First let me say, if your goal is to rank a low quality site and clean up using affiliate links and ads, then most of this post won’t apply. You can still get results from spamming and make some cash; however in my opinion the time between launching and crashing out of Google is getting significantly shorter using this sort of strategy.
If you’re looking to future proof your link building and are willing to accept a long term strategy to higher rankings and more qualified traffic, then you’re probably going to be interested in what I have to say.
In the last 2 months I have seen the biggest shake up of link building in the 8 years I have been running search campaigns. The changes being implemented, the penalties being handed out and the speed at which this is happening is like nothing I have ever seen before, and certainly not as wide spread. Yes we saw reciprocal links get hammered in 2007, but the impact was nowhere near as far reaching as these recent changes have been.
I wrote only a week or two ago about ‘The end of easy SEO‘, and I meant it. If you are trying to develop a link strategy on a legitimate website, aimed at building a business and benefiting from natural search, then you have a really tough job. It will still be worth it in the end, but you’re going to have to be patient and change your mind set when it comes to link building.
This post isn’t going to be filled with hard facts and interesting data, it is going to be a roundup of thoughts; ways I believe you should change your link building strategy to be in line with recent events.
I work on hundreds of accounts, and am privileged to consult and engage in conversations about the issues online businesses are facing with regards to search, what you make of this post is up to you, I am only basing it on what I’ve seen so far in 2012.
I know Google Panda is a content based algorithm and not necessarily related to link building, however I think the line between on & offsite issues is slowly fading. If you’re creating content for bots, even if it’s 100% unique and not stuffed with keywords, the chances are Google will penalise it, especially if your blog/website is full of it. How can they possibly do this?
OK, let’s say you have 1000 pages of boring dry content on your site, that’s not engaging and has in no way been developed with users in mind;
– Will it be linked to widely?
– Has it been shared and how much?
– Is it being talked about or referenced?
– Do people land and go on to visit other pages of your site?
– Does it include imagery, video or other sharable content?
– How much time do Google spend on the page?
Google have access to all this information, plugging it in to an algorithm is challenging, but from where I am sitting they are getting much better at it.
Of course everyone will have pages that fall outside of the above, however if your site is built on content that people bounce on, don’t share, don’t link to and never reference, then I’d say you have been hit or will be hit by Panda, regardless of how unique the content is.
Its cliché, but every page you build on your site has to serve a purpose outside of attracting search traffic. If it doesn’t, now is the time to start rethinking your content strategy.
You may have heard me or others discussing this before, and to be honest it’s always been a difficult one to touch on, due to the fact Google didn’t seem to care about why sites were attracting links, rather they were simply interested in how many links you had.
However, this is another element that has changed. No longer can you justify building links every month without a good reason, some questions to ask:
– How do I create web content that people will want to link to?
– Do I have an opinion on events happening within my industry? (if so share it, you might get linked to )
– What else can I share?
– Do I have a unique product, perspective or set of data?
– Are my products the cheapest, best quality?
– Has my business won any awards?
A great way to think about this is as so:
‘What does my business do that would cause a user to pick me over my competitors?’
The reasons are probably similar to those things that will help you leverage more links and help Google rank you higher. You have to be worthy of links before you go out and build them, it doesn’t matter if the links come from outreach or viral means, you have to be worthy of them.
Plus if you do use a lot of outreach, and you focus on making your website link worthy, you’ll have plenty of leverage to help get buy in.
Developing this kind of strategy is not easy or cheap, if you’re a small business you will probably have to do this in house, and then feed the info through to your SEO agency.
If you’re paying for a premium search service or you’re a big brand, then it’s time to pick up the phone and have a conversation around your link building efforts and what you have on the site to justify them.
Look we’ve all done it, wrote a lovely article on finance or travel or gaming, sold it into a blogger and Wow, there’s a lovely anchor text rich link in the middle of it with no reference of the company it is linking to. Likewise we’ve placed text links and footer links with no reference to the business other than ‘credit cards’, ‘home insurance’ etc…..
This kind of anchor text manipulation has worked forever, but going forward we need to change the way we think about placing content and/or links.
The pages we’re getting links from need to be justified.
– Why is this piece of content linking back to you?
– Why does this website have a site wide link to mine?
– Why do I have an ‘online poker’ anchor text link in an article that never refers to my company or website?
The content you use in outreach, the links you place on partner websites, need to be justified, they need to be referring to you for a valid reason other than passing anchor text value.
What is your content strategy? You need one for both on and off site activity? You can justify your links through PR, social, content, events and much more… What’s your holistic marketing strategy and how does it integrate with your search strategy? It really needs to.
I know I rant about this a lot and published a post at the beginning of the year discussing the diminishing value of anchor text, however I’m not going to apologise because over the past month I have seen more devaluing of anchor text than I have seen in the last 8 years.
I’m not just talking about filters being applied, I’m talking about whole sets of SERPs being shuffled around because the market leaders went too hard at it with anchor text.
You need to move your focus away from targeting keywords, and instead target pages. Assess each of your target pages and try to understand the type of anchor text you need to rank in the long term and not just for a short term boost.
You have to incorporate brand, you must have tons of variation, exact match? In my opinion, it should make up no more than 15 – 20% of your back link text, if that. So do a quick check in OSE or Majestic, get a breakdown of anchor text on your target pages, and come up with a strategy that is going to put you in line with the above.
My post in March addressed the recent issues with link networks, namely those paid services that allow you to spin and post content all over the web. However, just to recap:
– They are all being deindexed
– Any keywords supported by links from these networks are losing rankings
I have yet to see a blanket penalty handed out for using these networks and receiving the webmaster tools message, however keywords that rely on these links are being hit, and hit hard.
It’s not just paid/public networks
What if I were to tell you that I had confirmation from a reliable source, that a huge private network had been hit? A network that you can’t pay a few hundred dollars a month for, and one that is 100% exclusive.
40% of the sites in this network have been deindexed, this isn’t Google manually gaining access to paid services and killing link networks, this seems to be Google algorithmically detecting link networks and deindexing based on some kind of quality metric.
As well as networks we have also seen site wide links taking a hit, especially if they are anchor text heavy, but I guess this isn’t really anything new, just the fact that Google are quicker to detect it and the penalties more wide spread.
Brands Are Safe, Right?
In times gone by ‘Brands’ have been invincible in terms of low quality links and general updates, and to a degree they still are, Google has much more tolerance for big brands.
However, it seems these recent WMT messages, anchor text filters and penalties are hitting some brands, unfortunately I can’t make reference to these, all I would say is, don’t presume you are safe because of your brand authority.
OK, time to round up I think.
The changes I have seen taking place over the last 2 months are unprecedented, they are changing the SEO landscape whether you like it or not, if you are using low quality techniques and haven’t been hit yet, you will. If you can clearly see competitors that are out ranking you based on low quality links, just give it time.
The one industry that seems unaffected is SEO :), as always paid links dominate and Google seem to promote sites that probably create 50% of low quality link signals on the entire web
Still, I don’t think it will be that long before the SEO serps coming crashing down as well.
Time to change people!