Given Matt Cutts' statement against guest blogging for SEO (links) in January, this is yet another Google move to condemn low-quality guest blogging.
I don’t think many will be surprised by this update. Nobody should be. Google’s clearly been against manipulative tactics to build links, which certainly includes mass guest blogging with low-quality content for links and links alone. Google’s been working hard to devalue and punish such activities.
Does this mean link-building itself is on its way out? Hardly. But if you’re working to scale links, and willing to sacrifice quality for quantity, you’re asking for trouble.
Scaling link-building typically results in low-quality links. Links that Google wants to devalue, or even punish. If we’ve learned one thing in the last two years, it’s that.
I wish Google were more transparent about what is allowed, instead of saying what isn’t. I understand why they don’t, of course – it would make it much, much harder for them to update their guidelines.
I attend and speak at a wide variety of conferences each year. I commonly interact with both new and long-term clients. The most common question I see year over year is "Which links are safe? Which links are valuable?" This led me to my company’s motto "FTBOM" (pronounced "foot bomb"), which means "For the Betterment of Mankind."
Basically, does the link make sense? Does it make the Web a better place? These are good foundational questions to ask about your link-building activities. But let’s get more specific. Here are five questions to ask yourself to help you build future safe links, even as Google continues to update its Webmaster Guidelines:
- Are you building quality or quantity?
- Are the links editorial in nature?
- The sweat check – did you put in hard work? Creative energy?
- Do your links meet business goals as well?
- Are you building diverse links from diverse tactics?
Let’s take a look at each one.
1. Are You Building Quality or Quantity?
We all know and have been taught that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. And let’s be honest – link-building circa 2006 didn’t feel like "the right way."
Link-building pre-Penguin was basically a shortcut to ranking. It was easy to go out and build mass links that moved the needle but would look questionable at best to a human.
That era is over.
Links today need to be quality, not quantity. It doesn’t take hundreds or even thousands of links to move the needle. A handful of links month over month can produce great results.
And the only way to build those links is to deserve them. No schemes, no tricks. Simply good marketing and promotion to build votes of confidence (links), which is what Google wanted links to be before all the SEO manipulation.
If you want to build links Google likes, the links need to be editorial.
2. Are the Links Editorial?
Is the other site purposely and willingly linking to yours? Is the link at their discretion? Do they choose how and why to link to you?
That’s not to say you have to sit back and "earn" links – you can and absolutely should promote/market your website. And links, as an important piece of online currency, should be a goal and target for that marketing and promotion.
We are none of us ignorant anymore. Anyone with a website worth receiving a backlink from understands the power of that link: They know that a link is a connection between their site and yours; they know that it’s a public recommendation from them to their visitors; and they know that Google will consider the link a signal of trust and authority in their algorithm.
When someone is willing to place that amount of faith into your website, page, or resource, that’s how you know you’ve built a quality link. But editorial links aren’t easy to build.
To build such editorial links, you’ll need hard work and creativity.
3. Did You Sweat?
Of course I don’t mean literally.
Matt Cutts, distinguished engineer and head of Webspam at Google, recently said that building links isn’t inherently bad, or "black hat," at SMX Advanced in June.
He did, however, say links should be the result of "sweat plus creativity." The point being that the links Google wants to count are the links that are earned with hard work and creativity. You have to deserve the link, you have to work for the link, you have to find a way to add value to the Web, and then promote the hell out of that value to the right audience.
That’s where link-building is headed. No more "hacking the algo" or spammy links built across a network of low-quality sites. Instead, links should truly be a sign of authority, creativity, trust, and thought leadership. And you build links through savvy, persuasive promotion.
4. Do Your Links Meet Other Business Goals?
If the only value of the link is for search engines, odds are the link isn’t really worth your while.
Google doesn’t want people treating search engines and site visitors differently (despite the nofollow nonsense happening with guest blogging). They’ve said that from day one. So if the only reason you want the link is for a search engine spider to crawl it, that’s not a link they’ll want to count.
Besides, if you pursue links that offer real business value, that’s killing two birds with one stone. And if there’s one thing an SEO should be obsessed with, it’s optimization.
So what other business values can you meet through links? Glad you asked.
- Referral traffic
- New audience engagement
- Recognition from niche influencers
- New relationships
- Etc. etc.
Link-building is really about exposure. Any benefits that come with normal brand exposure can come via link building as well.
It’s 2014, and interacting on the Web has serious business potential. Building links requires interacting with a wide variety of people important and relevant to your own business. If your only pursuit is the link, you’re missing out.
So don’t just look for links that will flow PageRank. Look for links that will have an actual impact on your business.
5. Are You Using Diverse Tactics to Build Diverse Links?
No one knows the future. Google will continue to evolve, grow, and expand.
The old expression "don’t put all your eggs in one basket" is a universally respecting truism for a reason. It’s foolish to expect that a single tactic is all you’ll need.
This is true with links as well. The fact is when Google makes sweeping changes, there’s very real collateral damage. Innocent websites are impacted. Livelihoods are threatened. Even good, honest links might be devalued or punished in the mix.
While the rest of these questions are designed to help you build links matching Google’s intent, this question is meant to protect you from Google’s changing policies. Because no one, no one is safe or sacred when Google changes policies.
The fact is using diverse tactics to build diverse links has a variety of healthy benefits, and is the intelligent marketer’s route. Recently, Cory Collins at Linkarati covered the topic in depth, citing these five benefits of using diverse tactics:
- Protection from Google’s shifting guidelines
- Scaling a single tactic is often viewed as manipulative
- Algorithms excel at spotting patterns
- Customized campaigns are more likely to be successful
- Diverse strategies will result in more valuable links.
If you want lasting value from your link-building efforts, you need to be using diverse tactics. Period.
Google has once again updated its guidelines to cite low-quality guest posts as a form of thin or unoriginal content.
Google is going to continue to change, evolve, and expand its Webmaster Guidelines as the Web continues to grow, expand, and evolve.
My advice is to look to the future and be sure you’re matching Google’s intent, as well as follow the rules clearly laid out in its guidelines. In link-building, you can test the veracity of your campaign with five questions:
- Is your goal quality or quantity?
- Are the links editorial?
- Did you work hard for the links?
- Do the links help achieve other business or marketing goals?
- Are you using diverse tactics to build diverse links?
Follow your instincts. We’ve all been taught the importance of hard work and strong ethics. And never be afraid to promote yourself, and chase the links you deserve instead of waiting for the links you earn.