Thursday, 5th March, 2015 | By Jeremy Girard | Category: Traffic Building
SEO Update: How to Rule the Rankings in 2015 (Part 3)
In this “SEO Update for 2015” series, we are examining the realities of search engine optimization on today’s Web. With so many so-called “experts” vying for your SEO business and dollars, a sense of what works today, and what practices you should absolutely avoid, can help you determine what the right path, and provider, is for your site.
In our first two articles, we covered the topics of keywords and website content, including whether a large site with lots of pages is better for SEO than a smaller site. Let’s now look at one of the defining aspects of the Web – links.
The value of building inbound links
When someone links to your website, that is known as an “inbound link” and it is one of the best ways to improve search engine rankings.
When someone links to your site, search engines count that link as a vote of confidence for your content. If you have lots of links to your site, and if those links come from reputable sites with content similar to your own, then Google and other search engines weigh that in their algorithm and reward your site accordingly. Remember, search engines strive to return the best content for searchers. Since the folks at Google cannot personally read and review every single webpage available, they rely on these links and those “votes of confidence” as one way to help determine which pages are quality and should be ranked higher.
In addition to the search engine ranking value that inbound links provide, those links also help your site be found by people because those links provide a doorway to your site from other places on the Web.
All in all, inbound links are pretty awesome and any SEO initiative is bound to include some kind of link building exercises. As amazing and helpful as links can be, however, there is also a dark side to the practice of link-building that you must avoid.
Not all links are created equal
Because link-building can have such a positive effect on your search engine rankings, this practice is also one that is most frequently the focus of scams offered by less-than-reputable providers. If your email address is listed on your website, you have likely received emails from these providers promising “thousands of links to your website” in exchange for a relatively small sum. It sounds too good to be true because it is.
The way this process normally works is that these providers have bought up hundreds and even thousands of domains than have expired. They then use these expired domains to create pages of links to other sites who have purchased this service. These sites are commonly called “link farms.” You’ve probably stumbled onto one of the links farms before. If you’ve tried to visit a website and mistyped the name and been brought to a site with a list of links, then you have found a link farm site, like the one below which was found with a misspelling of “Dissney.com”
The tricky thing about this practice of buying inbound links from link farms is that it often does help your site increase in search engine rankings – at least in the short term. Those inbound links can boost your rankings for just long enough for that provider to take your money and be on their way, but the long term effect of this approach can be disastrous.
The Google blacklist
About a year ago, I was contacted by one of my longtime clients who was in a panic. They had been contacted with one of these link-building offers, and even though I had emphatically advised them to delete that email and ignore that offer, they figured they would give it a try anyway and decided to go ahead without letting me know they were doing so.
As I have already described, their site benefited from these new inbound links in the short term, but after a few months, Google caught on to what was happening and took action by informing my client that it has found a large number of “unnatural inbound links.” Their message went to state:
“Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank are violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”
Bottom line, the site was penalized and their search engine rankings plummeted. It has taken almost a full year of work on the site to get it close to where it was before this debacle. Yes, inbound links are good for your site, but they have to be the right inbound links from reputable sources, not these “pay for link” scams that, in the end, will not only not help your site, they will actually hurt it!
Building quality links through quality content
So if you cannot pay for links, how do you actually build those links to your site? The reality is that there are no shortcuts and no easy way to do this. The best way to build quality links is by having quality content on your site. That content, if it is useful and relevant, will generate links. It may take time, but any successful link-building initiative must begin with content.
Say you post an article on your website about a current trend or change in your industry. As you promote that article to others via email, social media, etc., those people who read the content and find it of value will link to it as well. They may post that link on Twitter or some other social site or they may reference it in an article they are writing on their website. These links will introduce the content to others who may, in turn, link to it as
well, creating a cycle of inbound links for your content and your site. As I said, this is not an easy process and publishing quality content takes time and effort over the long term to be most effective, but if you truly want to increase your search engine rankings by building inbound links, then having content worth of linking to is the place to begin.
Inbound links have the power to boost or bust your search engine rankings, but how you go about link- building (and where those links come from) is the key to your success. Before you begin link-building, and certainly before you respond to an offer sent to you via email, speak to your web team or marketing agency about your link-building goals and let them help you come up with plan to do it that will not land you on Google’s dreaded blacklist.
Jeremy Girard has been designing for the web since 1999. He is currently employed at the Providence, Rhode Island-based firm Envision Technology Advisors and also teaches website design and front-end development at the University of Rhode Island. In addition, Jeremy contributes regularly to a number of websites and magazines focused on business and the Web, including his personal site at Pumpkin-King.com.