Barry Schwartz found an interesting discussion at Google Webmaster Help about sneaky usage of link title attributes. Even though it’s an unusual problem, I might be interesting to look into a bit more.
Do link attribute penalizes actually exist?
It appears that a website using unnatural long link titles has been penalized, with the effect of getting some kind of +70 penalties (moved down 70 positions in Google). Following a clarification from a Google employee, John Mueller, it might be worth to discuss how to use titles in link attributes and on other places.
It’s probably very unusual to receive penalties from long link title attributes, unless they are at least over 20 words (but possibly even more). After all, additional link text should be accurate, short and easy to read. Don’t do anything extreme and unnatural, since there might always be a chance of negative impact by search engines when doing way more than you are supposed to do. Rather think about the user experience and make it easy to understand. Keep in mind that links should be relevant, and you’re likely to do well.
Extract from Google quality guidelines
Some of the general best practices for webmasters can also be applied to link titles, such as:
- Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
- Make sure that your elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.
- Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.
At SEO Specialist, we tend to use link attributes in order to give a deeper understanding of the usual link text. It’s not always required to put an extra title on backlinks, but if it can be helpful for the user, go ahead.