Google Revises Link Scheme Definitions: Guest Posts, Press Releases, Advertorials Can Hurt Rankings

broken-linkGoogle had issued two warnings about advertorials earlier this year, including one Google Webmaster Help video which dealt specifically with advertorials, as well as a separate video in which Google's Matt Cutts discussed upcoming SEO changes.

Not surprisingly, Google has now updated their webmaster guidelines to include advertorials, along with other popular spammy linking techniques, in their Link Schemes help document.

Google Further Downplays Links

First, perhaps the most significant change is the fact that Google removed the entire first paragraph from their link scheme help article which detailed how your website’s incoming links influenced your search rankings.

Here is the original first paragraph from the link scheme help article, which dates back at least a year:

Your site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links influences your ranking. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity.

Could this removal be indicative of something larger? Or was it simply done to streamline the help article with the new changes?

It's no secret that links aren’t as a valuable as they were a few years ago and SEO professionals have been adjusting their linking tactics because of it. But is this another sign that Google is reducing the emphasis it places on links in the search algorithm? 

Last month, in a separate change, Google began advising webmasters that high-quality sites, not links, are the best way to improve search rankings.

Keyword-Rich/Optimized Anchor Text Links

Another change has to do with heavily-optimized anchor text used in press releases and articles that are distributed on other sites. This technique is seen very frequently, particularly in highly competitive markets. Google gives a pretty common example of optimized anchor text:

There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.

Google also brings up “Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links”. This has somewhat gone out of favor, particularly mass submissions to free article sites for all but very spammy churn and burn markets.

However, guest posting is still pretty popular, although many sites that accept guest blogging, as well as those doing the writing, have begun either using nofollow, or in an optimized straight URL link.

Advertorials & Native Advertising

The final addition is advertorials. Just as Google has been stating in the recent webmaster help videos, this is now an example of unnatural links that violate the Google guidelines.

Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.

it is nice to see Google continue to update their help documents, especially for pages that are frequented by those webmasters to have received an unnatural linking warning from Google. However, the removal of the first paragraph will likely leave some SEO professionals pondering the change, and what exactly it means, if anything.