19th December 2012

I got to thinking about things that I’ve said in the past about linkbuilding, especially where I’ve been dead wrong.

Then I wondered if I’d ever written what I (and a lot of SEOs) had believed for a long time  - “I don’t think Google can ever penalize you for inbound links”, and after a quick search, found that I had, back in 2007.

In fact, I’d said a lot of things in the article with such an innocent “pre-penguin naivite” that I thought I’d better update it.  What you see in quotes below, is from the original post here and I’ve inserted some Post Penguigeddon thoughts…

Good links are hard to come by, but if you throw enough against the wall, something always sticks.

This is still true, but unfortunately, it can also stick you in the a**!

By regularly submitting to web directories, making sure your blog is pinging news services, submitting your RSS feeds, submitting content to article directories, and even by linking to your own internal pages with good anchor text, you’re going to continue to grow those inbound links.

The whole web directory fad sort of crashed and burned, but it came back from their ashes with a vengeance. There are thousands upon thousands of relevant sites in various niche and verticals, with more of them every month, and there are some big name players in the industry.

Many are very good quality, heavily localized, they develop communities, they get traffic, they add value to the web, and they are worth getting in with consistent listings.  They share traffic, they share listings, and they cross promote each other in deal after deal, and the whole local search ecosystem look like a plate of spaghetti.

Some of these listings will have backlinks, and some won’t, but even with no link, they still have value as a consistent “citation” and in my experience, citations are *not* only important for local SEO but they are vital for all legitimate websites.   I’d recommend that you never use anchor text when you’re building citations, and never call them directory links or you’ll be laughed at.

There’s are some great tools for finding relevant and quality citations  like this one from Whitespark or the a full featured Link Prospector from Citation Labs to really dig in and find good specific niche sites and directories that have value.

Aside from having an RSS feed, the pinging and submitting stuff likely isn’t necessary, but I still see no harm in it. You should be autogenerating an XML sitemap though, and pinging the engines when you do.

Anchor text though, is dead.  Do not do it, even on your own site.  You KNEW it was coming to an end and it has.  I’m not saying it doesn’t WORK, but I am saying that if someone can just look at and plainly see you’re trying to manipulate rankings, that’s bad.

Don’t crap up your site with internal anchor text. Instead, place your important phrase relevant internal links only in sidebar areas and navigation, and REMOVE THOSE PLUGINS that autogenerate internal text links.

“Rented” links are another story, and Google’s position is that paid links are definitely bad. They are aggressively fighting to identify and devalue any inbound links that are determined to be paid, and they are penalizing sites that are selling the links.There’s no denying that it still works, because they can’t catch everything, but as time goes on, they’ll catch more and more. For now, there are still too many ways to “fly under the radar” and they can’t possibly catch them all, but if you’ve been buying your links, it’s time to consider a more long term strategy. -

Google has aggressively sought to stop this “paying to rank” process over the years, and has tried everything, but until they remove backlinks from the algorithm altogether, the practice is going to continue.

Even after years of  making the SEO community look like fools, even after big companies were shown to be doing it, from JC Penney to  Dun & Bradstreet, paid links still help rankings. They’ve called for websites to turn each other in for linkspam, and they’ve banned SEO firms for buying links for clients , but people keep buying links.  Hell, early this year even Google was caught buying links!

It’s not worth it. Don’t buy links or do anything that a competitor can turn you in for,  unless you’re willing to risk your domain permanently. If you’re a gambler, then have at it, but you have a target on your back.

You could stay lucky for a long time, especially in the lower competition levels, where a couple hundred a month at TLA or   can do you better than Adwords, but mark my words, your days are numbered.

What Google can do, and what they ARE doing, is “penalizing” websites that are selling links without the nofollow tag, and they are penalizing them by lowering their green toolbar PageRank.

They’re still penalizing sites by lowering the TBPR but it’s applied selectively, and on an individual basis.  Besides, who cares? Most sites hit with the penalty in my experience (six times) suffered or traffic no loss  after that penalty – only the green bar got smaller.

At this point, Google has not yet lowered these sites rankings, but in my opinion, this was sort of a warning shot across the bow to warn those selling links that they should stop, or that’s next.

I’ve personally paid for links for my own sites before, and some even on a monthly basis, because I believe they have value in the traffic they might bring. It’s a safe bet that if Google “catches” those sites selling links, then any value they have for my ranking will be removed, if it hasn’t been already.

Not much of a warning shot was it?  Just like Search Engine Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz, who still sells “followed” Sponsored Links (in the lower right sidebar) many people basically said, “I’ll take the TBPR penalty, ’cause I’d rather have the money” and to this day, their rankings and traffic are fine.

In my opinion, Google can never penalize someone for buying links. Otherwise, an entire cottage industry would pop up buying links for your competition. Instead, what Google does is devalue an inbound link that they determine to be paid and put in place only for ranking purposes.

Wow – There it is…  The catalyst for this entire rewrite.  Not only CAN Google penalize you for buying links, they will and they have.

It might come from someone turning you in, or it might come from your own stupid placement, but you’er gonna get it.  Unfortunately, those that are willing to gamble are still seeing results, which is why all these paid link networks still exist.

As far as the cottage industry for “negative SEO”?  Yep, it’s out there, and nobody has been brazen enough to start an actual service, but we all know someone who could (or own software that can) launch an attempted  ”negative SEO” campaign if we wanted to.

Of course, that would not only make you a despicable human being,  according to Matt, it could hackfire and help them. See, that’s what makes this whole game so precious – links still work! Here’s a video where Matt Cutts of Google explains a little more.

Here’s another paragraph that I (apparently) wrote that made me just cringe when I read it…

I believe that the way that they devalue the juice of an inbound link is not by devaluing the link itself, but by devaluing the overall PageRank of the site that is passing along the link to you – i.e. – that makes your link worth a bit less.

Nope, I now know that individual links can be discounted for a variety of reasons, from anchor text, to site quality, to location on the page, and it’s a whole lot more complicated.

The bottom line is that without some sort of link building going on, you’re just not going to be pulling ahead of the competition, and you have to try everything within the Webmaster guidelines.

It’s also extremely important to build links to many different pages on your website, and with many different variations of anchor text too. There’s never a reason to focus all of your link building activity on a single web page, or with identical anchor text. When a site naturally acquires links, they come in all different flavors, to different areas of the site. The key to success is to appear “natural”, so be sure to diversify tour targets and your anchor text accordingly.

The big change there is obviously anchor text. Any time you have the option, choose your company name or a variation,  raw .html or even rather than using an anchor phrase, which some overzealous Google quality rater thinks you’re gaming it, or some frustrated competitor narcs you out in to Google.

Deep links too, pointing at interior pages can be overdone now, especially if what you’re linking to has no visible or legitimate reason to attract the link in the first place. Why WOULD someone link to that interior page? And certainly they’d not use anchor text instinctively, would they? It’s just not natural. For what purpose would someone do it  if not to boost rankings?  It’s not really that hard to imagine that this artificial practice had to come to an end sometime, is it?

 Linking to others, commenting (intelligently) on forums and blogs, writing great content of your own, and creating useful tools are only a few ways you can make links happen. Here are a few other link building ideas that might spur your imagination…

That paragraph is still relevant – whew! especially commenting, so please leave one below ;)

My Best Advice
The most accurate statement I can make today, especially to those that have been skirting the fringes for some time now,  is to stop thinking about how to blur the ethical line of what Google ‘s Editable Bible says is right and wrong.

Sure to some degree you have to play some games to compete, but overall, stop trying to cheat your way to the top. The sun has set, the day is done, the fat lady sang and that’s all she wrote.

You have to ask yourself, “What will Google do WHEN they catch me doing this?” and if you aren’t willing to poison your domain forever forcing you to rely on Adwords alone then it’s flat out not worth the risk .  If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

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