Tips for Avoiding “Unnatural” Link Building
If you wanted to find a nice tip list that drones on exhaustively about all the things you need to be doing to develop a link building strategy to build “natural” links, then you can easily search the countless articles across the web. This is very important since Google has declared war on all unnatural link building campaigns; or, as Google puts it …
“Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or ‘bad neighborhoods’ on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.” (If you wish, you can read more about Google’s view of Link Schemes here).
So instead of putting another 50 tips on your plate about quality link building, I have decided to offer a few quick tips to help you avoid building bad links.
Change your mindset from “I need a lot of links” to “I need links in places to pull in traffic”
You absolutely need links. I’m sure you’ve heard the old metaphor about how backlinks to your site are like votes at a Senior Prom. The winner gets all the attention and the losers are ignored. For those who haven’t heard this metaphor, I can explain further. The three major search engines (and others) view backlinks as votes of confidence. If you have a lot of backlinks pointing to your site, then that must mean that someone found your site useful enough to link to it. If a lot of sites find your site useful, the search engines recognize this and pull your site up the results page because the search engines assume that their users will also find your site helpful if so many other people already do.
This metaphor is common, but it misses a vital part of the algorithm. You can only vote for the Prom Queen if you attend the school. The votes of confidence only pass on some link juice if the site linking to you is relevant to your site. For instance, if you sold pet toys, search engines would assign more value to a link from the local animal shelter then from the blog of a teenager bragging about his great idea for a dog costume for a Halloween party. Relevancy matters. So if you don’t discriminate on the types of links that you acquire, then you are wasting your time, and you may also be drawing unwanted attention from Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
Be careful with exact match keywords
Exact match keywords (EMKs) refer to anchor text that exactly matches highly competitive keyword phrases. If you get enough links in an exact match keyword phrase, then, in theory, you would gain an edge in rankings over your competitor.
To be clear, I said be careful with EMKs. Do not take down half of your backlinks just because they are exact matches. Having a few EMKs here and there can actually be beneficial. However, if a large chunk of your links use EMKs, then search engines can become suspicious of your linking practices and may punish your site for “unnatural linking.”
Learn to recognize spammy sites
Hyperlinking was conceived to increase the usability of networked file systems. The internet is really just an interconnected network of files (web pages). Those connections in this network are made by links, and they are designed so users can easily move from one page (file) to another. A web designer creates a link to another page if he or she believes that the link information is relevant to the content on their own site, and the linked information might then be beneficial to their users. If a link exists on a site for reasons besides usability, then it may be spammy and unnatural. What is the purpose of a link that is not leading the user to more helpful information? The answer: link juice. Search Engines are cracking down on links of this unnatural, spammy nature. In turn, if a site seems to exist for no verifiable reason other than to amass links and rank for exact match keywords, then the site might be spammy, and you would be wise to keep your links away from it.
For example, the site, http://dogtoysblog.com/, exists for two reasons: ranking well for dog toys and linking to a product page where users can buy dog toys. This site is not meant to offer useful content; it is designed to rank well for the exact match keyword phrase: dog toys. Also notice that products are front and center on the first post that appears on the home page.
Another giveaway is the length of time the blog has been active. The archives only go from April 2012-June 2012. So the web developer was probably trying to make a quick push in rankings and conversions. They may well have succeeded but the effects over time can be disastrous. Google’s new updates will drop your ranking if it devalues backlinks on these sites.
Avoid blog networks
Blog networks are notoriously well known. Before the Penguin and Panda updates, these network of sites were fairly effective in providing link juice. But now Google has cracked down on links from these networks, vastly reducing their effectiveness. They’re not out yet though, and you need to be on your toes. Blog Networks or Article Networks are products of subscription services that allow you to submit an article with exact match keywords to the network, and that submission can be published to the multiple sites in the network. If you are keeping count, that is a whole lot of links created with one simple submission. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?
Well unfortunately, it is too good to be true. Blog Networks are very easy to spot. Here is a good rubric for spotting a blog that may be part of a network.
- Terrible content and a boring template; you find yourself asking, “Why would anyone ever subscribe to this blog?”
- Topics are jumped, unrelated to the site’s theme, and categorization is poor.
- There is rarely an About section, author name, or means of contact.
- Lots and lots of exact-match anchor text seemingly pointing to sites at random.
- Posts tend to be 400-500 words with 2-3 links per post – generally all to the same site. (You can read the whole post here).
If we can find these blogs, then so can Google. The key takeaway here is that this content isn’t created to respond to the needs of the user. It is created just for the links. It is created for unnatural reasons.
Link for people not search engines
The main takeaway here is that websites function and rank well when they are designed to help the user. Finding links on sites that draw users in not only helps you avoid a drop in rankings, it also pulls in more traffic. Links on relevant sites draw users who are already interested in what you have to offer. There is a reason why there are so many places to buy coffee in Seattle. People like coffee in Seattle. In the same way, you want to have backlinks on sites where your target market spends time. That is natural.