What You Need To Know About Google’s Latest Link Guidelines: AKA How Google Is Ruining the Web They Created and What You Can Do About It

August 14th, 2013 by

Matt Cutts - Nofollow All the Links!!!

The last few years have been rather painful for some SEO’s when it comes to links and link building.  In 2012 many were hit by Google’s “Penguin” algorithm that went after manipulative linking schemes.  Many others have been hit in its subsequent refreshes or the infamous “Penguin 2.0” update. But in the wake of all the recent algorithm updates, Google has recently made some changes to the way it defines “link schemes” and many practices that have been used by businesses and marketers to build authority in websites have many SEO’s and small businesses wondering where they should turn to next.  Here’s what Google is saying and some ways you can continue to reap the benefits of these methods, while remaining on Google’s good side.

What Are Link Schemes?

In Google’s eyes, link schemes are basically any means of gaining links unnaturally.  In other words, if you’re “building links” you’re technically engaging in a link scheme.  That said, its obviously not that black and white and working to build links to your website is obviously not going to get you in too much trouble if you go about it the right way.  But what has businesses and marketers nervous is the changes Google has made to classify certain practices as “link schemes.”

Guest Blogging

Over the last few years guest blogging has been a popular way for people to earn new links to their website.  It gave them the ability to promote their product or business and also score some decent backlinks to their website because they could control the anchor text.  However, the recent updates to Google’s link scheme guidelines call out article marketing and guest blogging as link schemes.

How To Guest Blog Moving Forward

  • Become a regular contributor – Instead of creating one post on dozens of sites, become a contributor that creates dozens of posts for only a handful of sites. This can help to build audience, authority, and is ultimately safer than traditional guest blogging since you become an author on the site. As an example, I am a contributor at both Search News Central and Search Engine People and earn links in the body of my content as well as my author bio.
  • Scale it back – One of the overlooked elements of Google’s update about guest blogging is the use of the word “Large-scale” at the start of the guideline.  Many communities have popped up over the years allowing you to accept/pitch guest posts at scale. Instead of finding every opportunity to post, identify only the most relevant, authoritative sites to post on.  This will keep the scale smaller and offer greater rewards.
  • Keep it natural – One of the biggest issues with unnatural links is the anchor text used to link back to a website.  Too many links with the same anchor text can set off spam signals at Google. If you are doing larger scale article marketing or guest blogging, stay away from exact match anchor text and keep your links a bit more natural.  Find modifiers that can be added to the keyword you’re targeting or better yet, incorporate branded links in place of exact match anchor text as part of your efforts. The key is to shy away from creating linking patterns that can trigger the algorithm, or even a manual penalty from Google.

Press Releases

Historically, press releases were used to help alert the media of newsworthy announcements from your business or organization.  Fast forward to the digital age, and businesses and marketers found an opportunity in the links provided by press releases.  Not only would you earn keyword rich anchor text links from press releases, but every site afterward that picked up the release.  Because of this, Google is now warning against the use of “Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.”  In a Google+ hangout following the update Google’s John Mueller recommend nofollowing links in a press release to be safe.

Press Releases Moving Forward

  • Drop the spammy low quality press releases – One reason I believe this guideline came to light is because of the amount of pure crap that is distributed as “news.”  Only submit press releases that are truly newsworthy and might actually be of interest to a news outlet.  Not only does this cut back on the amount of spam in Google’s news results, bu it might actually earn you some decent media coverage that could earn you some even stronger links.
  • Keep it natural – Again, like in the case of guest blogging try and keep your anchor text as natural as possible.  If you really want to play it safe consider using brand or just your url as the anchor text and hopefully earn the more relevant links on the backend when a reporter reaches out to you to cover your story.
  • Nofollow where you can – While in most cases you won’t have any control over this, if you have the option to nofollow your links consider doing it where possible. Again, the goal of a press release is not the link, but the exposure and the hope that it may earn you some separate press coverage.

Infographics

If you’ve been online at all these last few years you’ve probably seen a few hundred, hell maybe even a few thousand infographics. They’re a great visual means of displaying data and if done right they can earn you a ton of links.  Hell, even I’ve written on ways to get more links for your infographic, but in SEO, as in life, too much of a good thing can be bad for you.

Google and the SEO industry has had its eye on infographics ever since Google’s Matt Cutts commented on how they may lose their value in an interview conducted by Eric Enge.  Then earlier this week Matt Cutts mentioned in the below webmaster help video that perhaps now is a good time to start nofollowing your infographic links as well as links embedded in widgets.

Infographics Moving Forward

  • Rely on the value of the page your linking to – If you’re not quite ready to nofollow those awesome infographic links consider keeping your anchor text a bit more generic when you link back to your website and then link from the page on your site using strong anchor text and hope some of the value of the links funneling in to that page will help fuel your efforts.  I did this with a project a while back and we had the infographic link back to the blog post that first shared the infographic and then in the blog post we added keyword rich anchor text links within the page about a month later. It may not have had the same impact, but we still saw a bump for the efforts in the end.
  • Nofollow your links and hope for the best – Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday infographic links are going to most likely trigger some sort of penalty or manual action on a site.  I alluded to this in my post on how to do infographics right.  In the end if you have a solid infographic that people are actually interested in it can earn you links naturally and even earn you some love in the social media realm.

This is the Web That Google Weaved

Despite its best intentions the mess we face as digital marketers and business owners is a product of the exact company that is trying to stop it.  Links are the life force behind rankings in Google’s search results and as such SEO’s and business owners have sought any method possible to drive links to their website in hopes of earning that coveted spot at #1 in the search results.  What was “ok” in SEO a year ago is quickly becoming an SE-no and could potentially harm your website.  As such, its time for SEO’s and businesses to really start thinking about how they are going to build, or even earn links in the future.  The above are just short term fixes to a long term problem.  In the end how SEO’s and businesses get links to their content is going to get harder and harder unless you start investing time and effort into things that will drive not only links, but an audience and eventually profits.

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4 Responses to “What You Need To Know About Google’s Latest Link Guidelines: AKA How Google Is Ruining the Web They Created and What You Can Do About It”

  1. arienne says:

    Mike, congratulations on an original Matt Cutts Photoshop job. (Good article, too.)

  2. Byron Hardie says:

    Nice take on the potential aftermath of these cumulative changes. There are still a lot of questions left unanswered by Google but it appears that they are trying to push #777777 grey-hat techniques a little closer to #aaaaaa.

    The clamp down on syndicated articles, guest blogging (on low-quality blogs), sponsored posts, and press releases was to be expected at some point. The real question is the high level of ambiguity that they create when trying to define paid links. Their definition is now so subjective and vague that it can easily create a lot of false-positives where legitimate linking is penalized. It isn’t uncommon for B2B companies to use each other’s services especially if they are in overlapping industries. But if you get a link from said partner it may be considered paid even if it is a legitimate endorsement.

    The entire social aspect of the internet is now in question. If someone wrote an insightful article on this very topic with their own take and link to your article as a reference while you link to theirs, is that now somehow a “reciprocal” or “incentivized” link? Would you even know if someone linked back to you? What does this mean for trackbacks or pingback links?

    What if your site had its own affiliate program and other affiliates use spammy techniques. Can it hurt you if they link to your site? You can’t control what they do and no one has time to sift through and disavow potentially hundreds or even millions of links if a competitor wanted to try to link bomb you.

    Google’s response is that the linking site should nofollow the link, but there are a lot of webmasters that either don’t really understand nofollow or don’t have the time and resources to do Google’s job for them.

    The consensus over the last 2 years is that it is no longer the case where a bad link may be devalued but it wouldn’t hurt you. Now you are forced to spend countless hours monitoring every link you receive on the internet to potentially disavow, as well as a constant evaluation of every site that your links reside on just in case any of those websites become spammy in the future thereby transitioning your once good link into a bad link.

    If Google knows a link is bad or is low-quality and that it negatively impacts a site’s rankings, why not disavow it for us on our behalf and call it a day? Why force all of us to do their job for them. They are instead trying to pass that laborious task off to site owners that would rather focus on their business?

    Great article Mike.

  3. Lisa says:

    Hi Mike!

    Thanks for your tips on how to move forward with some these methods. SEO and Google are like a moving target these days. A couple of my websites were hit in a big way with the Google updates and never recovered, despite my efforts.

    My strategy has changed some and I now focus much of my effort on driving traffic through social media to gain a loyal audience.

    Since Google is always coming up with new twists and turns out there in search, keeping up is a challenge but I am in it for the long haul!

    Take care and thanks again for these tips.
    Lisa

  4. Jennifer says:

    Blogging is the great way of marketing. Webmaster must avoid black hat SEO methods so that the website does not penalize in future or does not hit by Google updates.

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