Why would Google do this?
Anchor text is the biggest flaw in the Google algorithm. Google wants to show the most relevant and trusted websites at the top of the search results but anchor text has no relation to trust for most queries.
Just because a site has 5 million links with the anchor text “loans” doesn’t mean its a good search result for the query “loans”. Currently there are two types of sites ranking for commercial queries – ones that rank due to the TrustRank of their incoming links (links from newspaper websites and quality blogs) and ones that rank because they have thousands of paid links with keywords in the anchor text.
If I worked at Google then I would discount any links with really competitive keywords in the anchor text – nobody naturally links to a commercial site with “loans” or “car insurance” in the anchor text – they use the sites name instead.
If your site name is mega-cheap-car-insurance.com and all your anchor text is “Mega Cheap Car Insurance” does that mean you should rank higher than somebody like confused.com when a searcher is looking for “cheap car insurance”? I think trust (something which can’t be gamed) should play a much bigger factor than anchor text which until now was by far the biggest loophole in the algorithm.