link building handcuffs

Google Handcuffs

It feels like your typical case of cops and robbers spammers. For several years, SEOs, PR folk, and content marketers looking to for an organic search boost have relied upon tactics like guest posting on third party blogs, distribution of link-infused online press releases, strategically placed link widgets and of course, the ever popular infographic. However, many knuckleheads have taken these tactics too far by overloading their assets with links and setting off Google’s link spam trip wire.

Thanks to the abuse of these tactics by a few, Google has been forced to crack down and make adjustments for the lot of us, encouraging webmasters and bloggers to place “nofollow” tags on links that have been considered valid historically. In essence, if you are an SEO professional, it might feel like Google just peed in your Cheerios.

The following details what new information has come to light about the ways we should and should not attempt to garner new links to our sites, blogs, and content, and my recommendations on how to cope.

google handcuffs

What’s a “NoFollow”

Much of the Google news circulating over the past month and highlighted below revolves around the “nofollow” tag. If you are curious as to how to include the tag, the code looks like this:

<a href=”https://www.yoursite.com/yourpage.htm” rel=”nofollow”>your keyword phrase</a>

To translate the example above, the words, “your keyword phrase”, are linked to https://www.yoursite.com/yourpage.htm. By including the rel=”nofollow” element, we are telling Google that we are innocent and are not trying to garner any link credit for this link.

The Google Decree

In a series of articles published over the past month, Google has provided insight about general best practices as it relates to online press releases, guest posts and other linking tactics. Here’s a quick synopsis:

Press Releases

  • Google views press releases as “advertisements,” and links included within releases are considered artificial.
  • Google will not be giving any direct link credit for links placed within press releases.
  • All links within online press releases should be modified with a “nofollow” tag.
  • More information on Google’s view of online press releases as artificial promotion.

Guest Posts

  • In a video placed near the bottom of this article, top Google cop, Matt Cutts, explains the fine line between a decent guest post approach and an easily detectable scheme to grab more links.
  • Ultimately, guest posts are still OK. However, we cannot use repetitive links in a single post or duplicate posts across multiple blogs.
  • You might consider limiting the links you use in guest posts to one or two, and definitely “nofollow” links with zero context and limited value.
  • If you can objectively discern a link as valuable, include it. On the other hand, if your guest posts is reminiscent of an article bank piece with multiple links, “nofollow” everything.

Other Embed Schemes

  • Google has also warned about the inclusion of links in widgets. Widgets are typically used in content management systems to carry out a function. There are widgets for sharing, for contact forms, for photo galleries, etc. Many times, developers of those widgets place links to get credit for themselves. Google is on the lookout for this practice.
  • Similarly, this got me thinking about “credibility” widgets. These are little graphics placed on a site to give that publisher kudos (e.g. “top 100 blog” or “best soul food restaurant in denver”). These little credibility factors often carry links back to the organization doing the ratings. Make sure these are tagged with “nofollow” as well.
  • Finally, Google has warned about links placed on infographic download pages. Many infographic designers and producers create pages where their graphics can be downloaded and shared. You can often grab embed code to place the graphic on your own site or blog. This code often includes links and anchor that give the original designer credit. Cutts’ advice is simply to not overdo it and keep links relevant.
  • Here is some more info on these embed code linking tactics.

Should We Still Utilize These Link Building Tactics?

In my view, both online press releases and blog posts should absolutely remain in your content promotion arsenal. While they do not convey link credit immediately, they still have the power to generate awareness for a website, blog post or other piece of content. As opposed to viewing them as the means to a link, they are now the means to awareness which can in turn translate to links.

For example, the traditional way of viewing the process looked a little like this:

  1. Submit Press Release – Get Link(s)
  2. Write Guest Post – Get Link(s)

Now, the approach should be viewed as such:

  1. Submit Press Release – Encourage Recipients to Learn More – Get Link(s)
  2. Write Guest Post – Generate Awareness for an Online Asset – Get Link(s)

The approach is truly indirect. To use a bad sports analogy, we are now “setting up the play” as opposed to simply lobbying the ball up for an alley-oop dunk.  This places greater emphasis on developing killer online press rooms and viewing every guest post as a unique exercise in promotion.

The Onus is on Content

You have to admit — deriving links from half-baked press releases and uninspired guest posts is kind of a cheap way to go about earning new links, right? Let’s no longer take the easy route (primarily because it won’t work). The priority from Google’s standpoint, as it always has been, is to develop amazing content that is link-worthy. How can you create and/or refresh your online content so that it reaches a state in which your arch nemesis would be compelled to share it?

When I first started my career, I got some great advice:

Don’t worry about your salary. Concern yourself with doing great work. If you do that, the money will come.

For SEO professionals, the advice is similar:

Don’t worry about link building. Concern yourself with building great content. If you do that, the links will come.

No matter what kind of content you are building (videos, graphics, editorial pieces, podcasts, etc.), it has to resonate with the audience and deliver usefulness and value. Here are a few resources on how to identify, develop and distribute content that is undeniably link-worthy.