Let me explain:
Before I start this blog post let me define a penalty: By penalty I mean a manual spam penalty (and not an algorithmic penalty). A manual penalty is a penalty applied to part / all of your website manually by a member of the Google Web-spam Team. An example of this would be if you’ve had a penalty for “unnatural links” which is the subject of this blog.
So let’s look at unnatural links or “Link Building”:
Unnatural: contrary to the ordinary course of nature; abnormal:
What is a natural link then? Lets look at the Google Webmaster Guidelines:
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.
In short, according to Google a natural link is a link given to your website out of choice. If you create good content it will more likely be linked too.
Read the Google Webmaster Guidelines on Link Building: It’s crucial you read and understand the Google Guidelines.
Lets look at some examples, which are unnatural or natural and which examples do you think Google wants you to do?
- Writing content for an article website and linking back to your website using Anchor Text focused on the keyword you want to rank for.
- Submitting a press release in the same method as above to gain multiple links using Anchor text designed to help your rankings.
- Submitting your website to 1000 directories (thanks Fiverr)!
- Exchanging links with another website
- Posting in forums and on blogs with exact match anchor text designed to rank you for those terms.
- You write an opinion piece on your blog based on your industry designed to be a little controversial so it sparks debate. You send it to your industry media and they write a story referencing and linking to your blog.
- You again use your blog to write about the latest industry news, you’re first to break it and you spread the word via Social Media and by outreaching to industry news websites. You then receive 100s of links to your story.
- You’ve developed an innovative new product, you issue a press release written about it. Your press release is not only published on news sites you’re getting coverage offline too from radio stations, TV and the buzzing blog community – many of which link to your new life changing product.
Links do rule…
We all know that links rule. They are effectively votes for your website and they are key to achieving good Search Engine Rankings but how are you going about getting links? I found Rand Fishkin’s (Moz) recent Whiteboard Friday video really interesting. On the left we have link building and on the right we have content marketing.
Link Building Vs Content Marketing
Now any SEO will know both methods work and any good SEO will know how to avoid building links that are likely to invoke a penalty – as it stands today. The big question is however, what about tomorrow’?
Throughout history SEOs have adapted to changing algorithms to find the best / quickest way to rank a website well. We’re still seeing this today: Straight after Penguin 1.0 Guest Posting became popular overnight over article marketing for example. Recently Matt Cutts advised caution over guest posts (and other SEO tactics) advising that they were: “more like article directories / article banks these days.” We’ve seen heavy use of Press Release sites and advertorials resulting in penalties and it seems Google are becoming increasingly keen to quash what it deems to be unnatural link building. Google even advised caution on guest posting back in 2012:
Should SEOs and Webmasters be looking at the spirit of the Guidelines rather than just the printed word?
I think they should be.
What I mean is, it’s quite clear that Guest Posting, Article Marketing, Press Release Submissions and similar methods with the primary intention of getting a back link is deemed to be “unnatural.” In fact Google Webmaster Guidelines on Link Schemes at no point recommends you do any of this instead stating:
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.
So why are some SEOs and Webmasters still looking at creating back links “unnaturally” at all? Well, we know it works but on the other hand we can clearly see Googles intent – they want us focussing on Content and earning back links rather than building them and frankly, I think they are right. By running a link building strategy OVER a content strategy are you performing SEO sustainably? Are you actually giving visitors what they want? Shouldn’t you start looking at the spirit of the guidelines rather than trying to find loop holes and then replacing them as they close?
Just because it works (for now) doesn’t mean you should do it, you may still see repercussions later.
In England, it’s still technically legal to shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow from York Castle, I’m not going to do it though as it’s also likely to get me into hot water. You may have gotten away with this many years ago but things move on! (I have nothing against Scotland – after all England did win the football the other day 😉 )
Is strictly adhering to the Google Webmaster Guidelines the only way to prevent penalties and unsustainable SEO?
Of course it is. But why do so many SEOs and webmasters disregard it? I’d be really interested to see in the comments what everyone’s thoughts are here but my question is:
Why are many SEO’s still considering link building over content creation and link earning? We can clearly see Googles intent to change this approach and we’ve seen the fallout from link building yet many SEOs are still focusing on building links.
I would argue that whilst there are two paths to take, there is only one path to take for future proof and sustainable SEO and that’s the content approach – after all Google is telling us to do this. Yes, it takes time and yes for sure there is temptation to try to speed things up but it works and it’s only going to work more and more as Google pushes us in this direction.
With that said, I’d like to clarify a few points.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t outreach to relevant websites, its a good idea to put your great content in front of a relevant website and audience that might want to link to it either by outreaching to them by email, social media or whatever.
What I am saying is that if you take the Google guidelines as gospel (and you should)! You should be focusing primarily on creating content and earning links rather than spending your time looking for sheer numbers of links and navigating the algorithms.
I also appreciate that sometimes bad links are unavoidable and they “happen.”
Google is not doing enough.
I really believe this. I appreciate that it’s wise for them to roll out their algorithms in a measured and incremental manner but I find it incredibly frustrating that Google are intimating content creation is the “best way” to get links whilst artificially building links (particularly in the short term) is still working for many websites. I’m not talking about edge cases here either, some sites I’ve seen are clearly spamming directories, article sites and such with terrible content and still getting great benefit from it and in many cases making significant amounts of revenue.
Penalties have helped, it’s dissuaded many webmasters but in some cases, very well known sites are managing to recover INCREDIBLY quickly – so where is the deterrent?
I appreciate it’s not black and white but perhaps the penalties should be greater for those that clearly flout the rule book? Perhaps in the future as Google further tightens it’s grip on SEO this will happen, but in the meantime all SEOs and Webmasters should start dancing to the Google tune of content creation before you get the rug pulled from under your feet.
As far as I’m concerned I’m sticking to the guidelines and banning the term “Link Building” from our office. I only want links that are given out of choice for the simple reason, I don’t want a penalty now, tomorrow or 5 years in the future for mine or my clients websites.
I’m link earning, because Google is telling us that’s the best way to get links. Simple as that.