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Resources for Writers

Keeping in with Google: Link Building

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Article by Vanessa O'Loughlin ©.
Posted in Resources (, ).

If you run a website or blog then it shouldn’t come as any surprise to you that Google is  cracking down on low-quality sites. And with good reason. Google are in the business of selling advertising, and in order to command the highest prices for their pay-per-click ads, they have to generate massive amounts of traffic. In order to generate that traffic, they have to present search results which are both relevant, and which offer the best user experience.

A website or blog littered with ads, static or badly written content is neither. If enough of those show up every time you search for something, how long will it be before you move on to a better search engine?

In the past few months, Google has rolled out some highly publicised algorithm changes in an effort to provide their users with the best search results possible. Unfortunately, many thousands of websites have been caught in the inevitable de-listing that occurs.

Giving Google what they want

It’s Google’s job to present searchers with the most relevant results, and to ensure that the resulting pages offer a good user experience. But what exactly does that mean for webmasters?

Relevant results

When Google talks about relevant results, they’re referring to the pages that appear in the search results whenever a user enters a search phrase on Google. If you search for dog training in Donegal, the top results should not show lion tamers in Los Angeles, because those pages are not relevant to you.

Relevant results also have to match the intent of the search. For example, if you search for “free hat patterns to knit,” Google doesn’t want to show you patterns to purchase, because that clearly is not your intent. Had you searched for “low-priced RAM for a mid-2011 iMac,” though or “cheap romantic fiction” , Google would point you to a host of shopping sites, because obviously you are in a buying mood.

Good user experience

We’ve all stumbled across those sites that are so packed with ads that you can barely find the content that lured you there. Or the sites that are lacking in anything which could be called a navigation structure. Or those that are so concerned with keyword placement that they’re unreadable. These kinds of sites – and many others – do not meet Google’s criteria for a good user experience, and as the algorithm improves, these sites will likely find themselves with no search rankings at all.

So what does Google consider good user experience? It can be summed up by:

  • Quality content on an easy-to-navigate site, without the use of any SEO trickery such as duplicated or auto-generated content, irrelevant keywords, and unnatural linking practices.
  • Quality content should be self-explanatory. It simply means that the words on your page are well-researched, well-written, and not scraped from other sites or “spun” from a “seed article.”
  • Having an easy-to-navigate site means that your site structure is organized, that you have well-thought-out menus and links, and that every page is linked to from at least one other page. As we mentioned last week in ,  imagining your site as a top-down organisational chart can help. Your home, about, contact, and other pages are near the top, your category pages are in the next level, and your blog posts are below them. If you’re using WordPress, your site will naturally be organized this way. If you use a different Content Management System or plain HTML, you may need to do a little tweaking to ensure your site is well-organized and easy to navigate.
  • You also want to make sure you practice good interlinking on your site. This not only helps visitors navigate from page to page, but also helps Google discover all the pages on your website. There is one word of caution about linking, though – too much of a good thing can get you into trouble.

Link-building no-nos

Google loves links – they are like the neurological pathways in your brain – information travels from one to another. In order to rank highly with Google good quality inbound and outbound links are essential (a link from writing.ie for instance will give your own site a boost). But while it’s clear that you need to cultivate incoming links to improve the Search Engine Optimisation (visibility on search engines) of your website or blog, you have to be careful. Google has made it obvious that too much link-building can result in penalties when done wrong. What’s ‘wrong’ in their eyes?

Anything that simply isn’t natural.

If your site focuses on your self help book for children with Aspergers, links to Autism and Aspergers sites are completely natural, site that promote writing and books would be logical too, but if you are approached by a company selling thermal socks or one selling steel fabrication, who are offering a reciprocal or paid link on your site – the link isn’t a natural one. This is is an example we found of a very bizarre link  –  Nicki Minaj has admitted her latest photoshoot was the scariest one of her life – because she wasn’t wearing much make-up – the link on the word life goes to a pop-up for Irish supermarket chain Supervalu! You can see it here.

If you’re buying SEO services that promise link-building as part of their package, it’s a pretty good bet those links won’t be natural – especially if you’re getting them at bargain basement prices. Natural link-building takes time, and if you hire someone to do it for you, you could pay dearly for that service.

Some link-building techniques are definite no-nos, as have been clearly stated by Google for years:

  • Paid text links –  JCPenney’s website was delisted in a paid link fiasco. If a heavy hitter like that can be taken down over a link-building technique,  your site will be, too. Never pay for links. Ever.
  • Link exchanges – while not as loudly denigrated as paid links, link exchanges are definitely a no-no. They tend to attract links to bad neighbourhoods (sites with which you do not want to be associated), irrelevant links, and broken links. All bad things in the eyes of Google. That said, obviously links from friends who are in your field can only be a good thing.
  • Anchor text overuse – you’ve chosen a really great keyword and want to be sure you rank well for that phrase. It would make sense then to build all your links using that single keyword, right? Not to Google it won’t. They’ll see that all your incoming links use the same phrase and instantly smell something unnatural. This is a newer change in their algorithm, so if you already have 1000 links out there using “affordable web design” as your anchor text, you might want to take steps to add some variation to your strategy.

Best link-building practices

So what does work when it comes to link-building? Well, as with a lot of things, slow and steady is the way to go, and that means that manual link-building beats automated tactics, and hard work will win in the end.

The best ways to build incoming links include:

  • Guest blogging – writing content for related sites in exchange for including a link to your site in the “about the author” section (we welcome guest items at writing.ie, make it useful and we’re interested!)
  • Social media – links coming from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and all those other social networks count. Just don’t get carried away and over-promote, or you’ll find yourself without any followers (‘buy my book’ tweets drive followers mad very quickly!)
  • Write articles other people want to link to!  If you produce quality content, whether its blog posts, articles, videos, or podcasts, it will attract plenty of links quite naturally. No link-building required.