Fear has infected the entire Web community -- not just link buyers and sellers. Google's public attack on paid links has caused a flood of scared Webmasters who are scared to link to other sites. Google's assault on paid links has forced Webmasters to ask: What is a paid link?
Here are the top five trends and challenges SEOs, link builders, and Webmasters face.
1. Webmasters Scared to Link Out
There has always been a segment of Webmasters scared to link out. The number of fearful Webmasters has increased drastically because they're worried Google will consider it a "paid link."
What does Google consider a paid link? Here are two real-world scenarios:
- A hotel sends you vouchers for two free nights at their newest chain of suites to reward their "best customers," generate buzz, and gain links.
- A software company doesn't charge you their normal consulting rate of $150 an hour for the 15 minutes it took them to fix the problem. You decide to recommend and blog about how great they are.
Linking out is not so black and white anymore.
2. Overuse and Abuse of NoFollow Tags
With that fear of linking to other sites, many Webmasters are choosing to put a NoFollow tag on all outbound links, including established links that may have been live for years. Those established links could be the very links getting you top rankings.
Just the other day I ran across a well established hosting company that put NoFollow tags on their internal links to main product pages from within their content. Most experienced SEOs understand the value and importance of links from within content.
If an established hosting company uses NoFollows in this way, can we honestly expect average Webmasters to use NoFollow on external links in the proper way?
Plus, search engines change their mind on how they want people to use NoFollows over time. At one time, NoFollow was supposed to be used for blog comments that might be spam. Now they want you to use them on all advertising and to sculpt your PageRank.
Wonder why there is confusion and overuse?
3. Neglected Link Building Destroys Top Rankings
Many sites have enjoyed top rankings for years without being proactive in link development. Once they got top rankings they started to take their rankings for granted. Some feel a sense of "entitlement" to top rankings.
"I am generally finding this sense of entitlement and arrogance among Webmasters who have maintained rankings for some time," said Benjamin Pfeiffer, president of RankSmart.com. "If they can't get the rankings, they throw a Google tantrum. This attitude, however, shows their inexperience, as a good SEO would never be so hasty."
This trend of established sites dropping off the first page will only increase in 2008. The fact is while these sites were enjoying the benefits of top ranking; their competition was being proactive in promoting their site and building links.
Ironically, it's much easier to maintain top rankings than play catch-up. Yet large enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses treat SEO and link building as a one-time cure.
4. Google Paid Links Assault: Collateral Damage
With every search engine update, there's always collateral damage. As Google turns up the assault on paid links, some unsuspecting and innocent sites will be wounded.
The average site owner doesn't keep up with SEO. They're not reading Matt Cutts' blog (Google Engineer), SEO sites, or checking for updates to the Google Webmaster Guidelines. They're busy running their business to support their family.
Most people's lives don't revolve around search engines, a fact often forgotten by SEOs and search engines.
In doubt? Consider how many "professional designers" still produce sites that aren't search engine friendly.
5. Scarcity of Link Building Resources
Anyone who has spent time developing high-quality links knows it's time consuming and tedious work. Experienced custom link developers have been in high-demand for some time now.
With Google going to battle with paid links, the demand for custom link development will increase, making custom link services even harder to find.
Companies must decide where to allocate finite resources. For companies with larger budgets, it's easier to outsource link development or take it in-house. Many may reallocate funds from traditional marketing to SEO.
This is harder for companies with smaller budgets. They must make more difficult choices about allocating their limited resources.
This will surely be a challenging and adventurous year. Creative and outside-the-box thinkers will thrive.
As Winston Churchill said, "The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty."