The Algorithm Academy: #1 Links
Welcome to the Algorithm Academy, your six part guide designed to make you a Google genius. We’re going to be teaching you about Google’s algorithm and its ranking factors; from what makes you rank, to what has a negative impact on your rankings.
Today’s topic is links, and we’ll be telling you everything you need to know, from how to generate good quality backlinks, to how to absolutely not build links.
What are links?
If you’ve ever been online, you’ve used a link. But it’s not just internet users who use links. Search engines use links to crawl the web, crawling the links between individual pages and entire websites.
Links are the most important ranking factor – although Google is working hard to change this through the use of other updates to the algorithm, such as RankBrain and Penguin. However, the key to ranking well is still fundamentally to get high quality links that point to your site.
What about the quality of links?
When Google’s algorithm was first launched, links were the primary factor in ranking. This was then abused by ‘black hat’ SEOs, who utilised massive link farms to get sites to the top of search results.
To combat this, Google launched an update to the algorithm, code-named Penguin. Penguin’s primary focus was to focus on links that occur unnaturally and were a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Such schemes included link farms and other underground link schemes and networks.
Penguin also helped SEOs focus on the quality of their backlinks, rather than just the number of backlinks.
Good quality backlinks
Not all links are judged equally, some are better than others. The key to linkbuilding is to attract links from good quality, relevant sites, back to your own. This helps Google discover more about what the topic or content of your site talks about.
For example, if you were a food website, you would consider links from other food websites. However, you can also think laterally. Perhaps a crockery brand might also want to link to you? As long as it’s relevant, it will help.
Bad quality backlinks
However, just as some links can be good quality, some can be bad quality. You should avoid links from poor sites at all costs, as they can negatively impact your backlink profile and harm your rankings.
Sites that are poor quality, or spammy, should be removed from your backlink profile where possible. This is easily done through the use of Google’s Disavow Tool, but it’s important to understand the risks in using this.
Sites that are irrelevant are also an issue. Using the same example as before, a food website, you wouldn’t want to have a lot of sites talking about boats linking to your site. This confuses Google about the topic of your site and can negatively impact your rankings.
How do you build links?
Building links is one of the most difficult aspects of an SEOs job. There are multiple ways to build links, whether you have to do it on a budget, or you’ve got total free reign with your money.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to building links, ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ SEO.
White hat methods
White hat SEO uses only Google-approved methods of building links. The heart of a white hat link strategy is quality content. Whether it’s content you have created and uploaded on your site, or content that is created offsite and references your site.
Your content should be purposeful enough that people in your industry want to naturally link to you. It should be answering or fulfilling a need of the people in the industry including influencers. It should be unique enough that it cannot be found anywhere else. A detailed guide, research papers or a useful tool are some of the best naturally linked content pieces on the web.
Another option is to encourage users and influencers to engage and experience you as a brand through interactions such as product reviews etc. This is perfectly acceptable as long as steps are taken to ensure that rank manipulation is prevented and the promotion is transparent to Google and the end users.
Brand mentions in top publications (such as national newspapers) are some of the strongest authority signals Google can read and can also really help propel your SEO. However, you should always weigh the cost:benefit as there is no point in investing in expensive marketing or promotion to direct users to your site if the content there is thin or you have pages that are taking minutes to load.
Black hat methods
Black hat linkbuilding is anything that is not allowed by Google. These methods include link farms, link trades and networks, as well as other unscrupulous methods.
Techniques from this school are highly likely to land you with a penalty from Google, leading to a complete loss of rankings for your site. Avoid at all costs.
The most important ranking factor
So, much to Google’s dismay, links continue to be the most important ranking factor for organic search listings. However, it’s naive to think that Google will simply rely on the URL element included within the <a> tag. Don’t be surprised if RankBrain or machine learning and artificial intelligence will play key roles in how Google looks at links in the future. If machine learning can detect anomalies and point out a fraudulent insurance claim, how straightforward could it be to detect fraudulent links?
As in all things connected with Google’s algorithm, it all boils down to relevance, usefulness and uniqueness. As long as your link building strategy keeps these principles at its core you have a future-proof link strategy in place.
That concludes today’s lesson.