Today, less reputable link-building tactics used by some black-hat search engine optimization (SEO) practitioners are under attack from Google. The search engine giant not only implemented a series of search engines updates aimed to discourage objectionable techniques and promote quality content, but has also been manually targeting link networks, guest blogging networks and businesses that were paying for unnatural links.
For SEO experts, this may be old news, but it’s important to remember; Google introduced Hummingbird to help fight spam, advocate quality content and make results more relevant. The update also came with increased scrutiny when it comes to the use of links, both from the publisher and the backlink destination.
Google’s goal is to make results more relevant for users, helping them find answers with as much ease as possible. To make that happen, the importance of some of the 200 factors Google uses to determine ranking have been shifted. Although link velocity, density and quantity are contributors to better search rankings, some marketers continue to neglect the most important variable in link building: link quality. In some instances, creating a single link that is very high quality could have a bigger impact than several non-quality links. Evaluating a number of variables can determine link quality:
- Is the linking domain relevant to your products or services?
Google’s algorithm has the ability to know when links are out of place, and too many of these types of links can cause a giant red flag. For instance, if a website’s focus is travel, and the page’s focus is hotels, but yet there is a link to a completely unrelated product or business, it could potentially be labeled as unnatural, and have a negative effect.
- Is the content surrounding the link related to the content on the linked page?
Google’s algorithms are advanced enough that it can determine the topic of the page and how that relates to the link, even without keyword laden anchor text. Link builders should be concerned about creating content that links naturally fit into over shoving in links to pieces that don’t make sense. Under the “reasonable surfer” model links that are specifically designed to stand out via a larger font size or by use of an image are given more weight than ones that aren’t.
- Where does the link exist on the page? (i.e. content body, author bio, footer, sidebar)
The higher the link is on the page, the more important search engines assume the link is. Google says that links that a “reasonable surfer” would find and click on are more valuable than those hidden on the side or bottom of the page.
- Does the anchor text make sense?
Link builders strive to have branded or keyword anchor text attached to a link, but the overuse of this tactic can get the attention of Google’s spiders. If the anchor text doesn’t fit into the flow of the content, or the focus of the article, it can be flagged as unnatural. When building links, marketers may not have control over the anchor text, but by attempting to place the links on relevant websites, it’s more likely that the surrounding text will help search engines determine its relevance.
- Who wrote the article? (authorship is becoming increasingly important)
While Google would love to be able to say that every author only writes about topics he/she is an expert in, it’s not the reality. Very simply, the more authoritative the author, the more weight the link is given.
- What is the page authority and page rank of the linking page?
Google uses Pagerank and page authority as a way to determine the popularity and authority of a given website. Links that are earned on established, trusted websites have more SEO value than those on startup websites without a large readership.
Because Google evaluates website trust on an algorithmic curve, achieving a single link from a relevant, highly trusted website will create an exponentially stronger ranking effect than many links from questionable, low-quality websites.
In order to build the relationships that result in links, marketers must employ strategic outreach methods to elicit positive responses from reputable bloggers, editors and publishers. Building a relationship is a slow process, requiring authenticity, care and investment.
Link Building or Link Earning
It has been argued that link building died in 2013 because Google’s definition of what constitutes an “unnatural” or “artificial” link is a bit broad: “Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme.”
With Google’s current changes, the quality, quantity and location of links have become more important. Many claim that link building has shifted dramatically over the past few years. The truth is that ethical link building hasn’t changed at all and will continue into the foreseeable future. Marketers need quality links from reputable sites with high editorial standards.
Although developing personal and professional relationships requires a great deal of time and persistence, the payoff in brand awareness will be worth the investment.
Building Relationships: Creating Personal Connections
According to a recent survey featured on eMarketer, the average American spends a little over three hours per day online. There is a lot of opportunity to build professional and personal relationships through digital channels like social media as well as through live events and partnerships.
Creating face-to-face connections can occur at local events, professional conferences, charitable sponsorships, and through organizations like the chamber of commerce. When making these in-person, the goal is not always to close a deal right away. As explained on Search Engine Land: “You would never ask someone outright to marry you, so why do you ask someone outright to link to you?” Think of it like a romantic relationship, if it is going to last, there has to be a foundation of trust and understanding before moving to the next step, which in this case is link building.
Relationship Building: How To
When attempting to earn links by building relationships, here are some best practices:
- Be open and honest with people when trying to establish links.
- Be personal when communicating with people. If email is necessary, make it personal.
- Go to the source, instead of sending a contact email for a website, find the editor and try to connect with an individual instead.
- Use social media. LinkedIn and Twitter can be used to find like-minded people. Use the advanced filter on LinkedIn to find the people behind the websites.
- Talk to people like they are friends, because this is a relationship, not just a singular business transaction.
- Apply the golden rule to any communication and link building attempt; approach people in the way you would want to be approached.
Duane Forrester from Microsoft’s Bing team said recently that “You should never know in advance a link is coming, or where it’s coming from. If you do, that’s the wrong path.” If businesses and SEO experts were to take that literally, it would mean that all link building/earning efforts should end immediately. But, as a community, SEO experts and link builders know that it would be impossible for someone to NEVER know when a link is being made. What ZOG Digital believes Forrester is trying to say is that buying links is always a bad decision, and this was his way of warning businesses from going down that path. We also believe that he’s aiming that quote toward unsavory link builders who try to manipulate the system with keyword dense anchor text, unnatural link placements and filling poorly written articles with links that just don’t make sense.
On the contrary, both Google and Bing have historically promoted, and given heavy SEO weight to, links that are naturally occurring in quality content. Google’s Matt Cutts had said emphatically that some links are worth more than others, so marketers should focus on quality links from high traffic sites and creating quality content that will be shared organically.
The best way to earn links from authoritative, highly read websites is to create a relationship that is built on trust, understanding and partnership. Link buildings should engage with publishers and webmasters not with the heavy hand of a business transaction, but as potential partners that can provide each other with value in the form of content and readership. If that were to become the norm, the fear of being singled out by search engines for link manipulation would be a thing of the past and link builders would be more successful in the long term.