For the last decade or more, backlinking has been the most important tool in an SEOs arsenal to get better rankings. For many webmasters, backlinking was SEO. For some, it still is.
Google have made it pretty clear that they hate webmasters trying to manipulate the rankings. Why do they hate it so much? Simply because webmasters can get pages ranked in the top 10 that do not deserve to rank there. Google want the search results to return the very best pages to the searcher, for any topic, and webmasters just get in the way of their expensive, complicated algorithms.
Google are continuously fighting a battle against webmasters. The webmasters are trying to get their inferior pages to rank better, and Google are trying to prevent them from doing so.
In the early days of the search engines (before Google), ranking was easy. Just include the keyword phrase you wanted to rank for several times on your page, and you had a good chance. If a competitor over-took you in the rankings, just add a few more instances of that keyword than your competitor had on his page, and you’d leap-frog them. Think what those web pages looked like. More and more pages started to have long lists of keywords, and this obviously started causing quality control issues.
Then Google came on the scene. Here is how it appeared in January 1999:
Google’s creators had worked on an algorithm at University, called Page Rank, and they wanted to test how Page Rank would work in a search engine.
With Page Rank, webpages would receive “votes” from any site that linked to them. If one site linked to another, it was because the site they were linking to was valuable for some reason. Google reasoned that the more links to a site, the higher its value (and authority), therefore it should rank higher.
Obviously Page Rank and the whole voting system was/is flawed, because it assumes that webmasters have no control over who links to them. What happened? Webmasters just went out and built their own links, to manufacture their own authority, even to the extent of building satellite sites whose sole purpose was to funnel link juice to the money site.
Google’s fight against backlink spam escalated into a full out war.
Over the last couple of year, we’ve seen huge changes in the way Google are trying to deal with spam, and their tolerance limits towards webmasters.
Google use to state that bad backlinks could not harm your site. Webmasters loved this, because it meant their competitors could not bring them down with negative SEO – that is, building huge numbers of bad links with automated tools like SENuke, XRummer and others. Safe in the knowledge that bad links could not hurt rankings, webmasters started building even more links to their sites, in bulk. I mean if bad links cannot hurt, more is better right?
With Panda and Penguin, everything changed. Google removed the statement from their site, no longer offering immunity to sites with bad link profiles. Google were waging war on their enemies, that is, ALL webmasters that tried to manipulate the rankings. Anyone that had ever built dodgy, low quality links, was targeted. Huge numbers of sites fell from grace, even some “authority” sites that had previously been thought of as untouchable.
For a lot of webmasters, negative SEO was now a big concern. If bad links could hurt your rankings, what was going to stop your competitors from creating thousands of bad links to your site? As part of their dastardly plan, Google released their disavow tool. The disavow tool allows webmasters to report bad links to their site, in the hope that Google won’t include those links when ranking their pages. Google were effectively turning over responsibility for links to the site owner. If bad links were affecting your rankings, through negative SEO or some past backlinking “crimes”, you were now responsible for sorting it out.
So where does all this leave us today?
Well, Google are suspicious of all links unless the source is well known and trusted. If a link appears in an article by a respected news source, then Google can be pretty sure it is a deserved link, and not placed there by a webmaster looking to boost his rankings.
In general, links on pages that have not established a level of trust or authority will always be treated with more suspicion by the search engines. However, it is not just the page your link appears on that is important. It is also how the link is constructed. Here are some of the things that can affect how a link is treated by Google:
- Is it a text link or an image link?
- If it is an image link, does it make sense, or is it an obvious attempt to link to another page, especially on another website?
- Is the link only on one page of the site, or is it on all pages of the site, e.g. in the page footer or sidebar.
- Does the HTML used to create the link include a title element? If so, is it a natural title tag or is it stuffed with keywords.
- Does the HTML used to create the link include an ALT tag? If so, is it stuffed with keywords or is it a description of the image?
- Is there a CSS class associated with the link that might be used to hide the link from visitors?
- If it’s a text link, is the anchor text a commercial term, or is the anchor text one that is used in a high percentage of links pointing at that page? Maybe the anchor text is more natural, say the URL of the page being linked to, or its title?
As you can see. Long gone are the days where you can create lots of links without thinking about them.
So is there any safe way to build links?
In recent months, a lot of webmasters have turned to guest blogging. However, Matt Cutts (Google engineer) has recently said :
You can read more about Matt’s views on guest blogging over on his personal site.
As you can see, getting backlinks to your site is a lot more difficult than it use to be.
What are the best backlinks we can get?
Unfortunately for us, the best links to get are also the most difficult to obtain.
Want to know what they are?
They are the links that you have no control over! They are the links other people use to link to your content without being asked.
Essentially, if you have control over an inbound link, it is going to be seen as a low quality link by Google, if they find out you control or placed the link.
So where does that leave the SEO in 2014 with regards to link building?
Well, pretty much where Google wanted it to be 10 –15 years ago.
Remember when they fed us the line to create quality content that other people want to link to? It now seems like that is the best way to get natural inbound links that will stand the test of time. While a lot of link building strategies do still work, Google are slowly but surely plugging the loopholes. What is even worse for link-builders, is that Google have made it clear that you will be tried and judged by your past activities. What works today, does work today, but tomorrow, or next month, or next year, it might get you penalised.
Isn’t it time we all go back to basics and concentrated on the one thing you know Google wants? Quality content and providing your visitors with stuff they want to read, interact with, bookmark and share with their friends! Either that, or find another source for your traffic.