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Often, I will tell clients and interested parties that links to your website can account for 50% or more of the ranking value of a given webpage. It is because of this high level of importance placed on the value of links that an entire cottage industry has formed just to support link creation.
The process for acquiring unique-authoritative links is considered by some to be an art. While there are clearly talented marketers who are skilled at acquiring links, there are many more who simply take shortcuts, and these shortcuts tend to be effective, if only in the short term.
Recently, the Google web spam team updated its Webmasters article referencing linking schemes in order to clarify and broaden the definition of these shortcut behaviors. The broadest view of these guidelines is just to stress that “paid” links are bad and organically or naturally acquired links are good.
So let’s look at the list of “bad links” and questionable behavior:
– Buying or selling links that pass PageRank
– Excessive link exchanges and partner sites designed for cross-linking
– Large-scale article marketing and guest-posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text
– Automated programs that create link to your site
– Text advertisements that pass PageRank
– Advertorials and advertisements that pass PageRank
– Links with optimized anchor text in articles and press releases distributed on other sites
– Low-quality directory and bookmark links
– Links embedded in widgets and distributed across multiple sites
– Widely distributed footer links
– Forum comments with optimized links in post or signature
Many of these tactics have been widely used for some time, and since there was no expressed prohibition, any shortcut tactic that had some positive effect on rankings was exploited to the extreme to see what was possible. It is widely known in the SEO community that there are specialty website networks designed expressly for “selling” high-value links on very relevant websites. These networks are carefully constructed to avoid detection so as to avoid the Google police.
A number of these networks have been “outed” to Matt Cutts and the Google web spam team over the years, and I can see how this learning has contributed to Google’s new restrictions. Sites practicing the above techniques are now in danger of getting heavily penalized by Google’s algorithm and suffering sudden – and severe – drops in organic traffic.
There are also networks of very large sites that engage in placing partner links in the footer of their properties to take advantage of massive links shared across very influential sites. These footer links can drive enormous link attribution and effectively increase a partner’s site PageRank by several points. This technique creates an unfair advantage over smaller sites not connected to a “network”.
Search engine engineers know the value placed on links and recognize that there is bound to be some abuse of this ranking factor. Unfortunately, uncovering these sorts of links algorithmically makes for a real math challenge. The good news for these engineers is that there’s an infinite number of new schemes being thought up, thus ensuring some level of job security.
Most optimization professionals and webmasters are well aware of how hard it can be to build quality, authoritative links. It takes time and serious effort to build these good links and can have a real payoff in the end.