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Link Schemes: Are You Playing By The Latest Rules?

Oliver Ewbank

by Oliver Ewbank on 27th August 2013

google logoLast month Google officially added large-scale guest posts, advertorials and press releases to the list of links that can violate their guidelines. Naturally this has caused confusion in the search industry and people are doing their best to read between the lines. Are there exceptions to the rules? Should you remove links? Should you nofollow? Should you disavow? Or should you just keep the faith and carry on creating good content?

This blog post will look at Google’s interpretation of link schemes and how to play by their latest rules.

Press Release

The mighty press release was once used as a great link building technique but Matt Cutts has said links within press releases do not pass value. This is still up for debate and many still have evidence to suggest the links can still contribute to your link profile.  So should you stop doing press releases? No. If you have something newsworthy to say then by all means publish a press release.  You get to promote your news and the listing could rank for your brand name. Many press release backlinks show up in Google Webmaster Tools so these links are still counted one way or another.

The trouble comes when you publish a non newsworthy press release with spammy anchor text that is followed.

Tips:

  • Don’t use anchor text
  • Only use branded links
  • Nofollow your backlinks
  • Only publish a newsworthy story

Advertorial

The risk attributed to advertorials has been discussed to death so it makes sense to find it now included in Google’s latest list of unnatural link schemes. To play safe make sure you nofollow all links coming from advertorials. The Interflora incident shows that bulk advertorials can penalise the biggest of brands so this is something to take very seriously.  If you suspect your rankings have dropped due to too much advertorial content the other option is to disavow the source. For more information on this topic you can watch this video from Matt Cutts.

Tips:

  • Nofollow all advertorial
  • Disavow if you can’t nofollow
  • Use advertorial for referral traffic rather than as a link building method

Large Scale Guest Posts

This inclusion caused a few alarm bells but it shouldn’t be too alarming. You are not going to get penalised for a genuine singular guest blog post with a branded link back to your domain. If you are doing large scale guest posting with the intent to gain keyword-rich anchor text you are at risk. Think about the quality of the blog. Can it deliver referral traffic and conversions? In general, if the purpose of the blog post is just for the purpose of link building then the link should be nofollowed.

Similarly don’t publish the same content on multiple blogs. Spun content is easy to spot and you won’t be far away from a link penalty. Google’s very own Matt Cutts is in favour of high quality guest blog posts but large scale spammy content is discouraged. More information can be found on this topic here.

Tips:

  • Use branded links
  • Post on sites where you think you can get quality referral traffic
  • Write great content for other sites as well as your own

Infographics & Widgets

While infographics and widgets can be a great form of content marketing you should not use this tactic as a primary source to gather links. Populating your blog with a good quality infographic can help you find new traffic and gain natural backlinks. However, if the infographic is designed for large scale promotion I would stick to branded anchor text and consider putting a nofollow in the embedded code. Specific 3rd party infographic sites hosting your creative should always contain a nofollow.

Another good way to protect your Infographic links is to offer to write unique content for each of the sites that include your Infographic. This gives Google more reason to value each piece of content without seeing them as duplicates of each other.

For more clarity on this topic here is a video.

Tips:

  • Promote Infographic on your blog
  • Don’t rely on this to gather links
  • Write unique content to go with embedded Infographics

Blog Product Reviews

This form of link building has caused a large amount of confusion.  It was confused further by ‘The Cambridge Satchel Company’ Google advert which showed bloggers receiving the satchel and then writing about their product.  This led people to believe blogger reviews were a legitimate form of link building but Google clearly state link schemes include: ‘exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.’

We later found out that the blogger in the advert had paid for the product but the message conveyed in the advert was confusing nonetheless.

satchel

Whilst this is still a very grey area of link building many people still use this tactic today. If you are going to go down this route it’s important the review site is good quality. Try and stay clear of the ‘jack of all trades master of none’ publisher websites. If the website has no AuthorRank in a particular industry then there will not be much benefit attributed to the link.  If you are worried about blogger reviews harming your rankings again there is the option to nofollow.

In short, this is a very grey area but if you do go down this route it’s better to have reviews on reputable niche sites. If the site clearly mentions that you have provided a product for free (which legally they should) then you will need to nofollow the link.

Tips:

  • Publishers and brands should avoid exact match anchor text
  • Avoid jack of all trade review blogs

Directories

Generic directories and SEO directories in particular can put your site at risk. They can be difficult to remove and some will charge for removal. If you can’t get the directories removed I would disavow at domain level.

Local and niche directories are not such a concern. If you are a local shop it makes sense to be placed in a local directory. Similarly a beauty provider would want to be in a beauty directory. These can occasionally provide referral traffic but I would try and nofollow some links as a precaution.

Tips:

  • Disavow low quality directories at domain level
  • Use high quality directories to raise brand awareness

Article Spinning

Article spinning has to be the easiest unnatural link for search engines to spot. If you have participated in article spinning in the past I would suggest you remove all the links straight away. To make sure you are safe I would disavow the article site at domain level. This will make sure all your articles are discounted at once.

Tips:

  • Remove the links
  • Disavow at domain level
  • Produce high quality unique articles instead

Text Advertisements

Text advertisements are also quite easy for search engines to spot as they tend to have words like ‘sponsored’ placed next to them. If you have taken out a text advertisement for referral traffic a nofollow tag will show your intentions.

Tips:

  • Review the referral traffic in Google Analytics to see if it is worth having
  • If bad redirect the links to an intermediate page that is blocked in the robots.txt file

Forum Comments

Forum comments are a perfectly natural part of the web. The issue comes when you have bulk backlinks from one domain or the signature link is an optimised keyword. This should not be used as a form of link building but more of a way to engage with your industry community.

Tips:

  • Don’t use this activity as a form of link building
  • Add value to forums and build your brand that way

Interlinking

Domains that cross-link can look extremely unnatural to a search engine. If the domains are similar by topic and interlink it will look like you are trying to rank two sites for similar terms.

In an ideal world you should only need one website. If you have micro sites or partner sites it’s vital that all links have a “nofollow” tag. If the sites have similar content this can be a real cause for concern. Although some big brands do seem to get away with this which is frustrating.

Footer Links

Footer links from clients or partners to show your working relationship is perfectly acceptable. However, to a search engine having the same link on every page can look spammy and unnatural. Take away the risk by using a nofollow tag to show your intentions.

decision

Conclusion

Google’s latest edits to their link schemes document has made it look like there isn’t much room for a followed link in sustainable SEO. This is not the case it just means you need to get your brand in front of a target audience. It comes down to intent. If you create a good quality piece of content without the intent to manipulate PageRank there is no need to nofollow the link.

Google’s gudielines are deliberately flaky which is why you need to review each link on a case by case basis. If the edits have taught us anything it’s that link analysis is more important than ever.

In a web ruled by links its important you take responsibility for how they can be interpreted by a search engine. Showing your intentions with a nofollow tag will sometimes be necessary and is very much a part of modern day SEO. Likewise getting followed links on high quality sites is more important than ever.

Do you think Google were correct to include large-scale guest posts, advertorials and press releases as link schemes? Will there always be exceptions to the rules? Have Google gone nofollow crazy? I would love to hear your thought’s in the comments below.

Image Credits

Decision via Bigstock
Handbags via Cambrige Satchel Company

Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver Ewbank has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com on SEO, PPC and Social Media Management. He has won awards for his SEO work and been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.

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2 Comments

  • Andrew Tonks 27th August 2013

    personally I think Google have gone nofollow crazy to the point where they risk ignoring legitimate signals all together from end users. The vast majority of people going online and producing content, like your average blogger, have no concept of a nofollow.

    If a legitimate blogger links to a product or service they had a good experience from, but the platform they use automatically generates nofollows, then for me this is a miss opportunity from Google’s point of view to gain a good signal as to how valuable a piece of content is.

    On the other hand – people who work in the SEO industry understand fully the implications of a nofollow and can shape their strategy accordingly.

    In the end the industry has changed but in reality it’s no more difficult to actually do SEO it’s just more expensive and labour intensive. It’s just changed from what it once was but any good SEO should of changed their strategy accordingly by now.

    Reply to this comment

  • Chris Jones 27th August 2013

    Yes Google were correct to include large-scale guest posts, advertorials and press releases as link schemes because the vast majority of them were exactly that, a link scheme created with the sole purpose of generating a link. Judging by the number of request I and my clients get for guest posts on our blogs I think it won’t be long before all guest posts need to be no followed. If a particular activity gets over used and or spammed then Google will quite rightly put a stop to it.

    Reply to this comment

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