In the early days of link building, it was perfectly acceptable for SEOs to submit their articles to directories without any risk of being penalized by Google. Today, however, after the search engine became overrun with low quality webpages that were spammed with keywords, Google decided to change its rules. Out went the good old days of article submissions, and in was ushered there era of Penguin. In 2012, Google rolled out the Penguin Update, which was designed to catch and penalize websites that used spam link building techniques such as buying links or obtaining them through link networks. The ultimate goal of the update was to ensure browsers were landing on nothing but quality links with useful information.
Now, website owners and maintenance technicians must focus on quality link building techniques, which we will address here.
“Natural” Links = The Good
These links are the holy grail of links as they are they type that you didn’t even have to ask for—you simply earned them. Natural editorial links occur when other website owners link to your website simply because you provided valuable and authoritative information. When this occurs, you need to figure out a way to capitalize on that information by making large numbers of bloggers aware of it.
Unfortunately, natural links can take time to build, which is part of the reason they are so valued, along with the fact that they will stand the test of time. Google’s theory is that if you can get influential bloggers to notice you, link to you, and spread the word about you, you’ve sufficiently earned a top spot in their search engines.
Manual Outreach = The Not So Good (But Not So Bad, Either)
This is one of the most common types of link building in the world of SEO for three reasons: a) it works, b) it’s quick, and c) there is no way for Google to penalize these types of efforts. If you are small and relatively well known, manual outreach is probably going to be your go-to method for the time being. It involves contacting other website owners and bloggers and asking them to link to you. However, just because you’re asking for a link doesn’t mean you can cut corners—you still need to give these individuals a valid reason to link to you. If your links are low quality, you’re not only hurting your own reputation, but you’re risking the reputation of the person who did you a favor. Additionally, you need to be sure to ask for links from people who are within your industry; otherwise you’ll confuse them, their readers, and the search engines.
Self-Created Links = The Ugly
Nobody likes when someone else toots their own horn, and the same goes for website visitors. Website owners that link to their own articles via guest post signatures, un-moderated blog comments, or any other means are committing a search engine faux pas, as they are ultimately trying to trick Google and its users into thinking that a piece of content is more important than it actually is. While Penguin has done away with a significant number of self-created links, some SEOs still use them. Examples of links Google looks to penalize include:
- Press releases with optimized anchor text
- Un-moderated blog comments
- Guest post signatures
- Embedded widgets
- Infographic embeds
- Article directories
- Forum signatures
- User profile pages
- Un-moderated directories
While some website owners still use these tactics, we urge you to proceed with caution if you choose to follow any of the routes above.
While it is ultimately up to you how you pursue your link building campaign, a good rule of thumb is to only use links that are editorially given (meaning, you didn’t create them yourself). These will not only add value to your website, but also, they will result in long-term gain, as opposed to a short-term win.
White-Hat Vs. Black-Hat SEO Tactics
While we kind of delved into the basics of good vs. bad SEO tactics in the above section, now is a good time to explain the differences between white-hat and black-hat methods.
White-Hat Link Building Techniques
White-hat link building techniques are those that result in only a positive outcome (most of the time – there are no guarantees with SEO and link-building strategies). White-hat techniques, as you have already probably guessed, are techniques that earn you links, such as the following:
- The creation and publication of unique, relevant, and useful content;
- Building a community of engaged followers that interacts with your content, your website, and your brand; and
- Promoting your website to relevant people in a genuine and personal way.
While white-hat techniques result in long-term gain, they take a while to earn results, which can become frustrating for website owners looking to see a quick return on their investment. However, if you put in the time to build links the right way, the results are likely to keep working for you for years into the future.
Black-Hat Link Building Techniques
Black-hat techniques are the exact opposite of earned links, and are simply strategies used by aggressive SEOs to con the search engines into believing their pages are worthwhile. These techniques typically go in direct violation of search engine guidelines, and seek to exploit loopholes in the algorithms.
Some examples of black-hat strategies include:
- Incorporating hidden links into a website that you do not own;
- Showing different content to the search engines than what users can actually see (otherwise known as “cloaking”); and
- Including hidden text on the page specifically for the search engine’s eyes; this content is typically stuffed with keywords you want to rank for.
While these tactics can result in immediate results, they ultimately lead to long-term loss, as when you get caught, the search engines will penalize you by dropping your rankings overnight.
Why Sustainable Techniques Are So Important
When you built your business offline, you knew that you wanted to create a sustainable business model, as if you did anything but it would result in long-term failure. The same goes for your website. Your website is your online business, and as such, it is imperative that you tread carefully. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take risks—every business owner should be willing to take some risks, otherwise they would never get ahead—but the risks you do take should be calculated.
When building links, carefully choose which tactics you want to use, and weigh the pros and cons of each. When it comes to link building, smart risks include asking for links from industry leaders, with the only downside being that they say no. A dumb risk would be violating privacy measures on another person’s website to embed your own link without permission, which would result in virtual removal from the search engines entirely.
Ultimately, white-hat strategies are the smartest link building strategy you can utilize, as they pose the least amount of risk and are least likely to get you hit with a penalty from Google. Additionally, if you truly want to make a name for yourself in your industry, white-hat techniques focus on adding true value to your industry as well as improving the overall customer experience. If your ultimate goal is to build a sustainable presence on the web, you need to focus on building a loyal customer base that will happily recommend you to friends and family members—something that only white-hat techniques can achieve.
Another factor that makes white-hat techniques so sustainable is their longevity. Because black-hat techniques are always caught out and put to an end by Google, SEOs that use them constantly have to find newer, shadier tactics to implement. The cycle keeps repeating itself: use shady tactics, get bumped from the rankings, start over. This is not good for business, as most businesses cannot afford to have Google find them out and then have to invest in and implement an entirely new strategy to rebuild their rankings.
By contrast, when you invest in white-hat tactics, you know you are investing in a long-term strategy, and while some tactics are undoubtedly better than others, they all work together to achieve the same end goal: sustainable search engine rankings and a favorable reputation.
Where Do Purchased Links Fall in the Grand Scheme of Things?
Purchasing links is equivalent to purchasing leads, and like purchasing leads, is highly frowned up. In fact, in the search engine world, it’s illegal, just as purchasing names and contact information is illegal. Link building is tough and takes a significant amount of time, which is why it is understandable when SEOs want to take a shortcut or two to jumpstart the process. Though a common shortcut is to purchase leads, doing so goes directly against Google’s webmaster policies:
“Buying or selling links that pass PageRank: This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.”
Since Google implemented the Panda algorithm, they have been primarily focused on providing value to its users, which means showing only those pages that do just that. Website owners that purchase links are manipulating the system in order to rank higher – which they may or may not deserve.
However, just because Google frowns upon purchasing links does not mean that they frown upon purchasing advertising.
Google does not expressly prohibit the purchase of advertisements that link through to your website. They do, however, state that if you are going to do this, you must make sure that the advertisement does not pass PageRank to your website. In order to ensure this, there are a couple of things you can do:
- Make the link JaveScript, which Google cannot follow
- Add the NoFollow attribute to the link
- Go via a redirected page that is blocked in robots.txt
By implementing these techniques, you are ensuring that your purchased advertising does not directly affect how much PageRank your website receives and therefore, will not affect how you perform in the search results. In essence, you are still earning your ranks fairly.
In short, purchasing links is not recommended – especially if you’re a smaller company and cannot afford the backlash of doing so. While the short-term gains may be significant, if you plan on building a successful business, long-term benefits is what you should be after. Purchasing links is not the way to obtain these.
The Low-Down on “Trading Links”
One way that many website owners used to build links was to trade them with other struggling website and blog owners. While this used to be a good strategy, like all link building tactics, it quickly became abused. Instead of trading links with other relevant, high quality websites, SEOs would just trade links with whomever would do business with them—which proved to be a nightmare. Moreover, many individuals started making a business out of trading links, with websites specifically designed for link swapping. These websites consisted of huge lists of links to websites that had absolutely no relevancy to the website itself. As a result, Google sought to devalue any websites whose links were linked to irrelevant, low quality pages.
Today, Google’s guidelines include a section that states that they will penalize any website that has any evidence of, “Excessive link exchange (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”).”
At risk of sounding like a broken record, Google looks for and rewards websites that earn their rankings. They want to see that the links you do have are for a good reason, and not simply because you have “connections” or the resources to purchase links.
Next read -> Link Building Tactics.