The internet came to life in a Californian beer garden some forty years ago, when a small group of scientists converged around a computer terminal (plastic cups of beer close at hand) to prove their strange idea could work. (That their strange idea would one day result in the likes of us writing about SEO backlinks is something nobody could have foreseen.)
Fast forward to the latter half of 1998 and we’re introduced to Google, a search engine so powerful it rendered the Encyclopaedia Britannica obsolete. Suddenly everyone was ‘Googling’ for answers, leaving the snooty likes of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary with no choice but to award Google ‘verb’ status. The purists were not pleased.
Language snobbery aside, suddenly we had access to so much more information. Even better, sharing knowledge became that much easier as well. It was all Shangri-La for a while there, but then people figured out how to work the system to their advantage with SEO (search engine optimisation) and everything changed.
Gimme the backlinks, I want all the backlinks!
Before Google wised up it was pretty much a free for all when it came to links pointing back to your site. Back then our trusty search engine didn’t have the street smarts to determine good from bad. Essentially, the more followed links you had pointing back to your site, the better off you were. Google uses them as votes of confidence and ranks sites accordingly.
This was fine if you were an above-board sort of chap (or chapette) who made it your business to ensure all your SEO backlinks were from trusted and reputable sources. But not everyone is like that. Enter the spammers, whose only mission in life is to fool Google with a bunch of dodgy links not worth the PageRank they pass. Classic spammy link building techniques included:
Quick note on follow and nofollow links: naturally all links are ‘followed’. This means a search engine spider will follow them to their destination. It is possible to make a link ‘nofollow’ with a simple addition to the html (‘rel=nofollow’). This means the search engine spider will not follow it and won’t award the destination site any link ‘juice’ (officially know as PageRank).
Wait, what? Not all SEO backlinks are created equal?
With the introduction of ‘Penguin’ (an update to the algorithm designed specifically to weed out low quality links) in 2012, discerning the genuinely earned from the downright spammy started to become much easier for our trusty search engine. Suddenly sites that had profited from black hat spammy link building techniques were being deindexed entirely. Cue hair-pulling and shouting as organic traffic and leads vanished overnight. Marketing teams worked hard to disavow poor links and prove to Google they were fighting the good fight, but unfortunately had to wait until Penguin did its next sweep before their deindexed websites began to remotely recover.
Thankfully, Google’s latest update now has Penguin running in real time and penalises individual pages as opposed to entire sites. Previously long delays between crawls are now a thing of the past. With the Penguin filter refreshing in real time, individual pages will now be caught and let go (if applicable) on a much more regular basis.
Okay, then what does good look like?!
Links are naturally earned. If you’re a thought leader in your industry or in your customers’ industries with interesting things to say then you will naturally acquire them from semantically relevant websites. This is the simplified explanation of using PR for link building. These links will be from high authority industry sites and will do your keyword rankings a world of good. Likewise if you create great content for your users and it’s really valuable, then it will naturally acquire links (although you may need to do a bit of content promotion to share it with those who might be interested).
Also, there isn’t anything wrong with naturally occurring links from business directories etc. Just don’t overdo it.
What you don’t want is a link from a website littered with misleading links that have clearly been factory-farmed. Instead, make a point of earning links from reputable sources. It’s not easy, that’s the point. But you also don’t need hundreds – think quality not quantity. Rather one link from the BBC than 100 from private link networks of low quality, irrelevant sites.
What about the dodgy backlinks?
If shadygamblers.com sends a link your way, it’s not going to look so good. Worse, there’s a good chance their bad juju is going to rub off on you. Remember the old adage of one bad apple spoiling the bunch?
Helpfully, you don’t have to sit around nervously waiting for Google to discover any untoward links on your website (and then punish you accordingly). All you have to do is use a tool like Ahrefs or Moz’s Open Site Explorer to keep track of your backlinks profile. Then, whenever you do come across a spammy link you simply disavow it with Google’s link disavowal tool.
When it comes to the business of building SEO backlinks, focus on providing as much value as possible to your users and don’t worry so much about the search engines and their weird algorithms. You’ll still need to do your keyword research to find out what people in your niche are looking for, but if your intentions are solid you won’t go wrong.
Ultimately, you want to think about links the same way you do the company you keep. If someone you just met gave off ‘shifty’ vibes you probably wouldn’t want to hang out with them, right? Well, assess those inbound links in the same way.
If you’d rather give someone else the responsibility of developing your SEO strategy, give us a call! We’d be glad to help.