You’ve seen the original Disney cartoon, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, right? In it, Mickey is the apprentice to a powerful sorcerer, but he longs to do magic on his own. So when the sorcerer leaves their cave dwelling, and orders Mickey to clean up the place, Mickey decides to try a little magic himself. He enchants a broom to clean up and fill the cistern full of water, while he goes and takes a nap.
When he wakes up, the broom is doing such a good job at filling the cistern that the cave is flooding. He tries to stop it, but when he fails, he chops the broom into bits. But instead of stopping the broom, all the slivers of the broom grow into brooms themselves and continue the job they had been enchanted to do, filling the cave with water, nearly drowning Mickey in the process.
Likewise, a reputation management strategy can take on a life of its own if we’re not careful with it. And it can do such a good job that it actually starts to harm the site we were trying to get ranked. Sometimes, when Google and the other search engines look at the optimized juggernaut we have created, they see our enchanted brooms and may suppress our rank and even de-index our sites (in extreme cases).
So in order to avoid these penalties, there are a few things we need to keep in mind so that the optimizing we are doing in the name of reputation management doesn’t get out of hand and end up hurting us.
1) Diversify anchor text
In online reputation management, we have the inclination to ensure that all the links we build to the sites and content we want to rank are branded terms—our company name, product name, and other company-specific terms. In a natural link profile, any given site will have a high number of branded anchor texts linking to it. But there will also be a lot of “link noise.” Link noise is the term for anchor text that doesn’t have any specific relation to the site it links to. For example, phrases like “click here,” “this link,” or “source” are common link noise. So make sure that you diversity your anchor text so that it appears to be natural to search engines, and you’ll avoid any trouble.
2) Forget about keyword density
The search engines have gotten pretty good at detecting when certain websites are keyword-stuffing in order to rank better. Although, in the past, reputation management managers have tried to put their branded term in the website text at a 2-4% density (2-4 keywords for every100 words on the site), today it’s better to simply use text that sounds like a normal person wrote it—and not a search engine optimizer.
It’s still important to use your company name and other branded terms in the text, just don’t overdo it. If your text starts to sound like it was written for search engines and not real people, back off a bit, and let your prose flow more naturally.
The Sorcerer Returns
When Mickey finally realizes he is in over his head (literally) and begins to drown, the sorcerer returns, dries up all the water, and puts Mickey back to work cleaning up the even bigger mess he has created. What we’re trying to avoid, as online reputation managers, is making a big mess in the first place. If we can stick to natural link building practices and not let our efforts get away from us—in the end—we won’t have to clean up an even bigger mess after the search engines come back and see what we’ve done.