Those familiar with SEO know that search engines (Google in particular) are constantly modifying their algorithms to devalue spam. The Google Penguin and Panda updates were attempts to penalize sites who built spammy links, paid for links, or used Black Hat SEO tactics to build inbound links to their sites. By “penalize” I mean reduce the number of times the site showed up in search results, or in extreme cases, remove them from the index altogether.
Search engine’s ultimate goal is to produce truly organic popular results based on the search terms entered by the user. The results should have organic inbound links, and not spam or paid links.
Google is constantly making changes to it’s algorithm and fighting link spam. Matt Cutt’s recently tweeted this:
In fact, we took action on several thousand linksellers in a paid-link-that-passes-PageRank network earlier today.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) May 15, 2013
Below are some link building tactics that currently work (in some way, shape, or form) to increase your rankings in search results – but I wouldn’t put my money on them being valuable practices down the road.
Link Directories and Low-hanging Fruit
Link directories are often thrown into the link building category known as “low-hanging fruit.” You simply submit your site to the index, and it’s listed in your specified category. The problem with these sites is they don’t look natural to search engines. Thousands, perhaps millions, of outbound links to sites that may or may not be related to one another – with very few inbound links. Be honest, have you ever linked to a link directory before? Why would you, there really is no benefit.
Even if the link in the directory is a followed link, often times the link itself is thrown on a page with hundreds of other links, or alone on a page with little to no content and very low page authority.
Low-hanging fruit are often also riddled with spam and pass along virtually no equity in their links. It’s not that difficult to see that these links carry little weight when ranking a sites popularity and authority – and search engines will get better at realizing this.
The true value in links is building links that your competitors don’t have, making your link profile unique and organic.
Expanding on the link directories and low-hanging fruit ideas, reciprocal link building is easy to do a common practice among marketers and webmasters. You find a site similar to yours that offers reciprocal links, you link to them and they link to you. Easy, right?
The problem is that this method is too easy. If link building is easy, then everyone is doing it. Google and other search engines pick up on this, and begin to devalue the practice.
The “Broken Link” Link Building Tactic
Broken link building, at first thought, is a genius way of building links. Anthony Nelson writes:
Broken link building (sometimes called dead link building) is a technique that involves pointing out a link on another website that is no longer working and also asking for a link to your website. Often the broken link leads to a 404 page. The link will be on a page that is relevant to your niche and appears to be a good fit for inclusion of your site. You perform a solid by pointing out the broken link to the webmaster and in return, suggest that your link be added or be used as a replacement.
The problem with link building is you often find broken links on link directories and low-value pages. Broken link building is a lot of work. Is it really worth it to spend countless hours researching and crawling sites, just to build a link or two? It’s also a very popular tactic today, so chances are that others have gotten to the links before you.
I’m a webmaster for a handful of high ranking domains (ok, maybe more like “decent”). The sites contain contain tens of thousands of pages spanning more than a decade of content creation and product marketing. There are bound to be hundreds, if not thousands, of broken links. I’ve received several emails from unassuming individuals who out of the kindness of their hearts wanted to point out to me a broken link on a page that hasn’t been updated since 2005. They are big fans of our work, browse our content all the time, and wanted to offer an alternative resource to replace the broken link with. Ok, do you really expect me to believe that you browse our 8 year old content daily, and you find it so useful that you felt compelled to notify me of a broken link? I’ve checked the analytics, and the pages you are concerned about get a dozen hits a year – so thanks but no thanks.
The point is, your time is probably better spent doing other things, like – oh, I don’t know, writing worthwhile and shareable content.
Guest Blogging has long been a power weapon in any content marketer or SEO’s toolkit. It’s a great way to get exposure, build relationships, increase traffic, and of course, build links. Guest blogging is harmless, right? So what’s the problem?
The problem is that search engines are becoming increasingly aware of our ability as bloggers to place our own links on other sites. A guest blog post is often initiated by the guest blogger, and sometimes there is even money involved. *Gasps!* Yes, sites do sometimes pay guest bloggers to write posts for them.
Because search engines are getting better at making the distinction between farmed links and organic links, eventually they are going to figure out that guest blog posts don’t necessarily indicate that the link was organic.
I’m not condemning guest blogging, as I myself have taken part in it over the years. We all have. My point is, if you use guest blogging too heavily, and it someday becomes heavily devalued, you might find that your equity passing inbound link profile isn’t looking so good.
Tayyab Nasir recently wrote an article about anchor text vs. co-citation, and which will win out in 2013.
The ultimate point is that Google sees anchor text as another facet of link building that the original content creator has some amount of control over. Google has started to notice a trend that many sites have unnatural looking inbound link profiles. Often times a site has a large percentage of it’s inbound links with the same anchor text. It’s not uncommon for a site focusing on SEO to have lots of inbound links with “seo” in the anchor text.
Perhaps it’s time we stopped worrying about what our anchor text is, and start worrying about inbound links from relevant and worthy sources. This is the concept behind co-citation.
I’ve long been an opponent of press releases. I’ve had clients that used them heavily, and sometimes it comprised their entire marketing campaign and link building practice. Many sites offer low cost or even free press release submissions to hundreds of different news outlets across the web.
Press Releases are an extremely easy way to get links out there and get links out there fast. Sometimes, they even come from reputable sites.
Where Google pokes holes in this practice is the fact that more often than not, the page that the press release lives on has virtually no authority, and very rarely does someone actually see it. We already know that search engines frown heavily on paying for links, and if you are paying for your press release, you are essentially falling in this category. Press releases are also extremely easy to do, and I’ve already discussed tactics that are easy will be devalued over time.
I’m not saying that the above link building tactics will lose all their value, I’m merely suggesting that they may not be as valuable in the future as they are today.
The only future-proof link building method isn’t link building at all, it’s delivering compelling and interesting content. If you develop something truly worthwhile, the links will build themselves.
Quote me on that.