Link building is a driving force in gaining a popular page ranking in Google search results. It can mean success or failure for any small business online—especially one that is only online. By backlinking—or creating inbound links—a website becomes a higher and more prominent presence in search query results. However, in the past two years Google has rolled out a set of updates to curb manipulation of this common search engine optimization (SEO) practice.
The first update to hit the Google-sphere was Google Panda in February of 2011. This change to their algorithm targeted websites that provided a poor user experience. There were a number of factors determining this from over use of ad space, poor and low quality content, and excessive use of irrelevant links. Many websites saw their Google ranking drop because of this. Following Panda came Google Penguin in April of 2012. Penguin targeted black hat link tactics and spamdexing—the deliberate manipulation of a search engine index to return spam search results.
In a study by Portent Inc., a Seattle based Internet marketing company, titled “A Changing Standard For SEO Spam: Google Penguin Link Penalties & Declining Leniency” they found “that Google was applying a stricter standard over time. In the initial Penguin update, the only sites we saw penalized had link profiles comprised of more than 80 percent manipulative links. Within two months, Google lowered the bar to 65 percent. Then in October 2012, the net got much wider. Google began automatically and manually penalizing sites with 50 percent manipulative links.” Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team, announced on May 10th that an update to Penguin was weeks away, and will most likely bring even stricter requirements for meeting Google’s acceptable practices.
Steps to Protect Yourself and Link Build Successfully
Since Google is tightening the threshold for what they deem to be a positive user experience and beneficial links, it may be time to analyze your own SEO practices. Take a look at the back end of your website, and research where all the links to your site are coming from. Although websites deemed unacceptable by Google will be penalized, you will also be found guilty by association. When assessing if you’re in good link building standing there are a few things to watch out for.
Low quality blogs: Is your website being linked from a blog with a poor user experience? Google will identity these blogs as spam, and penalize your site as a result. This is not to say that blogs without a lot of traffic fall into this category, or someone still getting the hang of blogging, but if the blog contains articles about a bunch of random topics, and are purely a hub for links it’ll fit into this category.
Article directories and link lists: Google considers these spam because their only purpose is to boost page rankings. Again, if the directory or list is specialized and is a helpful resource for guiding people to relevant topics of interest it won’t affect you, but it’s best to be cautious.
Portent points out in their study that gaining authority in search ranking and links are “the outcome of good marketing”, and shouldn’t be the approach used to gain a marketable presence. With that in mind, make sure all of your links that direct people to your site are relevant, and that your SEO success isn’t the result of “link bombing”. There’s no reason to have your website connected to a site that people feel is shady because people will only remember you as something to avoid. Furthermore, you’ll be penalized, and may not even show up in results at all. Using accepted SEO tactics, identify markets that would have a genuine interest in your website. Once one reputable source has linked to your page others may follow, creating a snowball effect. Furthermore, crafting valuable guest posts or other content for a website that you want to link to you is another great approach.
Link building is all about positively building your reputation on the web, and elevating your status in relevant search results. By manipulating the process, you not only damage your website’s reputation, but also run the risk of having no presence at all—which from a marketing standpoint is tantamount to death.
Portent study: http://static.portent.com/images/2013/03/google-declining-spam-tolerance.pdf
About the author:
Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help consumers stay financially savvy, and save some money with the best savings account.