Still paying for links?
There has been an ongoing discussion in the SEO industry for years if paying for links is effective/strategic/acceptable.
Lets battle it out here and see what each opinion says and then find a definitive path through the minefield of inbound links to your website. Using a case study along the way and reviewing different options, it will become clear where the industry is headed, but it doesn’t mean it’s the right direction for you.
There has been a lot of intensive debate about the legitimacy of using guest blog posts to gain a link to your website. This blog covered closely the aggressive reaction of Matt Cutts to the issue in Mid November 2013. The bottom line of what Matt was saying is that he feels that the SEO community abused the idea of guest blogging and hence he was moving to make it unacceptable according to Google’s guidelines unless it was done in a very specific way. While webmasters are yet to see the implementation of Matt’s threats against links from guest blog posts, no doubt there will be an algorithm update shortly to enforce his views.
If you do chose to continue to guest blog play by a few simple rules:
- Check if the blog is considered spammy
- Only get a single link back from the author area of the blog
- Only post on relevant blogs
- Use your own unique expert opinion within the post
Black hat methods
Anything from click jacking, to hacking and everywhere grey in between is included in this style of gaining inlinks. These practices normally show up within a week to around a month on Google’s web spam team’s radar and the sites are punished (usually manually). I have heard of situations of ‘being to big to punish’. This is where the sheer number of irrelevant spamy backlinks the webmaster is creating simply outbalances any punishment that Google slaps on the site. I have also seen sites use black hat linking techniques to rank highly for a week or two and then get punished (especially common in the payday loans industry), but the sheer profit generated from ranking highly for those few weeks makes the whole exercise worthwhile. Once the URL is burnt, the site is simply uploaded elsewhere and the same cycle happens again.
How do you know if a site is using black hat inbound linking tactics to cheat the system? Look if the domain was just purchased (whois). Then check what opensiteexplorer says about their backlinks. If there is no data, then it shows it is a new site that hasn’t even entered into their compressive inlink database suggesting spamy techniques. If there is data, check if there are relevant sources for the links or if they simply have quantity and not quality. You can also check Majestic SEO to see their backlink acquisition over time. If it all happened at once, you can start to assume black hat tactics were involved.
While I do not condone black hat SEO tactics, the truth is, they work (not necessarily for a long time) and hence they are included in this list although I suggest against using them.
Quantity over Quality
All the leading SEO guru’s have been chanting the same tune for years, saying that a quality link is better than many low level links from irrelevant or non-prominent sources. The question still remains about ROI. If you invest hours wooing one quality link from a major blog or an influential writer for example and that doesn’t come to fruition, wouldn’t it have been better to use older methods of gaining lots of links by sending out bulk emails and not wasting the time that you invested in build relationships to gain a non-existent link in the end? This debate is still raging within the industry and it is a personal choice of a webmaster what technique best suits their offpage optimization strategy. In the end, both paths can have their advantages and disadvantages so careful thought should go into the plan before setting out on a single path.
Google user guidelines
Google has long said that it does not intend to change its algorithms reliance on giving weight to the factor of linking one website to another. Just as in academic essays, each time a fact is mentioned; it is sourced and linked to the book and the author on the academic paper. Google uses this same indicator to decide what is relevant online. Social signals, sharing, time on page, plus clicks still don’t play as major role in determining rank as inbound links do. Google has not followed the path of other search engines such as Yandex (Russian) where social signals are extremely important for high rankings on the SERP. See this recent video of Matt Cutts discussing how Google will continue to rely heavily on inbound linking data in its search ranking factors and not use social signals.
Manual spam action
Cutts has said that while his army of spam fighting soldiers battle against spam on a regular basis every day, they constantly have to take manual action against certain sites (especially in industries such as porn, payday loans, pharmaceuticals, gaming and locksmiths) to ensure their SERP is kept clean of spamy sites. I loved this video of Cutts describing a regular day for a member of his web spam fighting team. The impression he left is that it is a real war going on online and Google don’t know where the attacks will come from, but they sure work hard to fight them off. Enjoy the video!
Google have said that social sharing is not a factor in their algorithm. There is usually a correlation between highly shared content and webpages that rank highly on Google’s SERP because both are signs of quality and relevant content. In the end, links from social media are not a ranking factor on the SERP, but do help your content to gain more exposure.
At the end of December 2013 Matt Cutts tweeted about SEOs bribing bloggers. For further information you can see this post on the Gawker. Here the writer Hamilton Nolan claims that an SEO company offered him money in return for creating links to a 3rd party website. This SEO company was clearly trying to buy links from the author, which is against Google’s guidelines but is very common practice. Nolan calls this practice “stealth marketing, and it’s designed to deceive both the employer and the reader. It’s an unethical scam.”
Many have responded that it is standard practice that PR firms have asked journalists for decades to publish online positive press about their clients. What is the difference between doing this with PR companies in the past with printed press and doing this online? It seems it is just Google that doesn’t like it, but it is certainly not unethical in my point of view.
In the end Google simply promotes its agenda and has decided this is not acceptable. This SEO company was burnt by Nolan, but many other SEO companies and webmasters are continuing to use this way of gaining inbound links and have been achieving success. This success has led to the practice continuing to be wide spread and since it is hard for Google to algorithmically track these transactions, they have been unable to stop link buying occurring.
You as a webmaster or SEO expert need to ask yourself: ‘Am I looking for short term gain or longevity?’ If your answer is longevity, then quality link building suits you. It allows for more stability and strategically it is much less risky, but it does take time. The time is usually involved in building relationships with the relevant webmasters so as to get quality inlinks. Reaching out to influencers with a unique proposition that will catch their attention and cause them to link to you is definitely challenging.
In the end, creating excellent, engaging, unique content is the first step. As we have all heard a thousand times “content is king”, but all of you should note that the correct linking strategy is definitely queen. Without that, you could have a great piece of content that never ranks highly or gets seen. By combining these two steps, you will be assured a decent chance to rank highly on Google’s SERPs, grab a lot of relevant traffic and hopefully achieve your onpage goals.
So what your opinion on inlinking and what works for you?