Over the last 15 months or so, a couple of black & white Google mascots have pretty much upset the way some people went about acquiring links to their sites.
For the most part, I think the motivation behind loosing those critters on us was well-intended. Realistically, though, I really wonder whether it’ll have lasting effects… at least the effects that were intended.
Taking a look back before Penguin and even Panda bared their fangs (or beaks), linkbuilding has remained largely unchanged for several years. Some folks like to publish linkbait, others drop forum and blog comments and crappy little articles all over the web, like a seagull on Exlax and still others either swap links or buy them outright.
There are other variations, but those cover the field fairly well.
When the smoke cleared, of course, we saw that many of the article directories where we used to be able to drop links had either shut down or severely tightened their standards.
Then we began to see that a failure to have a diverse link profile seemed to flag our sites for attention… attention of the sort that some really didn’t relish.
The web was awash with rumors and bad information (nothing new there, right?) with people that didn’t have a clue, advising other clueless people how they ought to live in this new environment.
And of course, since a lot of people still seem to believe anything they read on the internet, some of that bad advice was heeded, and the casualties mounted.
Nothing new there, either.
I suspect that most of us still receive emails periodically offering “monthly submission to over 200 directories” or “niche-specific, high quality, high PR links by the thousands” (If you don’t and are feeling left out, drop me a line with your email… I can forward you a boatload… daily). Eventually, we can only hope that increased awareness of the futility (or e-suicide) of such tactics will lessen the number of such crap-hat offerings.
I guess things really haven’t changed all that much. Well, hell… a fella can dream, can’t he?
Anyway, I thought I’d recap some of the dos and don’ts for linkbuilding in the post-Penguin world, for the benefit of those that may not have heard much on the topic – or worse yet, a lot of conflicting stories.
- Do: Diversify your link profile. For instance, I usually try never to have more than 20-25% of my link profile in any single category, such as blog comments, forum comments, forum signatures or, article directories. That can change, depending upon the query space, of course. Regardless, the more diverse your profile is, the less impact you might later see if a particular type of link is suddenly devalued or even disallowed by the search engines. And some of those aren’t worth much even at full value.
- Do: Diversify your anchor text. Using the primary keywords and phrases for which you want to rank over and over again is a red flag to the search engines that you’re trying to manipulate your rankings. Using the same anchor text two or three times is no problem… 25+ times may be a great way to get tagged for unnatural linking, though.
- Do: Occasionally use the sort of anchor text that another person might use if they were linking to your site. Anchor text such as “more info”, “John’s website” or “here” appear to be safe bets. The meta title of the page to which you’re linking also seems to be acceptable. And of course, a raw link, such as www.example.com is safe, as well.
- Do: Be cautious about your link velocity. Search engines aren’t built by village dummies, and they have a LOT more anecdotal evidence available to them than you do. They have a pretty good feel for how fast links will generate to different types of content, and if you pass what they set as an “acceptable” threshold, you may not like the consequences. Slow and steady wins the race.
And Some Don’ts:
- Don’t: Send out emails asking people to link to you. Consider how you react when a total stranger contacts you asking for a link to his site. I bet you’re more likely to at least give it some thought if the request comes from someone you know. Reach out and make contact and build a relationship before expecting someone to pass you a link. Better yet, do something for them, linking or tweeting something they’ve done. People are much more likely to return a favor than they are to respond to someone asking them for something.
- Don’t: Contact a site owner asking him how much he’d charge to give you a link. C’mon, people… that’s just not smart! Whether you or I happen to believe in ratting out people has nothing to do with it… there are folks out there that’ll turn you in just for giggles. Besides, why would you want to show anyone how stupid you are?
- Don’t: Load up on blogroll or footer links. Sitewide links are bad juju, and should be avoided in most instances, certainly in excess. Once in a blue moon isn’t likely to hurt you. But then, it won’t likely help you much, either, as evidence seems to indicate that these are significantly devalued already.
- Don’t: Go crazy with reciprocal links. Again, a couple of these aren’t going to do you any harm, but I’ve seen bloggers that had profiles consisting of 25-30% reciprocal links. In my opinion that’s five or six times what I’d call a safe number.
At the end of the day, Google isn’t really changing the rules on us as far as links are concerned… they’re just getting better at limiting our ability to get away with gaming the system.
Anyone that’s been toeing the line all along is probably in good shape and those that have been buying links by the thousands probably think they’re too smart to get caught.
Hopefully, if you’re doing it for clients, you’re either steering them on a path of caution or at least making them totally aware of the risks they may be taking. If you’re not doing either… well, I guess that would put you in the crap-hat category.