Is Link Building Safe?
Much confusion and hot debate over link building has taken place over the years as the Penguin update has evolved. In the beginning there was a wave of manual penalties given out because people were building spammy links like crazy. The school of thought back in the day was build as many links as you could no matter what the quality was.
A Brief History of Link Building
Over the years many people have tried to manipulate Google’s algorithm by building links any way they could to pass link juice. The idea was that the more links the better and as every spammer was building manipulative links, the web spam team at Google was devaluing all their link juice. A couple examples of spammy link building include article marketing spam networks like ezine articles, blog networks with low quality content, any type of paid links in content or the footer, and low quality press release syndication. If you’ve done a couple different tactics like these, you could be in trouble.
Understanding a Spammy Link in the Eyes of Google
One way to tell if a link is spammy or not is to put the site through a series of tests. Moz has created a tool that shows your site’s links spam score based on a series of 17 check points called “spam flags.” Moz came up with a checklist of what qualifies a link as spam or not and rated these links on a scale of 1-10. In order to access this tool, you have to have an account with Moz, so there is a bit of a road block there if you don’t have one. We have used Moz’s spam analysis in the past, but found that it wasn’t as exhaustive as it could have been, so we created a 20-point checklist to identify spam.
After Google caught on to the amount of spam that was coming out of these tactics, they changed their algorithm to devalue the authority of those websites that had a large amount of low quality external links. They went even further giving out manual penalties for buying links or soliciting them on the web. Things got even more heated when Matt Cutts handed out manual penalties for guest blogging. So the tactic for link building has shifted from building a lot of low quality links to building less high quality links. Basically quality over quantity.
The Exact Match Anchor Text Link Building Debate
The manual penalties for guest blogging was terrible news for SEOers everywhere and a lot of people stopped building links out of total fear of a manual penalty. But the truth remains, Google still relies heavily on links to rank webpages and keywords in their SERPs. Even Rand Fishkin from Moz says that:
“We did a bunch of tests as part of the IMEC Lab group that I've been talking about recently. We tested things like pointing to page A and page B from a single page with one of the links being anchor text rich and the other not being anchor text rich. Every time we could see that the link that pointed to A was bumping A up to the first ranking position, even with just a handful of anchor text rich links from good sources.
The frustrating part about that in SEO is to know anchor text rich links are very important, but they're also a huge signal for spam.”
Is Link Building Bad or Okay?
What does this all mean? For example, let’s say you have a site that is about soccer shoes and you want to rank for women’s soccer shoes. You build a link to a page on your site that you’ve optimized for the keyword “women’s soccer shoes.” Let’s say you get an editorial link in a relevant article with a link to that page and your link is embedded in the keyword that exactly matches “women’s soccer shoes.” This is also known as exact match anchor text. Rand says this link will help your ranking as long as the link is a natural link from a high quality site, but if Google thinks it’s spam, you could be in trouble.
Many believe this tactic is dangerous and recommend not doing this. For example, in an article on Search Engine Land, an author warns not to build exact match anchor text links and that it doesn’t work, but then he goes on to say that “Google has an intricate understanding of semantics and link context, and it strongly favors links in natural journalistic context.”
So what here’s what we know:
- Building exact match anchor text still gets results (Source: Moz)
- Google strongly favors links in a natural journalistic context (Source: Search Engine Land)
- There’s been a lot of chatter with the announcement from Search Engine Watch that there could be another Penguin update in March of 2016. It is unclear what this update will mean for websites, but this is a good time to revisit your link profile and keep an eye on the status of your current link building tactics to be sure you're doing Penguin safe link building.
Here’s what we recommend:
- Do a link audit through our link detox service and remove all spammy and/or toxic links.
- Work with our professional SEO and PR team to design and acquire clean editorial links with a targeted strategy in mind.
- Don’t build spammy links.
In this confusing crazy world of SEO and link building, I say don’t be afraid of the big bad Google. Play by their rules and get results. No pain, no gain.
Please comment and let us know what you think about link building.