With Google rolling out frequent changes, the last couple of years have been alternately amazingly fun and freakishly terrifying for anyone who builds links or has links built.
It should be clear by now that your site can be harmed by poor quality links, whether you bought them or got them for free, or heck, didn’t even intentionally get them. I previously stated (in several places) that I thought negative SEO was more of a scare tactic than a reality but I’ve since changed my mind after witnessing it firsthand a few times.
As much as some people like to think that links aren’t as important as link builders make them out to be, they’re still one of the easiest ways to cause harm to a site even if they’re no longer the easiest way to rank one.
Google Adjusts Webmaster Guidelines; Panic Ensues
With Google’s updated Webmaster Guidelines for link schemes I’m starting to think that paid links aren’t actually going away anytime soon as some are predicting.
Any optimization is an effort to manipulate the quality of Google’s search results, correct? I mean, why else would you bother? You want your site to have better visibility, and you aren’t going to leave that up to Google. These “link schemes” worry me because it’s not just paid links that are being fussed about now, it’s manipulative links, poor quality links, crappy directory links. It’s all links, basically.
If this is true, will people start to buy more links? I think they might. And yes, this is my version of “Predictions for 2013” in an informal manner. And yes again, I don’t have huge issues with paid links, but I’m not suggesting that anyone should go that route; I am merely explaining why I think they might.
The Problem With Free
Lots of us used to think that any link was a good link provided it was free, but that isn’t the case anymore. I’ve looked at a few sites that were warned and penalized, sites that have cleaned up all their paid links (or never actually had any paid links), asked for reconsideration, and been denied because they still show unnatural links.
The common theme here is that these remaining “unnatural” links aren’t paid links. They just happen to be on sites that have little to no value. Maybe they once did, but they no longer do.
The Need To Control
Think about this: if you’re no longer going to get away with placing low-value links, you’ll either agree that content is king and work that angle or you’ll try and control the whole process on your own. Controlling any marketing process tends to cost money.
With people now charging to take an existing link down, I can’t see the payment bit of things simmering down completely, as webmasters now stand to make money off placing links, keeping them up, and removing them when they can make money. If there’s any money to be made, webmasters will usually find a way to charge.
And this: when sites have done everything the right way yet still have problems with every Google update, what does that tell us? Some sites may be sensitive, but when it’s your business on the line and you’re trying to do things the right way but it’s not paying off, what are you going to do? Sit and wait and hope it will all work out in the end, or pay for action?
Please note that by saying that, I’m not advocating that anyone buys links. I’m simply bringing up potential issues as Google attempts to subvert a process that continually evolves. I’ve talked to many site owners who say that they want to do things the “right” way but they don’t really think that they can, as they will keep losing ground to competitors who don’t have a problem with overt violations.
What New Ways Of Manipulation Will This Bring?
I’ve looked at link profiles that are full of good paid links and they are ten times better than some profiles filled with nothing but free ones. If the theory holds that we’re moving towards a more semantic web, then anchor text won’t matter as much which means that people will find other things to manipulate and instead of just buying links, they’ll potentially be buying authors. They’ll be buying content surrounding links they already have. They will develop new ways of rising about competitors by buying negative sentiments where their competitors have links.
Google’s constant attempts to crack down serve only to spawn new and harder-to-catch ways to win. It sounds harsh but I know that no matter what methods they develop of controlling manipulation in one form, people will find ways to manipulate something else, until that gets smacked too, and they start over again.
People like to think that any paid link will stand out, but you probably encounter paid links every day and you have no idea that they haven’t been editorially given. As Danny Sullivan pointed out recently, you can buy press releases that contain links but Google doesn’t yet penalize these. He goes on to say that they apparently don’t carry any weight, just like a paid no-followed link, but my point is that you cannot always identify a paid link without doing some digging.
There are definitely some stupid link buyers out there of course, but there are some incredibly clever ones as well.
At the very least, 2013 should be a very interesting year for link building.
Puppetpenguin image, used under license from Creative Commons.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.