Since the release of the Google Panda and Penguin algorithms, link building has gradually become more of a dirty word in the web community. This is evident from what was described as The Great Link Purge, when Google released its link disavow tool. The funny thing was that many websites disavowed perfectly normal links that were actually contributing to their SEO.
This is because many have been led to believe, often by Google themselves, that link building is an illegal SEO activity that does more harm than it could ever do good.
[Editor: It really disturbs me to see Google use the word “illegal.” Google is not a government, and it doesn’t make laws. Even if Google discouraged the practice of linking, it still wouldn’t make it illegal.]
However, according to Matt Cutts, head of search quality at Google, links are still considered one of the strongest measures of how much content or a website means to users. The real problem lies in how often people exploit this ranking factor.
A Difference Between Link Building and Link Spam
From a direct standpoint, a link is a relatively easy thing to accomplish compared to compelling content. Another page simply creates a link to yours, and there you have it. But the value really lies in having a website that’s respected or an influencer to link to you. This tells Google that your content and opinion has value to someone who is valued by others.
But when you get a link from a random spam website or a cheap directory, it’s easy to see how this has no functional value to Google users. The connection between you two is transactional and doesn’t offer what Google is really trying to achieve with links, a meaningful recommendation.
Engage Socially for Valuable Links
Matt Cutts went on to say that links to content like press releases probably wouldn’t count and agreed that a brand should look to social media engagement, especially Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, for valuable links, as end-user engagement is the best indication of content quality, because they don’t commercial motives.
But this illustrates a common blind spot in website owners: thinking that the internet begins and ends with Google. Social media marketing, remarketing campaign and email campaigns are all viable online marketing channels that are often underutilised by websites due to their reputation. But they are proven to achieve cost-effective results in the short term, as opposed to SEO which is more of a long-term plan.
How to Deal With Link Warnings
In response to the often ambiguous link warning messages that Google sends out, many have asked for specific examples of bad links. Matts Cutts said that, while giving out advice on an individual case basis is functionally impossible, they would work on giving more examples on it in the warning message in the future. However for now, he recommends hitting the Google Webmaster forums for advice.
If this sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it is. Despite Google’s apparent commitment towards becoming more transparent in this regard, this is essentially a repetition of what they’ve always said: Build links but don’t build spam links and if something confuses you, try a forum. One can only hope SEO becomes less mysterious in the future, even though nothing up until now indicates it will.