Last week, on Monday July 6th, Diogo Botelho of the Google Search Quality team and Webmaster Outreach caused a stir in the SEO community.
Botelho published a new post on the Portuguese Webmaster blog, with the concluding advice to “not ask for links”.
Last week, on Monday July 6th, Diogo Botelho of the Google Search Quality team and Webmaster Outreach caused a stir in the SEO community. Botelho published a new post on the Portuguese Webmaster blog, with the concluding advice to “not ask for links”.
The post was titled “Links não naturais em websites e pedidos de reconsideração”which translates to “Unnatural links on websites and requests for reconsideration”. Botelho was explaining Google’s stance and guidelines on unnatural links.
Here’s the paragraph with Boterlho’s statement, which was the conclusion of the post:
“Para concluir, deixamos um conselho simples para garantir que você não está infringindo as diretrizes do Google: não compre, venda, troque ou peça links. Se seguir esse conselho, a grande maioria dos links que o Google considera problemáticos não chegarão a ser criados.”
Here’s the translation:
“To conclude, let a simple advice to ensure that you are not infringing Google's guidelines: do not buy, sell, exchange or ask [for] links. If you follow this advice, the vast majority of links that Google considers problematic not come to be created."
A Googler’s advice to avoid breaking Google’s guidelines was to not even ask for links.
This is counter to common marketing and whitehat SEO advice: asking for links leaves the editorial decision and creation in the hands of the site owner, and simply allows you to raise awareness with those likely to link.
Outreach asking for links is one of the most direct, honest ways to pursue links. No trickery, no tactics. Just explain value persuasively and encourage a site owner to include a mention/citation/link.
If Google included “do not ask for links” in their webmaster guidelines, it would essentially mean there would be no way to actively pursue links within Google’s guidelines, despite the obvious value and importance of links on the web.
It’s precisely for that reason that Botelho’s statement caused such an uproar in the SEO industry.
Fundamental Alteration of the Statement
Thankfully, after the stir in the SEO community Google was quick to alter the advice. Botelho edited the statement, altering it to:
“Para concluir, deixamos um conselho simples para garantir que você não está infringindo as diretrizes do Google: não compre, venda, troque ou peça links que violam nossas diretrizes para webmasters sobre Esquemas de links.”
Which translates to:
“To conclude, let a simple advice to ensure that you are not infringing Google's guidelines: do not buy, sell, exchange or ask for links that violate our webmaster guidelines about links Schemes.”
The specific alteration is the addition of “ask for links that violate our webmaster guidelines about links schemes.”
What Does The Alteration Mean?
The advice changed from “do not ask for links”—effectively, do not manually pursue links—to “do not ask for links that violate our guidelines”. This alteration completely negates the advice of the original statement.
Where as before the advice, from a Googler, was essentially “do not manually pursue links” it changed to “do not manually pursue links that compromise our webmaster guidelines for links.” That’s a fundamental alteration, completely changing the meaning.
Stated another way, it could be interpreted as “asking for links (actively pursuing links) is okay, as long as those links do not violate our guidelines”.
The difference between these two statements is striking: one strictly demands no active pursuit of links, while the other only reinforces the guidelines Google already has in place. If you’re pursuing links intelligently—focusing on relevance, human value, and editorial discretion—then you’re free and clear to pursue links directly. Link building is okay, according to Google, just so long as you’re not creating links that violate their guidelines.
So let’s review their guidelines.
Google’s Guidelines Regarding Links
Within Google’s quality guidelines they’ve created a page specifically for link schemes. This is their webmaster guidelines on links.
How important is this? Well, if you google Google Webmaster Guidelines, they’ve created a sitelink for the page within their results.
So according to Google, Google’s link scheme pages is one of the most important within their webmaster guidelines.
The link scheme page is a catch-all for Google, whereby they outline any link that might be subject to punishment. Because search involves every business on the web, and the amount of money involved, it’s vital they leave it open-ended.
Here’s are the type of link schemes Google outlines on the page:
- Any links intended to manipulate PageRank
- Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
- Including actual money or products “for review”
- Excessive link exchanges
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
- Using automated programs or services to create links
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank
- Advertorials or native ads involving payment with links that pass PageRank
- Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
- Widgets with keyword-rich, hidden, or low-quality links embedded
- Site-wide footer or template links
- Forum comments/signatures with optimized links
It’s a long list, no? Most of these guidelines are against a specific tactic which create links artificially on another website, without editorial oversight. If you can place/create the link yourself, you should think about whether it’s a link you really want.
Here’s a direct quote from the page:
“Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.”
Taking this a step farther, that means that links that are editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner is a natural link. And this is precisely what happens when we ask another website to link: it’s left to their editorial discretion to do so, and they must place the link themselves.
As long as Google relies on links, websites would be foolish to ignore them.
Google Relies on Links; Sites Will Pursue
The reality of the situation is that Google relies on links, and can’t reasonably tell people to ignore such a critical component of both the web and search.
Telling site owners and SEOs they’re not allowed to ask for links would be effectively telling them to ignore links.
Sure, there’s the “build it and they will come mentality” – but we’re all smarter than that, right? As an SEO, you should be involved in enough marketing to know the importance of marketing your site well, and intentionally. Attention, visibility, brand equity: these things are not magic, created without thought or intention.
Google is working on a balancing act, between fending off manipulation and helping site owners understand search. It would be much, much easier for Google to tell SEOs, site owners, and the general internet populace that link building is against their guidelines. To never, ever pursue links or they’ll be considered manipulative or unnatural.
But they haven’t, and at this point my bet is they will not.
Regardless, we have to live in the now. We have to work efficiently and effectively, while planning for tomorrow. And in today’s reality, that means pursuing links intelligently. Pursue links that don’t violate Google’s quality guidelines.
If you ignore links, your site will suffer; you won’t get the links you deserve.
And as long links matter, sites will pursue them.