To Build Links or Not to Build Links?
Google first launched the Penguin update in 2012, in an effort to keep spam sites from boosting their search rankings through link networks. At the start, a lot of manual penalties were given out to people building as many spammy links as they could. In the beginning, the school of thought was simply to build as many links as possible with no regard for quality. However, as the update’s evolved, there has been much confusion, misinformation and hot debate thrown around on the practice of link building.
A Short History of Link Building
Since the dawn of Google, people have been trying to manipulate its algorithm by building links in any way they could. The idea at the time was, the more links the better. But as every spammer started building links in manipulative, “black hat” ways, Google’s web spam team was there to fight and devalue them. From blogs with click-bait or low-quality content, to any kind of paid links in the content or footer of a post, link building through spammy means is everywhere. If you’ve tried any manipulative tactics like these, you may face trouble.
The Debate Over Exact Match Anchor Text
The news of Google’s manual penalties for guest blogging struck fear in SEO specialists everywhere. In fact, many people stopped building links altogether to avoid the penalty at all costs. But despite their best efforts, Google continues to heavily rely on links when ranking web pages in their SERPs. Link building experts like Eric Ward the “Link Moses” and Craig McConnel a link builder at EarnedLinks agree with Rand Fishkin from Moz whom states states:
“We did a bunch of tests as part of the IMEC Lab group that I’ve been talking about recently. We tested things like pointing to page A and page B from a single page with one of the links being anchor text rich and the other not being anchor text rich. Every time we could see that the link that pointed to A was bumping A up to the first ranking position, even with just a handful of anchor text rich links from good sources.
The frustrating part about that in SEO is to know anchor text rich links are very important, but they’re also a huge signal for spam.”
So, according to Fishkin, a keyword that has a link that’s rich with anchor text will produce better rankings, but also pose a dangerous red flag for spam catchers.
So, what’s Google looking out for?
Spammy Links in the Eyes of Google
In order to detect a spammy link, you can put your site through a number of quantifiable tests. You can check your site’s links spam score with a tool created by Moz, which assigns a number based on 17 so-called “spam flags.” The tool works from a checklist Moz developed that rates links with a score of 1-10 to identify a link as spammy or not. Note that you must have an account with Moz to use the tool. People have found Moz’s spam analysis to be a useful tool, but not always as exhaustive as it could be.
One Google picked up on the sheer amount of spam circulating through these strategies, they set out to tweak the algorithm in order to devalue sites that hosted a large number of lower quality links. Going even further, they began doling out manual penalties for buying or soliciting links on the internet. Matt Cutts, the former head of Google’s web spam team, even started giving out manual penalties for guest blogging. As Google fought back, the tactics for building links has shifted from wanting a lot of low-quality links to focusing on building a smaller number of high-quality links. Essentially, quality over quantity.
Is Link Building Safe?
What does all this mean for you? Let’s say you run an e-commerce site for women’s accessories, and you want to improve your search engine ranking for women’s sunglasses. You’ll want to optimize a page on your website for the keyword “women’s sunglasses,” and then build a link to it. If, for example, you get a link in a relevant article that is embedded in the exact keyword, “women’s sunglasses,” this would be known as the exact match anchor text that Fishkin was referring to. Rand states that as long as the link is a natural one from a quality, authoritative site, it will boost your rankings. But as soon as Google flags it for spam, you’re in trouble.
A lot of people believe this strategy to be dangerous, and advise against it. Some warn that building exact match anchor text links simply don’t work, since Google has developed an intimate understanding of a guest blogging link’s context, and will thus place far more weight on links coming from natural, high-quality sources.
Here’s what we’ve covered on link building:
-Building exact match anchor text continues to get results, but is risky and may result in penalties
-Google strongly values links coming from a natural, authoritative, and relevant context
-The Penguin algorithm was updated in September 2016. The biggest change was that the algorithm is now part of Google’s core algorithm, so Penguin now evaluates website links in real time. The new Penguin also favors the devaluation of problematic links, over pursuing link-based penalties. Thus, it is always good to review your link profile and keep track of your link building techniques to make sure they comply with the Penguin.
Here are our recommendations for staying safe:
-Perform a link audit and cut out any spammy links.
-Work with SEO and PR experts to plan for clean, high-quality links in a natural context
-Stop building spammy links and focus on quality over quantity.
Don’t be afraid of Google. If you play by the rules, building links in “white hat” ways, you will see results.