Way back in the mists of internet time, Google noticed that sites which performed a useful service tended to attract natural links. Web-owners chose to link out to sites which complemented their own or served their own web visitors in some way. For example, a site selling holiday accommodation might link out to local restaurants, tours or transport information.
This system worked well for both those searching for information and for the website owners themselves. By going to the effort of seeking out quality websites to link to, the website owners created a source of information to which visitors would return. The sites which made a point of providing quality information naturally attracted links from related sites.
Unfortunately, while this system worked well for all involved, once it came to Google’s attention they decided that organic links could be used as a method of judging a site’s quality. Although Google is notoriously close-mouthed when it comes to their ranking algorithm, it soon become clear that the number of links pointing to a site was significant. Cue linkbuilding frenzy.
Discredited Linkbuilding Tactics
Services sprang up right, left and center promising to drum up hundreds of links within days. Schemes and scams abounded. They still do. Look at the image to the left which was cut and pasted from a service in the wild. Wow. 56,999 backlinks for $5. It sounds too good to be true. Doh.
- Blog Commenting
- Link Wheels
- Blog Network
- Guest Blogging
- Article Directory Spam
- Site wide Links
- Widget Links
- Poor Quality Directory Spam
The Intent Behind a Link
While some of the techniques used were spammy and intended to game Google from the outset (hello, Link Wheels!), others like blog commenting and guest blogging only become spammy when you consider the intent. It is fairly obvious that a comment on a mommy blogger site from a user calling himself – and linking to – Hot Asian Chicks is likely to be a spammer. However, a commenter on the same site giving tips on baking the perfect pie is likely to be the real deal. In the end, both Google (and smart, honest marketers) want to be about authentic links — you know, from people who really think your site content IS worth a link.
Google Slams the Brakes On
In April 2012, Google launched an update, initially known as the Webspam Algorithm but soon given the name Penguin. Like the Panda Update which came before, this newcomer had teeth. Here is how Penguin is described by Chris Meier in the excellent Positionly blog:
A little more than a year after first introducing the Panda update, Google introduced Penguin – a webspam algorithm update. Panda specifically targeted sites and pages with low quality content, while Penguin was designed to target pages that were boosting their rankings by spamming Google. Popular techniques included: Keyword stuffing, Link schemes, Cloaking, Sly redirects, Doorway pages, and Intentional duplicate content.”
Google is always on the lookout for ways that their search engine might be being gamed by those trying to get low quality, irrelevant sites to appear higher in the SERPS than they deserve. This constant tightening of loopholes means that what was a legitimate SEO tactic a couple of years ago is now verboten. It may be that the first the web owner knows about a poor quality link profile is when he receives the following scary email from Google:
Unnatural inbound links
Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank are violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
As a result, Google has applied a manual spam action to globaldatavault.com/. There may be other actions on your site or parts of your site.
- Use the Links to Your Site feature in Webmaster Tools to download a list of links to your site.
- Ensure that unnatural links pointing to your site are removed.
- When these changes are made, and you are satisfied that links to your site follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, submit a reconsideration request. If you’re unable to remove links pointing to your site, please provide as much detail as possible in your reconsideration request.
- For an updated list of manual actions currently applied to your site, visit the Manual Actions page. If no manual actions are listed, there is no longer a need to file a reconsideration request.
- If we determine your site is no longer in violation of our guidelines, we’ll revoke the manual action.
An Ounce of Prevention
There is no question that inbound links are still an important ranking factor. Here is what Searchmetrics say about them in the introduction to their excellent 2014 Ranking Factors Study:
Backlinks: The quantity and quality of backlinks remains crucial as there are many new features introduced this year that have been revised to improve the quality of the results.
What has changed is the very strong emphasis on the quality of the link. Is it coming from a reputable site? Is it coming from a relevant page? Is the site the link is coming from seasoned and cited often on the topic of the post it is linking to?
Going forward your link building energy will have be targeted on building high quality connections however before that perhaps you need to take a trip back in time and see what beartraps have been left in your path through outdated linking tactics or downright spammy techniques.
Stay tuned for the next post to find out how to take a long hard look at your current link profile and clean it up preparatory to embarking on a quality link building campaign.