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Future Proofing Your Links
Written by Jennifer Van Iderstyne
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 15:06

The word “future proofing” is an interesting one, because we never really know what the future will bring. But the concept reminds me of an old song we used to sing in Sunday school.

The song was about a wise man who built his house upon the rock, and a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And then when the rain came down and the floods came up, the wise man’s house stood firm, but the foolish man’s house went “splat”. I can’t help but think of how this applies to link building.

Those who build their sites on links that are solid will survive the storms. But those who build their sites on flimsy links are running the risk that the base of their rankings may someday give way. Future proofing is taking steps to ensure that, if the time comes, you can ride out the rain in confidence. Knowing that, when the skies clear, you will be exactly where you were before, or even, better off.

 

Avoid Obvious Paid Spots

This one is really pretty obvious, and yet the web is still filled with links that scream paid to me. Ok, I have more experience spotting these kinds of links than most people and it’s a bit more glaring to me than the casual web surfer. But come on. If you see a link that makes no sense in an article, it’s probably paid.

If you see a bunch of random and seemingly un-related links in a side bar or footer, they’re probably paid. If a group of links is marked as “ads” or “sponsored” links… umm those are definitely paid. A lot of times people go for these links because, well, why not? They are available and not so hard to get. We tell ourselves, that there’s little way to detect them algorithmically and that without human review we’re probably fine. Yeah…maybe not.

Let’s look at this; isn’t it at leas POSSIBLE that a search engine, which has been able to make such advancements in social graphing, personalization, temporal data and semantic analysis, has the means to evaluate on-page link patterns? I’m not making any wild claims about what Google or any other Search Engine can or cannot do or is or is not doing. I’m only saying that if you really believe that Google can’t recognize that group of footer links about dating sites, mobile ring tones and pet insurance for what it is, I’d say you’re indulging in willful naïveté.

Whether you believe it can be detected without human review of not, why run the risks? When there are plenty of smarter, stronger ways to build links, if there’s any inkling that a year from now these links could be de-valued, why do it now?

Future Proofing Your Links

Sites with Real Back Links and Content

We can go around getting links that only look good on the surface, and we may do a little better numbers-wise than we would with a more discerning eye. But cosmetic links are shallow. It’s like celebrities that you see in those “Caught Without Makeup” pictures in US Weekly. Some of these women look more like “Whistler’s Mother” than the MILF’s we’re accustom to.

Because we can make most anything look pretty, hell you can put lipstick on a pit bull and run it for political office apparently. But you can’t deny what’s really underneath the exterior. Just like you can’t pretend that a link coming from a flimsy site is actually going to keep giving you juice in 2 years. What are the odds this site will even still be around in 2 years? When you take the time to really investigate a link target’s attributes you’ll get a much better idea of which sites are worth the effort and which ones aren’t.

“Thin content” is a popular 2 word phrase lately because it was the prime target of the Panda update. It seems pretty vague and ambiguous. So it makes some of us nervous because we wonder, is my content too thin? Can I add some cornstarch to thicken this up? I say the distinction can be somewhat instinctual. When we read something, we can ask ourselves a couple of questions.

Was this written to serve as a resource on a subject? Or is this something that was written to serve a little content with your ad sense? Other variations of the latter may be tragically antiquated information and poorly, nonsensically constructed or straight up copied content. If a page fits any of those categories, I wouldn’t spend time trying to get a link there. There’s very little future in content like this, and so those links will not be future proof.

It’s not just our own back links we need to think about; we should be concerned about where the back links of our back links are coming from as well. Say we get a link to us from site X. It’s in the content; it goes to the right deep-page, using the right anchor text. It’s a great link, even a day-making link. Unless you dig a little deeper and find out that this site only has about 500 back links. And of those 500 back links only about 10 of them are “real”. The others come from multiple pages on the same site, scraped content, a few directories and other web junk. Suddenly, you’re link isn’t so great any more.

There isn’t much power coming to that site, and so it has very link velocity to give. So it’s a quick fix right now; but if you build a site on links like this you’ll undoubtedly be fixing holes in your foundation later. Yes, you may sacrifice a few links a month in terms of time and passed opportunities. But you can rest assured that the links you DO get are the ones that will last.

 

Stay Aboveboard

This is the one over-arching concept that sort of encompasses both the previous points and all other bad web behaviors. What is above board though really? It’s the same thing that everyone is always preaching, well most everyone anyway. Value. Getting links that aren’t obviously paid and avoiding links from weak and shady sites definitely fall into this. But it’s more than that. It’s a way of looking at your site and link building.

A lot of people only view links as a “trick” SEOs use to “beat” the search engines. But that’s not, or well, in my idyllic world, SHOULDN’T be the case. Because in reality they are really only one part of an over-all online marketing strategy. Sure we have to spend some time dedicated exclusively to link promotion, but asking for links can be as much about serving the public as serving ourselves. The more you strive to provide value the more value you will gain. It’s a cyclical like that. If you create good content, build strong networks and see link building as just another avenue of marketing rather than a scam, well, then you get it.

Whenever Google rolls out new updates that change the SERPs, inevitably some people get “hit”. They lose their rankings and find themselves scrambling to make up for lost ground. Sometimes months or even years of work seems to be lost. But rather than blaming the update maybe it’s the strategy that needed work in the first place. In link building, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, in pursuing what works “right now” so that we can ride the euphoria of a #1 ranking.

But today’s high can be ripped out from under us in the next “update”, unless we are thinking about future proofing every step of the way. Protecting ourselves against whatever “may” come down the road isn’t always easy, life is unpredictable that way. We can however, do our best to anticipate the worst case scenario. If you live by a river, you buy flood insurance, if your car is constantly breaking down you buy a new one, if you have a site on the web, you build links that will stand the test of updates. If you don’t then you wind up with a flooded basement, a dead car and a website that went “splat”.

Jennifer Van Iderstyne -

Jen is currently the online marketing director and primary SEO consultant for Search Slingshot, based out of Albany NY.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 April 2011 15:33
 

Comments  

 
0 #1 iDCx 2011-04-20 08:20
That is a great read with some brilliant point about links...

i would add my 2 pence... a mix of links seem to produce the best results for me in terms of futerproofing your campaigns.... thus some blogs, some articles, some directories... etc etc... this way - when google do the things like Panda update - we have trust signals originating from other areas of the web...

but yea - a great read - thanks for that search new central! spot on what i was looking for this morning - inspiration!


iDCx
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0 #2 Impact_Mike 2011-04-21 10:08
One of my suggestions would be to devote time to guest blogging. If you find a reputable blog it's likely to be a link that will remain for a long time and will have good value.

The Panda update has led to a need to readdress content farms as a viable linking strategy as well. In terms of future proofing I'd doubt many of us could predict those links would suddenly be on very low value sites. You've always got to roll with the punches too.
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