Keep up to date with all the latest news updates from Colewood
Author: Philip Hankinson
Link building is a key method of improving search engine rank; however Google and other search engines are always on the lookout for sites that have built very unnatural links. Many of the websites hit by the recent Google Penguin Update were done so because of unnatural link building. These sites had engaged in ‘spammy’ link building tactics such as submitting to millions of forums, blog comments and directories, and after the update saw their rankings dramatically fall.
When undertaking a link building campaign it is essential you try to build as natural link profile as possible. A natural link is one in which search engines would not perceive to be artificially manipulated. In his blog post Natural links are better than non-natural Google’s Matt Cutts stated that when obtaining links the objective is not to make your links appear natural, but that your links are natural. The most effective way of attracting natural links to your site is to firstly create great content, that will be useful and compel people to want to link to you. The Noob Guide to Link Building gives some great tips on how to create content people will want to link to. Once you have created great content you can then work on attracting links to it.
Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model
Link building can be a complicated task. Before Google followed a “random surfer” model, whereas every link on a page was equally important, and user experience and process wasn’t taken into consideration. Google now follow their “reasonable surfer” model. This model means Google now assesses a link based on standard user behaviour. Now, not every link is equal, and Google looks at a wide range of factors to determine how might weight each link on a page may pass.
SEO by the Sea states that links from “important” pages carry more weight than links from less important pages. An important page under this system is one that is linked to by other important pages, or by a large number of less important pages, or a combination of the two. This signal is known as PageRank; one of a large number of ranking signals that are used by Google to rank pages and determine how highly those pages show up in search results in response to a query from a searcher. Understanding that Google rates links differently is therefore an important element to consider when searching for potential links, and to create a link profile that will look natural and be valuable.
What Links Should You Work To Attract?
Acquiring natural looking links is not easy, but is a very important element in order to boost ranking and reduce the chance of being caught by a Penguin update. Get it wrong and you could be penalised. You therefore need to understand what links you should be looking to gain and how you should gain them.
Should I try to gain links from relevant sites, or will any site do?
It is extremely important to acquire links from sites that contain relevance to yours and no link is more natural looking than one from a topically related site. A link from a site on the same or similar topic as yours is worth much more than a link from a site with an unrelated topic. The relevance of each link is evaluated in the specific context of the search query entered by a user. For example, if a user searches “restaurants in York” and a publisher received a link from York’s tourist information board, that link would reinforce the search engine’s belief that the page relates to York.
If a link pointing to a website selling used cars is placed on a page about home interiors; there is no relevance between these two topics and this link would provide no value to a person using the site. This link would therefore look very unnatural, and a search engine would perceive it to of only been placed there for the purpose of ranking higher in SERPs.
The J.C. Penney Case
The J.C. Penney case is a perfect example of what can happen if sites linking to you do not carry relevance. J.C. Penney ranked top for practically everything the retailer sold. The New York Times were baffled by this and published an article on an investigation into the search engine optimisation practices of them. The investigation found that thousands of seemingly unrelated web sites (many of which contained only links) were linking to the J.C. Penney website, and many of those links had really descriptive anchor text.
Below shows an Open Site Explorer screenshot of some of the links and anchor text pointing to J.C. Penney’s page listing “comforter sets”:
Piano players, water colour paintings and car modifications were linked to this page. None of which are relevant to comforter sets. These kinds of links suggest that either J.C. Penney or their SEO firm; SearchDex had bought into a paid link network.
The New York Times presented these findings to Google who confirmed the tactics violated the Google webmaster guidelines. J.C. Penney were shortly nowhere to be seen for search queries they had previously ranked number one for. Their SEO firm, SearchDex were promptly fired and J.C. Penney argued that they didn’t know anything about the links.
This case highlights the importance of gaining links from sites carrying relevance to yours. If J.C. Penney had done this, they probably wouldn’t of ranked number one for everything, but would not have been penalised and rank as low as they do post penalty.
How much focus should I put on PageRank?
Many advise that you should try to gain most of your links from pages with as high a PageRank as you can, although these do tend to be more difficult to acquire links from, the weight they carry is more valuable than that of sites with little or no PageRank. Google also views these sites as more important and trusted.
It is however being argued that PageRank has now seen a decline in importance. In order to boost their own PageRank many publishers have engaged in buying PageRank from old domains with a high score. These are known as paid posts and are a very unnatural method of building links; with their sole purpose being to increase search engine rankings. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can, if discovered, negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.
It therefore can be quite difficult to determine a site’s true value. When building a link profile sites with a variety of PageRank scores will look more natural, and this is now not something that needs to be as much of a concern when selecting potential link partners.
Do TLDs have any effect on the value of a link?
It is often believed that links from .edu, .org and .gov sites are better than .com and .co.uk sites. However, some now argue this as a myth and that it wouldn’t make sense for search engines to take such a simple view. These sites often contain forums, blogs and other pages that can easily be manipulated to gain links. The domains of these sites are, however, often authoritative and trusted; but this is a result of the link analysis that defines a given college, university or government site as an authority on one or more topics. When building natural thinks focus more on the relevance these sites and pages have to yours. If it is a very relevant page, and is an .edu page containing no spam, great, but if the page carries no relevance then the link would appear very unnatural.
Should I steer clear of no follow links?
There is a misconception that no follow links do not carry any SEO benefit. While they may not carry as much weight as do follow links, they are still worth acquiring and it is definitely more natural to have both. By having some no follow links to your site would also be less likely to raise a red flag with Google.
Is it best if I acquire links from around the world?
If you and your target audience are located in the UK, it is then best, and more natural looking for you to acquire the majority of your links from sites hosted in Britain. If you run a local business, obtaining links from other local websites would help you rank higher for local terms and would most definitely improve how natural your link profile looks.
A link from a website hosted on an international server, especially one from a non-English speaking country would look very unnatural. A link is meant to enhance user experience, and lead them to more, useful information. If that link points to a site written in a different language, this would be of little or no use to that user. Google would deem that unnatural. Some links from other English speaking sites, such as the USA and Australia would look natural; as long as these sites carry relevance.
Where is best to place my link on the page?
Sitewide links are generally considered unnatural and not worth as much as a link placed on just one page. An external link is meant to point the user to another source of information. It is very unlikely that that link will be relevant to all of the pages on that site, and these links are often known to of been paid ones. A few sitewide links wouldn’t do any harm, as long as they are placed on a site carrying relevance to yours. However if there are a large quantity of sitewide links, located in the same place on each site, for the same target URL and using the same anchor text, Google would flag this up as unnatural and presume these links have been bought and not naturally acquired.
The same goes for sidelinks. If these are from relevant sites and pages, and not pages containing lots of links, these can look natural. Also ensure you don’t have lots of these, with the same anchor text, as this too can be flagged up by Google.
A more natural link would only appear on relevant pages; usually only one pointing to one target URL on the entire domain. A link placed on a page, surrounded by relevant information is the most natural looking link and would also add to the page and user experience.
Below shows a link for Consumer Finance Claims; the link is surrounded by text relevant to the link, and will show the user where they can find more information on PPI Claims.
This link for “clothes airers” is also surrounded by relevant information and even contains a picture of the item the link points to:
Should I always use the same anchor text?
According to The Professional Guide to Link Building anchor text is one of the most powerful factors in achieving high search rankings. Anchor text is used to provide further evidence of what the page receiving the link is about. This makes it incredibly important to ensure the correct anchor text is used. A minimum of 35% of your backlinks should be using your domain name or URL, or some other “branded” link text, and many top performing websites contain 50-80% domain name, URL or “branded” anchor text.
If links pointing to your website all have exactly the same anchor text, this would look very unnatural. To make links even more natural looking you should also use anchor texts such as; “this site”, “click here” or “visit this site.” These look as though you are trying to entice users to click on the link, and that the link isn’t there just to pass juice.
Is quantity better than quality?
There is a misconception that the quantity of inbound links is more important than the quality of these links. It is important to have many links pointing to your site; however the quality of these links is much more of an important factor. If you have 100 good quality, relevant links pointing to your site, this would look much more natural, and be more valuable than if you have 200 low quality links.
Building links is a very time consuming task and it is best to have consistent, steady growth. One of the biggest mistakes in link building is sudden growth as it is very unnatural to gain thousands of new, inbound links overnight.
Also distribute your inbound links so they don’t all point to the same page; if all links point to your homepage, this will look very unnatural and other pages on your site will not rank as highly. If you are unsure how to distribute links follow the 50-50 rule; 50% of links should point to your homepage and the remaining 50% should be spread throughout the site.
Another factor in the J.C. Penney case, highlighted by the New York Times was that they had acquired links very quickly, in two bursts coinciding with Christmas 2009 and 2010. This was another suggestion that J.C. Penney, or their SEO firm had bought into a paid link scheme, a very unnatural method of link building.
Do link farms provide valuable links?
A link farm is a group of websites that all link to each other and are mostly created through automated programs and services. The diagram below represents a link farm with each circle representing a website and each arrow a link.
Link farms are a collection of artificial, highly interlinked websites created for the sole purpose of trying to trick search engines into thinking that particular websites are more popular than they really are. A search engine algorithm would notice numerous inbound links and believe that the particular websites are more popular than in reality. However, search engines have become wise to these and link farms are usually discovered eventually.
Link farms are a very unnatural way of linking and are a form of spamming; therefore it is important you stay well clear of these when building links.
When link building it is highly recommended that you try to build as natural profile as possible. You are then much less likely to be hit by a Google Penguin update. Try to gain links:
- From sites and pages that carry relevance to yours
- From sites and pages that are valuable
- That are no follow as well as followed
- From sites that are hosted in the UK or locally
- That are located in a good place; some sitewide and sidelinks, but mostly on just one page, surrounded by related information
- That contain an anchor text using mostly your domain name, URL or “branded” keywords
- Slowly; gaining a lot of links at once is very unnatural
- Which are NOT from link farms
If you work steadily to build unpaid, natural looking links you should see your site ranking higher in search queries and are less likely to be flagged up by Google31-05-2012
Author: Philip Hankinson
Click to add your own comment to this article
< Click to view article archive