Anyone who tells you that they know everything there is to know about Google’s search engine page ranking algorithms is probably not telling the truth.
Unless they designed the algorithms themselves, and if that’s the case, they probably won’t want to give any of their secrets away.
Online marketers and SEO professionals have always had to resort to evidence-based estimation and prediction when it comes to analysing Google’s next moves.
This is why link-building has had such a roller-coaster ride in terms of public perception in recent years.
Not so long ago, links between websites were spreading like wildfire. Online marketers and web designers realised that they could direct traffic to their websites, and achieve a handy SEO bonus, by buying links from other publishers online. This gave rise to the dreaded “directory page” — a basically meaningless set of links that were often far from organic.
Shifting SEO goalposts
And then? Well, then everything fell apart.
Suddenly, businesses who had engaged in these slightly underhanded practices were finding that their pages were plummeting down the search engine rankings, or even being blacklisted altogether in some cases.
There was a scramble to delete or disavow links, and this led to some awkward conversations and meetings between businesses who had paid for or sold links between each other.
What’s the problem with paying for links?
The answer lies in user experience, or UX. This has always been the aim for Google – to provide their own users with a great experience when they look for information and products online. Quite simply, irrelevant, context-less links are of no use to browsers and represented poor UX design, therefore they were penalised.
The risks of low-quality link-building are still out there
This is all behind us now. Today, links are only sold in the form of guest posts, which provide visitors with useful and relevant content in order to avoid violating Google’s policies.
All other links are organic – at least on the face of it – and occur because websites want to show their authority by backing up their claims with references and citations.
Except, it’s not all behind us.
Google has shifted the goalposts on links before, and so it’s likely that they will do this again, sooner or later. It’s this idea of authority – reinforced with references and citations – that is leading to risky behaviour from some website owners.
Today’s content producers are under increasing pressure to give their users something new – something that they have not given them before. As a result, they find themselves scouring social media and Google’s listings in search of hot topics. They find articles on these topics, and they “flip” them.
They change enough of the wording and basic detailing to make the post fresh and unique – so as not to be penalised as duplicate content — and then they find some handy statistic or piece of data that supports their point. Then they hit publish.
What happens next?
Another content producer, working on a different website, comes along. They find this “flipped” article, with its statistics, and they use this to build their own article. Then they link to the data within this article. Then, another content producer comes along, and links to this second flipped article, and another content producer… and so on, and so on…
The result is a wealth of different articles that look great and sound authoritative, and are published with the best intentions, but which are built upon unsteady foundations. This house of cards is a disaster waiting to happen for many content producers and businesses.
Google has already made its intentions clear when it comes to authority and trustworthiness, which implies that it is only a matter of time before this house of cards comes crashing to the ground.
Link-building the right way
So, what can you do about this? The solution is not so difficult to achieve.
- Find the original data source or study for the information you want to publish.
- Don’t link to low authority websites.
- Gather data from numerous high authority sources, using a journalistic approach to content production.
- Avoid flipping articles — comment on hot topics by all means, but adopt a unique approach with the intention of saying something unique.
- Reach out to your users in search of topics that they want to discuss — this will help you ease the pressure on your content production teams.
- Conduct your own original research and publish this in an honest, transparent and easily digestible manner.
There is no need to fear. You simply need to be responsible when it comes to producing content and building links.