Ever since I can remember, we were taught to play by the book when it comes to optimizing web content. Google seems to be watching our every step. Therefore, saying no to unnatural links (also known as paid links) that can impact your online credibility and reputation and expose you to penalties from search engines have been a huge part of keeping Google happy lately.
Let's face it: paid links are just another form of manipulation and bribery, set in place to support an unorthodox optimization plan. Assuming that you already know just how counterproductive it can be to rely on bad linking techniques that could threaten your friendship with Google, how can you avoid risks while building niche-relevant links?
Are We All Spammers in Google's Book? What Types of Links to Avoid
According to a blog post published by Positionly, "everybody is a spammer now", taking into account the fact that Google hates more and more types of links. In this case, we're not referring strictly to paid links representing the central pieces of a black hat SEO strategy. We are actually talking about potentially problematic links that could actually be the ones that send you awesome converting traffic.
So here's the question that is on my mind right now: could links that one has generated naturally (and without any intention to deceive Google in any way) actually work against one?
As an article written by Search Engine Land points out, even the links that add value to your content by allowing you to create a natural, positive user experience could end up sinking your current rankings.
How is this even possible? The same source provides two plausible explanations for this weird phenomenon. First of all, when it comes to using valuable natural links, some overly enthusiastic marketers tend to overdo it, eventually turning a perfectly viable method into a potentially dangerous one. Secondly, Google's algorithm is not perfect and it can't always decode your intentions in an accurate manner. This brings us to the next set of questions: how can you address a perfectly legitimate inbound link that is interpreted by search engines as a spammy one? Moreover, should you ditch all your link building efforts just to stay in the safe zone, or should you ignore all warning signs and use your own best judgment when it comes to linking to other pages? Here's an idea: why don't you take the middle course? Find out how you could keep risks at bay by complying with Google's linking-related rules and guidelines and stay far away from optimization tactics that could be interpreted as shady and manipulative.
How Can You Use Editorially-Given Links without Making Google Angry?
Here's the core of the problem: Google's inability to make a clear distinction between unnatural and natural links can be interpreted as its fault, but at the same time it also represents our loss. As a small business owner, your goal is to optimize your content and link to high-authority sources without giving search engines the impression that you're relying on spammy tactics to reach your objectives. Taking into consideration the fact that it is always better to be safe than sorry, now would be a good time to perform a link audit and upgrade your link building techniques to avoid penalties that could put you on the bench for a long period of time. Here are three additional alternatives that you can explore to make sure that your links won't upset Google in the near future.
- Nofollow Links That Can Be Considered Potentially Dangerous. Google compels publishers to utilize rel="nofollow" on guest articles, widgets, adverts, press releases, comments and various other types of content that could be listed as spammy and untrusted. According to Google's guidelines, if you can't vouch for the pages that you wish to link to, it is highly recommended to nofollow all these links. This simple step will help you prevent your website from transferring PageRank to one or more bad neighborhoods and discourage content spammers who may see your website as a potential target. This ample process may demand a great deal of labor and time, but at the end of the day, it may be your best chance to play by the book and avoid a feud with Google.
- Clean Up All Your Links. This is another option that you could choose to explore to clean up your act. However, this measure is a bit extreme and may not trigger your absolute satisfaction for a very simple reason: after your penalty from Google is finally lifted, you could lose a lot of traffic and be forced to cope with the absence of useful links that would have otherwise helped you rank higher in search engine results. On the other hand, you can and should disavow types of links that are obviously bad for your website (unnatural ones) and manage the ones that you can actually influence (the ones coming from partner websites and social profiles, for example).
- Measure Link Popularity. With so many tools that you can use to perfect your link building strategies, should you really be worried about the fact that Google's judgment may not match your intentions? Instead of fueling your own obsession with penalties and wasting time and energy second-guessing your every linking tactic, take the easy way out. Use MozRank and MozTrust to guide your steps in the right direction. These two handy tools allow you to measure link popularity, and respectively link trust. MozTrust functions based on a very simple principle: the closer you are to a trusted, high-authority source, the more trustworthy you really are. MozTrust can be improved by obtaining links from such reliable sources with a high MozTrust, such as universities or government institutions. At the end of the day, safe link building techniques shouldn't involve a lot of guesswork. You just have to make sure that the domain authority (DA) of the links that you choose to add is good. According to Moz, DA represents the best prediction of how a certain website is going to perform, in terms of search engine rankings. DA metrics are currently incorporated by a wide range of marketing and SEO platforms available online; this means that you shouldn't have a problem choosing the sources that you can safely link to, based on their domain authority.
Don't Blame Everything on Overly Optimized Anchor Text, Blame It on a Lack of Trust
Can you actually stop Google from hating your editorially-given links? You can definitely give it a try, by using one of the methods listed above. What you need to understand is that the overly optimized anchor text isn't your sole enemy that has already triggered the rage of the Penguin. In the end, it all comes down to building (and maintaining) trust. Trust is the powerful X-factor that allows you to cope with Google's constant wind of change, while avoiding penalties. Link to high-authority sources, provide trustworthy information through your content and make sure you look and act like a big, reputable brand, while keeping in mind that Google is a mere website-ranking machine that is inevitably exposed to errors.
Photo credit: Alex_Wang1 / iStock