I recently read a tweet that said ‘If you know you’re getting a link, you’re probably doing it wrong’. Well that certainly got my attention, and hopefully the attention of many others out there as well.
The road to top Google rankings is not paved with many links, but rather with authoritative quality links. It’s not how many links a website receives, but who is linking to that website that matters when it comes to rankings. The challenge is to build a sustainable strategy that will earn these authoritative backlinks in order to compete ethically in the SEO game.
Before we explore how to gear up for the race to top rankings, let’s look at the various types of links and link building tactics being used by companies today:
What are links?
Links are also referred to as backlinks, in-links, incoming links or external links. This is when a website receives endorsement by way of a hyperlink to its website.
Types of links and link building tactics:
These are the best kinds of links that you can earn. A one-way link is when another website endorses your web page by giving it a link, without receiving a link back in return.
This is also referred to a reciprocal links, or link swapping. The value of a two-way link is not as strong as that of a one-way link as it demonstrates a ‘partnership’ between the two websites, as opposed to having someone endorsing your website without expecting something in return (such as a one-way link). If the two websites link to one-another to and from the same pages, the value of the links are cancelled out. When reciprocal linking is practiced, each website should rather link to the other’s most contextually relevant page, by surrounding the link with text to describe to its users why it is recommending the link to its users.
This is when a relationship exists between 3 (or more) domains, and it often includes a cohort site to throw the search engines. In this practice, website A links to Website B. Website C Links to Website A. Website B & C don’t have a linking relationship. The purpose of these linking networks are to make three-way links appear as one-way links. This practice is considered spam and is penalised by Google.
Also known as link farms. This is where a number of websites in a network all have relationships with one another to cross-link across their various domains to one-another. Often the pages containing these links are useless pages of links with no textual content. Link farms are penalised by Google.
A common tactic practiced by SEO Companies in South Africa is by creating what they call ‘content rich’ doorway pages. These websites are usually heavily optimised (or over-optimised) for a particular search term in order to gain rankings for that page, and then users are redirected to the official website by way of links disguised as call to actions. While many SEO’s do not see the harm in incorporating this tactic, the Search Engines certainly do. Google takes manual penalty action as well as automatic penalties against website’s using doorway pages. Doorway pages are often referred to as Feeder sites, Portal sites, or Gateway Pages, to mention a few.
Manipulative Linking Tactics
Google made an update to its algorithm on 24 April 2012 which it named Google Penguin. The purpose of Penguin was to penalise websites that performed black-hat SEO tactics using manipulative link building tactics.
Before Penguin, SEO’s would invest a lot of time, and website owners would invest a lot of money, into techniques that artificially inflated the number of incoming links pointing to a website, in an effort to try to influence Google’s opinion of the website’s authority and popularity.
So Link Building is dead then?
Many websites have multiple backlinks from a single website (domain). What they don’t realise, is that although they have many links from one domain, only one link is considered, as Google looks at the number of unique domains linking to a website, rather than the number of links receive in total.
Link building is dead, but link earning is only just emerging.
Link building is becoming increasingly difficult. In fact, it’s not about how many links a website has at all anymore, but rather about the type and quality (authority) of links that it receives. Certain types of links have more value than others, for instance, a .gov, .edu, or .org domain link carries far more weight than from a commercial domain such as a .co.za or .com domain.
The best types of links a website can get include those from thematically related websites, from within the same geographical region as the target region of the website, where these links are earned naturally, and where the link is surrounded by contextually relevant text. We call those contextual or editorial links.
The only natural and effective way to get links, is to earn them.
Matt Cutts says: “The objective is not to make your links appear natural; the objective is that your links are natural”.