As written by an SEO agency, read below on what has happened with link building over the years and why those building natural links will always come out smelling of roses compared to those who pay for them!
The Ups and Downs of Link Building since 1998
Since the launch of Google in 1998, it has become a powerhouse in driving traffic to company websites. As Google advanced, releasing updates such as the Google toolbar, and with it, PageRank, companies became more aware of how to manipulate Google search results. Increasing the page rank of a website became the primary purpose for those who wanted to be at the top of Google. Acquiring an external link to your website was understood to be the method of increasing its page rank, the amount of links a site would have would determine the page rank position. However, it was soon to become an uncontrollable system which fragmented search results for Google users. It became common practise to pay for links from thousands of websites, blogs and forums which had all been set up for the sole purpose of link building.
To resolve this issue, Google began monitoring where a link had originated with an update in 2003 named Cassandra. If the source had high page rank, the link would benefit the company’s position. However, Cassandra came down hard on link-quality, if a link had little or no authority with Google, which link “farms” tended to carry, it would have no effect on where the company appeared in search results. This put a stop to link farms and cleaned up search results for users but it wouldn’t be long until the black hat rose once more. Cassandra was the first in a long line of algorithm updates which constantly changed the face of link building for SEO. As this landscape changes, many sites lose rankings and business owners can be left feeling deceived by Google. However, as algorithms are developed in favour of the user, SEO tactics have to be sustainable which leaves no room for a loop hole approach to a high page ranking.
To appear higher in natural search listings, we first need high page rank. However, marketers with little patience to do so naturally pursued alternative methods to manipulate Google. This time, fake page rank was being built artificially. Websites with an existing high page rank sold off space on their websites for companies to link from, in most cases, the source was totally irrelevant to the company niche. A number of highly ranked article sites were also built up which contained low quality, mass produced information containing these links. Instead of using comment features to join discussions in the community, companies used this as a tactic to gain cheap links, all in the hope of improving page rank.
A webspam update named “Penguin”, released in April 2012, was developed to tackle a number of spam issues including keyword stuffing in anchor links and stopped passing authority onto links deemed to be spam. The Penguin update recognised links that came from commenting features, forums, article directories and footer links could all be stopped in an effort to reduce low quality links being recognised in search results. Penguin passes on the benefits of page rank if the nature of the site you are linking from is related to the nature of the site you are linking to. When this is executed successfully, links are only in the anchor text; however, the anchor link density cannot be too high as it will be recognised as spam. Although this was successful to a certain degree, in Penguins peripheral, companies were finding loop holes. Poor quality blog platforms have been set up in every niche in which poor content is being posted, alongside the anchor text links.
Matt Cutts has had enough!
This has worked for SEO in the past, but Matt Cutts, the head of the webspam team at Google, has warned that guest blogging for SEO purposes is coming to an end. In a recent blog on the Matt Cutts website, he stated
“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.
Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way anymore.”
He does mention however that this should not put people off guest posting altogether, but to change the way in which we see them. Instead of looking at them with the sole intention of link building, use them as a way of connecting to your wider community, it may not increase page rank but could drive traffic to the site anyway. Cutts intends to reward those who have earned links but disregard those who gained links with no real effort. After reviewing the blog, a team member at Google might feel that it has been posted with the intent of a link which could result in a penalty.
A natural link has been defined as “Links that are given as part of an independent editorial choice in the context of a citation or recommendation.” In short, we can no longer insert our own links into a piece we have written, it is of the webmasters discretion to link to your company website or not. Because of this, we have to figure out a captivating reason why your site should be linked back to, what is useful, what it adds to the article, what additional content can you add to the one they are featuring? The link back to your site needs to benefit them.
It is inevitable that the only way to link build is to be as natural as possible. Any form of paying for links should now be avoided. Hiring a creative Search Marketing Agency such as ourselves to obtain methods of link building naturally however should not. For example we recently organised a mail out to one of our clients suppliers list, offering testimonials for related products. This brought a fantastic response and helped gain high power more natural links. We also have the tools to speak with webmasters of blogs that really matter and people are genuinely reading and gain guest post opportunities where others are not and therefore being seen by Google as a more natural link.