News flash: Google changes stuff. A lot.

If you’ve had experience with SEO, you’ve probably worked hard to finally hit that coveted #1 spot, only to lose it before you even had time to celebrate.

Then you shake your fist and shout “I don’t need you, Google!” only to realize that you do, in fact, need Google. Without them, you’d lose a vast majority of your traffic and sales. You classify them as a necessary evil, like the DMV or a colonoscopy.

So now what? The crusty SEO veterans remember the good ol’ days when they could put their keyword in the title, a few places on the page, and shoot to #1 in Google. Sending out content to thousands of places for cheap links doesn’t do the trick anymore either, and many other strategies are equally useless.

The point is, SEO has changed, and will always change. Those strategies that worked ten, five, or even two years ago don’t work anymore. If you haven’t adapted to Google’s changing algorithm, you’re out of the game.

Then… what actually works in 2013?

The dreaded Panda and Penguin updates have caused uncertainty, panic, and probably a few full-blown riots at SEO conferences. Luckily, on-site optimization strategies haven’t really changed. If you need a little refresher, read this on-site optimization post.

Google’s biggest points of emphasis with Panda and Penguin are great content and linking. If your site appears to be obviously using a backlink strategy to boost your search engine rankings, you’re in trouble. The buzz word being thrown around is “unnatural.” Your backlink strategy must appear organic and natural.

One adaptation you’ll have to make is to create a more diversified link portfolio. If each link pointing to your site has identical anchor text, Google will know it’s not natural. In fact, the most effective linking strategy involves creating the proper ratio of varied anchor texts.

Ever since the latest updates, we’ve been working to discover the proper ratio of the different types of anchor text. This is what works the best:

25% Main Keyword – The main keyword you want your site ranking for. What are the odds that every single “natural” link out there would say the exact keyword you want to rank for? Google caught on to this, and instead of using 60% main keywords, it’s more effective to be around 25%.

15% Nofollow – Links that Google isn’t supposed to count towards your link strategy. If you’re trying to make your backlink strategy look natural, wouldn’t it be normal for some sites to label your link as nofollow?

15% URL – The full URL of your page.

15% Brand – Your site’s name, like Amazon or eBay.

10% Random – Click here, check this out, etc.

10% Related – Keywords similar to your main one. Many times, Google displays related searches at the bottom of the first page of results. These can give you some ideas.

10% Image links – Images on other sites that point back to yours. This is an interesting one we’ve been experimenting with that’s working better than expected.

Even if you’re not some giant SEO expert managing dozens of sites for clients, it’s still important to vary your strategy. If you’re working hard on your one site, it would be devastating to get knocked down Google’s ranking for not varying your anchor texts.

Besides monitoring your anchor texts, every webmaster has to be concerned about where their links are coming from. Receiving an inbound link from sites that give cheap links to anyone will hurt you more than they help.

In fact, according to Microsite Masters, sites that were hit hardest by Google generally had few links from other relevant pages. For example, if you’re running a technology site and 80% of your links come from gardening pages, Google will know those site owners weren’t giving you love because they thought your site furthered their content. It doesn’t look natural (there’s that word again!).

Now the trick is to find the right sites to post on, without going overboard and without receiving links from spammy sites.

6 Ways to Improve Your Backlink Strategy

1. Guest Blogs

Head on over to a few sites like http://guestblogit.com and http://bloggerlinkup.com and share some superb content. Guest blogs are a fantastic way to get your content in front of a totally different crowd. Plus, many of them are well-respected sites that Google looks at favorably.

2. Social Media

This one’s definitely a biggie nowadays, especially now that Google+ has grown so large. One of the main ways that people share info is to post it on their social media sites, especially Facebook and Twitter. Google can measure that your site received a ton of retweets, and boost you up the rankings. If your article is retweeted a lot, you’re going to have links all over the place.

Of course, you should also give Google+ some love, because Google is likely to favor their own social site a little extra.

3. Social Bookmarking

Social Bookmarks let users organize sites and articles that they find interesting. Users can also share them with their friends – which can help your content go viral.

Some of the largest social bookmarking sites include Reddit, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, BuzzFeed, Digg, and Delicious.

4. Post to Article Directories

Yes, article directories are looked upon as cancerous tumors to be removed as soon as possible from your backlink strategy. However, this strategy is now more misunderstood than ever. What Google doesn’t like is a site that receives thousands of links from spammy sites.

The key here is to discriminate against the low-quality article directories. Google still gives value to the article directories that have well written articles and great authors. My favorite is definitely Ezine Articles.

5. Exchanging Links

Here’s another one to be careful with. Many services you can find are incredibly spammy and let anyone exchange links. In fact, many sites have entire columns or pages devoted to links they’ve exchanged. Definitely not natural, and definitely hurtful to your backlink strategy.

The way to do this right is to find someone in your niche that you respect. Then, you can mutually exchange links and place them naturally on your site. Not only are these links organic, but completely relevant, too.

The easiest way to do this is a plug-in called Lavalinx. It helps you automatically find others in your niche who are also looking to exchange links. It’s completely free, too.

6. Content Your Readers Can’t Resist Sharing

I know, this isn’t exactly a backlink strategy, but it’s so essential that I couldn’t leave it out.

Google’s sole purpose is to find great articles to display in their rankings. Why not help Google out a bit and just write brilliant content? Plus, it will get shared, commented on, and all sorts of good stuff will happen.

One great strategy that actually forces people to share is to give them something for taking action. For example, let’s say you just wrote a great freebie ebook. For everyone who retweets out your post, you’ll send them the ebook! Another strategy is to hold a contest, and only the entrants who Like your Facebook Fanpage will be considered. Get creative here, and you can think of all sorts of ways to have your content all over the web, creating backlinks galore.

Is there anything else you use in your own backlink strategy? Tell us below!