Google-Proofing Your Link-Building
As many of you already know, Google has recently updated its Webmaster Guidelines, concerning pages with “Little or no original content.” Specifically what Google has done is add “low-quality guest blog posts” to the laundry list of unoriginal content. This move is really not surprising given Matt Cutts statements of last January where he spoke against using guest blogging for SEO and link-building purposes. While this is not an all-out attack against guest posts which has been a cornerstone in SEO link-building for years what this is, is a move against low-quality guest blogging which is rampant throughout the SEO world so once against this move should not be a surprise to anyone. Google has been making a stronger stand against manipulative tactics to build links, which certainly includes mass guest blogging with low-quality content for links and links alone. Google’s been working hard to devalue and punish such activities. This is not what guest posts were meant for and once again businesses have perverted it true purpose. Now given these moves by Google it is easy to say that link-building as an SEO tactic is on its way out a la the meta keywords tag. This is not the case. Link-building will remain a sturdy SEO tactic for many years to come but, if you’re working to scale links, and willing to sacrifice quality for quantity, you’re asking for trouble and Google is not the one to be asking for trouble from because you will get it real fast. Scaling link-building typically always results in low-quality links. These links are exactly what Google wants to devalue, or even punish. If we’ve learned one thing in the last two to three years, it’s Google has no problem taking the proverbial paddle to those who try to game it. Granted, I wish Google were more transparent about what is allowed, instead of saying what isn’t. This is a frequent criticism of Google as it’s hard to play the game when they not only don’t tell you where the goal line is but constantly move it through the game. I understand why they don’t disclose that information, of course – it would make it much, much harder for them to update their guidelines. It gives them flexibility to do what they do. As part of the MarketingModo team, I attend and speak at a wide variety of digital marketing conferences each year. I frequently interact with both new and old clients. The most common question I see every year hands down is “How do I know which links are safe? Which links are valuable and are those that I should be going after?” These are not as difficult a question as one might think but unfortunately common sense is sometimes missing from the picture. In seeing if a link is “good or bad” what you want to do is ask yourself a few questions. Basically, does the link make sense if it links to my page? Does it make the Web a better place in terms of connecting content with a provider? These are two good foundational type questions to ask about your link-building activities. It really does boil down to common sense. Is the link a good fit or not? But let’s get more specific shall we. Here are five questions to ask yourself to help you build nice and safe links, even as Google continues to update its Webmaster Guidelines. 1. Is your main link-building tactic focusing on quality or quantity links? 2. Are the links editorial in nature? 3. Did you put in hard work into getting the links? 4. Do your links serve business goals in addition to SEO? 5. Are you building a diverse set of links using diverse tactics? Let’s take a look at each one.
1. Are You Focusing on Quality or Quantity?
We all know that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. The same applies to SEO link-building and come on- some link-building tactics automatically don’t feel like “the right way.” Pre-Penguin link-building was basically a shortcut to achieving page ranking. It was incredibly easy to go out and build out a massive amount of questionable links (yes we are talking link farms and more) in your link landscape that would definitely move the needle but if a person were to look at them each individually eyebrows. In the words of President Obama “Let me be clear”, that era is done and over. It is history. Links today need to be quality, not quantity. Today a small amount of really great links can move the needle on your rankings far better than hundreds or even thousands of shotty links. I like to say that 10 good links can easily replace 10,000 bad ones. And the only way to build those good links quite honestly is to deserve them. No schemes, no tricks. Nothing shady. Simply good marketing, content and promotion to build links which are in many ways like votes of confidence, which is what Google wanted links to be before all this SEO manipulation. This brings us to the second point. If you want to build links Google likes, the links need to be editorial.
2. Are Your Links Editorial?
This is where you have to ask yourself some brutally straightforward questions. Is the other site purposely and willingly linking to yours? Is the link at their discretion? Do they choose how and why to link to you? Now this is not to say that you should just sit back and wait for the links to come to you. You should absolutely be marketing your website with links being a goal and target for that marketing and promotion. Anyone with a website worth receiving a backlink from understands the power of that link. They know that a link is a connection between their site and yours. They know that it’s a public recommendation from them to their visitors; and they know that Google will consider the link a signal of trust and authority in their algorithm. That’s some major stuff and yes, links are that important and that is exactly how many webmaster think when considering linking to another site. When someone is willing to place that amount of faith and trust into your website, page, or content, that’s how you know you’ve built a quality link. But don’t get me wrong, editorial links aren’t easy to build. To build such links, you’ll need to put in some elbow grease and use that noggin of yours. Link-building should take hard work and creativity.
3. Did You Work Hard For Those Links?
Sometimes this can be quite literal. Getting good links does take a lot of hard work. A good mantra to keep in mind is “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.” In the words of Matt Cutts, links should be the result of “sweat plus creativity.” The point is that the links Google wants to count are the links that you have earned with hard work and creativity. You have to deserve the link, you have to work for the link, you have to find a way to add value to the Web, and then promote that value to the right audience. This is where your content marketing is going to come into play big time. Developing great content and then actively promoting it will be the key to SEO success. That’s where link-building is headed. No more hacking algorithms. No more using spammy links built across a horrible network of low-quality sites. Instead, links should truly be a sign of authority, creativity, trust, and thought leadership. And you build links through savvy, persuasive marketing and promotion such as social media, email and web content.
4. Do Your Links Serve Other Business Goals?
If in your eyes, the only value of the link is for search engines, odds are, the link isn’t really worth it. Google doesn’t want people treating search engines and site visitors differently. In fact they don’t want you to consider the search engines at all. Just develop content for your audience and don’t worry about optimizing it. That comes directly from Google itself. They’ve said that from day one. So if the only reason you want the link is for a search engine spider to crawl it, don’t waste your time. Go after links that offer real business value and that fit with your brand or business. That will not only get you the link but it will also serve your audience and the audience of the site that is linking to you. So what other business values can you meet through links? I am very glad you asked. With links you can achieve: • Referral traffic and new audience engagement from the linked site • Branding and awareness • Recognition from niche influencers Link-building is about exposure if you think about it. Any benefits that come with normal brand exposure can come via link building as well. It’s 2014, and interacting on the Web has serious business potential. Building links requires interacting with a wide variety of people and sites important and relevant to your own business. If your only pursuit is the link, then its not really worth it because you are going after what doesn’t matter. So don’t just look for links that will flow PageRank to your site. Look for links that will have an actual impact on your business and serve a purpose other and SEO.
5. Are You Using Diverse Tactics to Build Diverse Links?
In the end, no one knows the future of SEO. We certainly have our ideas about it but Google will continue to evolve, grow, and expand in ways we can’t possibly imagine. There is an old expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” This is extremely true for SEO. It’s foolhardy to expect that a single SEO tactic is all that you’ll need. It applies to link-building as well. As many who suffered as a result of Penguin and Panada can attest, when Google makes changes, there’s very real damage that can be done. Sometimes innocent websites are impacted by this. Businesses and the livelihoods of many people are threatened. Even good, honest links might be devalued or punished in the mix. It happens. Its collateral damage and is to be expected. Minimal but expected. While these questions that I have outlines above are meant to help you build links matching what Google’s wants, they are also meant to protect you from Google’s changing policies. One absolutely crucial thing to remember is that no one is safe, no one, when Google changes policies. They are so large that when they make changes the effects are widespread and can be brutal so always keep that in mind and diversify your link-building so if you were to be effected, the effect itself would be minimal. Think of yourself as a ship and your goal is to build as many water-tight compartments as possible so if one has a leak the rest of the ship is safe. The fact is using diverse tactics, or compartments in this case, to build diverse links has a variety of positive benefits, and is the intelligent marketer’s route to take. In the end, using a diverse set of tactics to build an equally diverse set of links will provide you with the following benefits: 1. Protection from Google’s shifting guidelines 2. Having a single SEO tactic is often viewed as manipulative, having diverse tactics is seen as more natural in the eyes of search engines. 3. Algorithms excel at spotting patterns and if it sees one repeating over and over, it will not end well for you. Diverse tactics is exactly what the algo wants to see. 4. Customized campaigns are more likely to be successful. As the old saying goes “one tool doesn’t do all jobs” and neither does a single link-building tactic. Customize your approach for the link you are going after. 5. Diverse strategies will result in more valuable links. If you want lasting value from your link-building efforts, you need to be using diverse tactics. End of story.
Google has once again updated its guidelines to cite low-quality guest posts as a form of unoriginal content and Google is going to continue to change, evolve, and expand its Webmaster Guidelines as the Web grows, expands, and evolves. My advice is to look to the future and be sure you’re matching Google’s intent as closely as humanely possible, as well as follow the rules clearly laid out in its guidelines. Google has rules for a reason and you’d be well-minded to follow them or risk the consequences. In link-building, you can test the quality of your campaign with five questions: 1. Is your link-building focus quality or quantity? 2. Are the links editorial? 3. Did you in hard work for the links? 4. Do the links help achieve other business or marketing goals besides SEO? 5. Are you using diverse tactics to build diverse links? Follow your instincts and use common sense and above all be truthful with yourself when answering these questions. If you are looking for SEO and link-building solutions that follows Google intent than look no further than MarketingModo. MarketingModo provides a full suite of SEO and link-building services for businesses, brands, towns and communities and non-profit organizations. Work with the agency that follows Google rules and the one that will build you a SEO program that will last. Contact us today!