November 14, 2012
We’ve had a number of discussions in our office regarding what’s become of linkbuilding, and how that aspect of SEO has radically changed over the past year. Before we go much further, a brief history.
Within the past year or so, Google has launched two significant algorithm updates: Panda and Penguin. While Google’s Panda update and its multiple iterations mainly focused on content issues (scraper sites, duplicate content, “over optimized” or spammy content, sites with high bounce rates, etc.), Google’s Penguin update, first released in April 2012, specifically targeted inbound links. While Google had taken steps in the past to limit the rewards of questionable linkbuilding, it seemed that most sites still managed to prosper using shady techniques. Penguin has proven to be a different story altogether, and unlike its rather endearing namesake, this update has teeth.
(An aside – penguins do not have teeth. They have sharp barbs on their tongues and in their throats that allow them to catch and hold fish. Not being an ornithologist, I looked it up.)
Webmasters/SEOs who’d used grey or black hat linkbuilding techniques saw Google traffic plummet. Forums were (and still are) filled with rants about how Google hates webmasters, hates organic search, is trying to bankrupt anyone who doesn’t participate in paid search, is evil, needs to be stopped, needs to be destroyed by Bing, and so forth.
But what really changed? What is a link supposed to be, supposed to do? What’s Google up to with this?
On the surface, it’s pretty simple. Google has always, I repeat, in caps, ALWAYS said that links should occur naturally as a result of people liking what’s going on on your site. If someone, especially someone who also has a site that many other people like, visits your site and finds it to be an excellent resource, they’ll link to you. Google takes a look at this and says “hey, if a highly-regarded site is linking to this site, they must be a good resource, one that we should serve up when people are searching for this topic.” The more links your site has from quality sites, the more equity your site builds, and the better chance that you’ll show up higher in the search results. That’s it.
Easier said than done, though. Let’s say you’ve just launched a site – do you expect those influencers to find it on their own? How are they going to do that? You’ve just engaged in the web equivalent of opening a store in the middle of nowhere with zero advertising. Good luck.
Prior to Penguin, people could artificially build a great deal of link equity by methods such as buying links from highly regarded sites (which, increasingly, are no longer highly regarded because they sell links), getting a million links posted in directories that were only there for the purpose of increasing rankings, and setting up their own link networks and posting links on multiple sites that, topically, had little to no relation to one another. One could argue that this is a valid form of promotion, but really, when’s the last time you actually used a general web directory? Should a company site that sells home flooring link to a fantasy football site? Of what benefit is that to visitors? Links should help complete a story – if you visit a site that sells home flooring supplies, you may be interested in another site that provides DYI home flooring instruction. You may also be interested in fantasy football, but that’s pretty random, and wouldn’t fit Google logic. Finally, the question you should always ask yourself is whether you’re doing what you’re doing because it makes sense, or because it’s “good for SEO.” If it’s both, good for you! If it’s the latter, don’t do it.
So, what now? Does “linkbuilding,” as a discipline within SEO, even exist anymore?
Kind of. While the road to quick results is always tempting, it’s obviously not sustainable. It shouldn’t be; SEO is a long-haul proposition. What was linkbuilding, then, has evolved into relationship building. It’s not easy, but nothing lasting is. Here are some tips:
Those are just a few ways to begin building relationships (and the resultant link equity) online post-Penguin. I’m sure there are more, and I definitely welcome feedback. The game has definitely changed, but we would argue it’s for the better. SEO has never been easy – that’s why we exist.
Written by Christopher Carlson