Google’s recent updates to their Link Schemes page now makes it appear that they intend to go after after a much wider range of links with their upcoming Penguin updates. Links that may be deemed as poor quality or “unnatural” now include keyword stuffed links from forum posts and forum signature links. If you have been using forum signature links with targeted keywords in the hyperlink text, you might want to look at removing those wherever you can–or suffer the consequences of another Penguin update.
I highlighted the addition to the Link Schemes page that drew my attention.
While a forum post typically only shows up on one page in a forum, signature links are repeated in every post the forum member adds to the forum threads. The key trigger appears to be overuse of a targeted keyword phrase, such as “model airplanes” or “free ringtones”, in hyperlink text for any backlinks pointed to a site. Repeated use of any targeted keyword phrases in a site’s link profile has been a trigger for Google’s Penguin updates ever since Penguin was launched in April of 2012. To avoid this, hyperlink text should be varied as much as possible. Penguin is becoming more refined with each new release and is digging much deeper into a site’s link profile.
Another trigger appears to be when the site linked to is unrelated to the forum topic. I performed a study on forum linking just before Penguin 1.0 was launched. The study showed that at that time forum links to unrelated sites were being discounted and had no effect whatsoever for ranking purposes. In other words, the only forum links that held any ranking benefit were from forums focused on the same topic as the site receiving the link. However, in early 2012 links to unrelated sites were merely discounted or disregarded. Those links may now become a liability that can result in negative ranking penalties under Penguin.
Forum linking can still be a viable method for obtaining backlinks and traffic, but new guidelines need to be observed.
- Avoid placing any backlinks in forums that are unrelated to the main theme for your web site and the page being linked to. In other words, do not place a link to a cooking site in a tech forum, and do not place an insurance link in a forum focused on wild birds.
- Make sure that any link embedded in a post is directly related to the post, the thread and the over focus for the forum. A natural link supports something stated in the post. Unnatural links are unrelated links or obviously paid links.
- Always avoid keyword stuffing in any signature links. Never place multiple links in a row with related hyperlink keywords, as shown in the Google example.
Signature links can be used effectively to drive traffic, but only if the forum’s traffic is already interested in what you offer. Consider removing all signature links from forums unrelated to the topic of your site. Links of any type that look unnatural or unrelated to the page’s topic can get flagged by the Penguin update algorithms and can result in negative ranking consequences.