Link building, along with guest blogging, have been at the top of strategies deemed questionable since the releases of Google Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird.  However, is link building dead? What is link earning? How can all of this improve your content strategy?

Many websites have gotten penalized for questionable link building tactics over the course of the last year.  Rap Genius, Expedia, even Google’s own browser, Google Chrome, have been hit with penalties in the past few years.

Related: Google Hummingbird: Questions and Answers

Of course, this was a big topic at Search Marketing Expo West (SMX) last month.  But just as the algorithm changes, so do your tactics.  Kaila Strong, Director of client strategy at Vertical Measures, has this to say about acceptable link building.

“Most of what you’ve been doing [for link building] doesn’t work anymore. Reciprocal links, exact-match anchor text, guest blogging, blogroll links, blog post comment links, and links in forums — they aren’t sustainable and can get you into trouble.”

3 Examples of Sites Penalized by Google

Throughout the changes in Google’s algorithm changes, of which there is a great history provided by Moz, many sites have seen the wrath of Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam Team.  Even the sites with the best intentions have seen the hammer dropped upon them for questionable tactics in link building.

Google Chrome Penalized for Paid Links

Even Google isn’t immune to penalties under Google Panda and Penguin.  Google’s own browser, Chrome, took a hit in 2012.  A great read from Search Engine Land offers this, and 4 other times that Google has penalized itself for questionable strategy.

One of Google’s big sins is when people buy links in hopes they’ll generate better Google rankings. However, Google found itself buying links as part of a campaign to promote its Chrome browser. The links were obtained as part of a video campaign that was run involving two different promotion companies.

The companies and Google made apologies all around, saying the links were more accidental than intentionally sought. No matter: Google decided however it happened, it was a violation that required the Google page for Chrome to be penalized. It was knocked out of the top rankings for searches on “Google Chrome” for two months.

Rap Genius, Not SEO Genius

Google rapped online song-lyric website Rap Genius on the knuckles in late 2013, for openly “soliciting links for promotional tweets and writing a blog post about their bad link building decisions,” according to Search Engine Watch.

Related: 8 Marketing Faux Pas to Avoid in 2014

Google’s Web-spam watchdog Matt Cutts learned of Rap Genius’s tweets and post, and within 24 hours Rap Genius “was no longer ranking for the many lyrics they previously ranked for, nor did they even rank for their Rap Genius brand name,” wrote Search Engine Watch blogger Jennifer Slegg. Rap Genius subsequently cleaned up its act in order to get back into Google’s good graces and wrote a blog post explaining how it accomplished the feat.

Expedia Offers Free WordPress Template—With a Questionable Footer

In January 2014, travel website Expedia’s search visibility suddenly dropped 25 percent for many of its most important keywords. Though neither Expedia nor Google commented, the penalty was apparently the result of an “unnatural link penalty,” such as possible paid links on article sites, according to Search Engine Land.

Part of a 5 point reasoning, Google Penalized Expedia for the following bad link building strategies: Anchor Heavy Footers, Link Networks, Keyword Directory Submissions, Guest Blogging, and Failing to Nofollow Press Releases.

Avoid a Google Penalty—Build High Quality Links

Recurring Factors in all of these cases include the following tactics: Paid Links, Anchor Text Loading, Low-Quality Guest Blogging, Cloaking, and Unnatural Links.  Granted, there are many more Blackhat and Grayhat techniques that we don’t want to talk about (or link to) on this blog, but the 4 aforementioned are the most dangerous and most quickly penalized in Google’s Algorithm.

We’re not going to go out and jump on the anti-SEO bandwagon, but remember that the main route to success is to build content that humans want to read, linking properly to the right pages.

5 Pieces of Advice on Link Building

CIO Magazine recently released an article on link building and avoiding a Google penalty.  In addition to sharing two of the three sites penalized, they also offered insight to some of the best strategies and tactics in link building.

  1. Be careful with anchor text links. Anchor text is the highlighted text in Web content that, when clicked, takes you to another Web page. For instance, some sites use the anchor text phrase “click here” to direct the reader to another page for more information or to download content or apps.
  2. Do something newsworthy. Google considers links in press releases “paid links,” rather than earned links. Press releases are still important, but they’re more useful for spreading the word about something important your company did — such as hiring a noted executive, releasing a new product or embarking on a charitable endeavor. Journalists and bloggers who receive the release may write about your company and include a link to your site in their articles, which is how press releases help you earn links.
  3. Know Your Audience. Many SEO experts agree that you ultimately earn links by knowing your audience; producing content that solves their problems and answers their questions; and promoting the content through social media and other channels.
  4. Give websites a compelling reason to link to you. Content marketing continues to be an important focus these days, because compelling and useful content often earns valuable links, said Mark Munroe, director of SEO for real estate site Trulia.
  5. It’s OK to ask for links — if you do it the right way. It can still be worthwhile to request a link to your site, according to Strong. When you make your request, though, don’t come right out and ask for a link. Instead, ask if the site might provide a mention of your site and provide the URL you want as the link.

Related: 5 Basic Link Building Techniques

Don’t Become another Google Violator

As the algorithms change, staying up to date with the top trends is important to your SEO Strategy.  From SEO to Content Marketing, Modern Marketing Partners, a Naperville B2B Marketing Agency, has helped clients build their search authority the right way, and look forward to helping you improve your reach as a Modern Marketer.  Looking for Marketing Assistance? Download our Whitepaper, Search Engine Optimization for Marketers, and call 630.868.5060 to receive a free consultation.

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