Over the past two years, Google has been doing its utmost to prevent webmasters and marketers alike from spamming its results.
After years and years of webmasters, marketers and just about everybody with a website trying to manipulate Google results by the way of Black Hat SEO techniques and aggressive link building, Google hit back with the Penguin algorithm update in April 2012.
Widespread panic kicked in. People lost jobs (don’t quote me on that), people cried and people begged on forums for help.
I remember there were literally hundreds of people crying on the Google forums about their disappearing rankings around April/May 2013 and even beyond. Look at any of their backlink profiles today and they all seem to still have a bunch of shoddy links and backlink profiles worthy of penalisation more than a year after they put a complaint on the forum (maybe they gave up with their websites after the responses they received).
Fast forward to September 2013 and here is a look at 11 link building techniques of yesteryear that made it on to Google’s Link Schemes page. I’ve even included 11 ethical alternatives so you won’t be one of those people shamelessly blubbering in a forum.
1) Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
If you were an owner of a blog of non-ecommerce website with a PageRank of 3 or above you were almost certainly contacted by a business wanting to purchase a link from you. This may even continue today. If you were never contacted then perhaps your website had been booted out of Google or you didn’t have any contact details on your website.
Smart businessmen out there built websites for the sole purpose of getting them to PageRank 3 or above with any old low quality link for the sake of selling links to make a tidy little earner.
This was still occurring even in 2012 and some of my websites still get enquiries for purchasing links because they’re PageRank 3 or above.
Focus on links that will help build your brand, as well as those that will help you rank in Google if that’s what you’re intent on. Today links are as much about increasing brand exposure as they are for ranking in Google. You also want to be receiving relevant referral traffic from these increases and it’s a bonus to increase your social presence from them too.
2) Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
Everyone remembers “reciprocal links” right? Or at least you will if you’ve been in the industry for a few years. Webmasters would setup pages solely dedicated to exchange links with. These links would often contain the anchor text they wanted to rank for too.
It started out with exchanging links with similar sites and then it got a bit out of hand when some webmasters started reciprocating with any ol’ site. And then Google caught up with it and these sites started to get hit with penalties.
These types of “link partner” pages no longer exist, or if they do, are unlikely to give your site much benefit. Instead, look for business or blog partnerships where you can help promote each other’s services or blogs ethically. This can be done on your blog, on your social networks, via video etc – but not on some useless page that few visitors are going to visit.
3) Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
Guest blogging and article marketing blew out of proportion in 2012. People became lazy and guest posting became the “in thing” to do.
There’s nothing wrong with continuing to use this method provided you’re not doing this on a “large-scale”, e.g. posting just one post on numerous sites with a “keyword-rich anchor text link” in each.
Continue to guest post but look to contribute to a handful of websites on a regular basis instead of one post on as many as you can find. Google+ profiles allow you to setup Authorship so that you can let Google know which sites you’re a frequent author on. This is a stamp of authority; worthwhile to set you apart from spammers and to help increase your identity.
4) Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
Automated programs are something I never agreed with or contemplated using for my own website (or clients for that matter). I’m talking about the automated directory submission, forum and comment spam tools and mass links on unrelated websites; “10,000 instant backlink packages” etc.
Many years ago when a number of people thought that quantity was better than quality for link building (and in fairness, there were times when that worked for ranking your website) these services were popular.
I recently tested one of them and wrote a case study on it for Search Engine Journal that demonstrated it’s risky business in 2013 as my website was kicked out of Google.
Don’t use any automated system or anything that’s mass-related for link building. Either do it yourself or outsource it to a legitimate company who know what they’re doing – like us!
5) Text advertisements that pass PageRank
Purchasing links in sidebars, footers and generally on the homepages of external websites has been commonplace for some time. For the experienced marketer they’re quite easy to spot – anchor text links that have little or no relevance to where they’re placed, simply bought to improve their position in Google’s SERPs.
Before the Google Penguin update, marketers were ranking websites in Google through purchasing a number of links on related websites. Some fools purchased them on non-related websites and got penalised, some bought too many of the same anchor text and got kicked out. Some had to clean their links up after the algorithm update.
Banner advertisements stand out more than a text ad. You can purchase these and avoid Google penalties by getting the webmaster to NoFollow them. The benefit to you will be raising brand awareness and referral traffic.
6) Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank
Purchasing text links on websites was happening all over the web in 2011 and got out of hand in 2012 to the point that the Google Penguin algorithm update was released as a way to calm webmasters down and stop them from doing it on such large scale.
Some webmasters found it an easy way to get links, and by looking at some of their results in Google, it worked. “Here’s £50, please can we have a link on so-and-so page” or “how much do you charge for publishing our article with 2 links back to our site?” so the emails read.
I’m sure purchasing links still takes place but the ethical marketers amongst us no longer use this method or have never used this method. Many still use this method as they see it as a quick way to obtain links, traffic and sales from other websites – even though this will be short-lived.
7) Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
Press releases and articles created solely for link building purposes. Everyone remembers them: press releases with no important or interesting news that were there to influence Google’s results. Well, if you check out these PR sites today, you’ll see people still doing this.
Writing articles and publishing them in article directories was a brief fad. That moved over to publishing them on sites with a “write for us” page and when this got out of hand Google had to reduce the benefit websites were getting from this.
It was 2011 when I run a test on press releases to see what we could get out of them, the results were limited. What’s worse, these press releases weren’t very cheap, either. So I’d pretty much been done over by the press, like this fellow:
(image courtesy of Eamon Curry)
The idea of press releases is to get important and/or interesting news to the media with the aim of it being picked up by newspapers etc. So if you’re going down this route, make sure to give a journalist something of substance and worthy of getting published.
8) Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
Directories were one of the first link building strategies amongst many link builders and marketers years and years ago. In fact, they’ve been an easy way to build links for the majority of time.
Automated directory submission tools made a nice little earner when people thought it was a good idea. Directories themselves made a tidy sum when they charged for inclusion.
Local directories still have their small benefits; I cannot knock directories such as Yell that have good traffic levels even today.
I find that there are fewer and fewer directories worth submitting to with each passing month. Sure local directories like Yell can drive relevant traffic but how much good do directories like DMOZ pass on these days?
Last time I submitted a site to DMOZ I saw 30+ low quality directories adding my site to their directory without my permission. To this day that site of mine has had just 24 visitors from DMOZ and none of them stayed on my site for very long.
9) Links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites
The initial fad of widgets seemed useful at the time. There were widgets displaying relevant news from reliable sources, some were a fun little game and others included comparison tools for holiday prices.
Widgets quickly changed from being useful to something on Google’s hitlist. Dull widgets were appearing on websites with links embedded in small text as though the traffic and leads from these widgets played second fiddle to ranking in Google.
Google warning sites not to embed links in their widgets won’t erase widgets. Marketers will get more creative with their efforts and their widgets – making them both attractive to the user and with the intention of driving sales to their website. So don’t use them to pass link juice, use them to add genuine interest to your site or blog.
10) Widely distributed links in the footers of various sites
It’s been a while since these were being shoved in footers, camouflauged in HTML but readable by Google for a rankings boost. Since these started having a less positive impact and a riskier reputation purchased links in footers don’t crop up too frequently anymore.
11) Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature
As well as forum comments, Google could add comments in this section too. When marketers couldn’t find any other easy way to build links they would go to forums and comment sections often to write something vague and pointless for the sake of getting a link back to their website.
Then came tools that would do this for them, and these days forum webmasters have a tough job on their hands cleaning up the trash. Fortunately for blogs, there is Akismet for that and using this tool you can see thousands upon thousands of unrelated spam comments left by bots attempting to get a link back to their website.
I don’t think these type of links ever passed much juice, although I must admit I did get a site on page 1 of Google’s results back in 2011 solely on comments with a link or my username being used as the anchor text. This was a low competitive keyword and was solely for testing purposes.
Signing up to relevant forums and leaving comments on blogs is perfectly legitimate. You can increase your exposure, build up your following, send genuine referral traffic and most importantly, help out a community by saying something useful.
Follow the Guidelines
Google also suggests in their guidelines that the best way to get links to your website is to: “create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”
If you think you, or your digital agency, have been using link building techniques against Google’s guidelines, get in touch and we’ll set you straight.