Think Before You Link

A demonstration that Google are serious about enforcing their policies…

Most people – even those with even just a passing awareness of SEO — know links play a role in a site ranking well. In fact, links are pivotal when it comes to ranking for competitive search terms. Consequently, link building has become a critical component in SEO.

Google’s view is that the only links which should be beneficial from an SEO perspective are genuine ones that are editorially awarded because of great content. This means link building is hard graft.

As a result, there’s no shortage of people trying to take the path of least resistance and game Google by artificially building links. Effectively an arms race exists between link spammers and Google (the latter continually trying to crack down on link manipulation with Penguin and other penalties).

External links to your site which contravene Google guidelines may in fact be toxic and, if there are enough, can result in Google invoking Penguin or other penalties. The net result — a site’s organic traffic can dry up overnight.  In other words, lots of very expensive pain.

Understandably, many webmasters are concerned about inbound links into their site. However, linking is a two-sided coin and a lot aren’t aware that who they link out to can also be detrimental.

LInking for SEO - think it through

One popular technique for building links is for the supplier of a product to provide it free to bloggers who in exchange then publish a product review and link to the supplier’s website.  So, in effect, the supplier is buying links in exchange for supplying bloggers with free stuff.

Of course, garnering promotional exposure in exchange for free stuff or payment is not uncommon in the offline world (think sponsorship and advertorials) and long predates the Internet. Frankly there’s nothing wrong with the practice as long as the relationship is clearly declared (unfortunately not always the case).

Google’s (reasonable) view is that links provided by bloggers in exchange for free stuff are not genuinely editorially awarded and so should be wrapped in nofollow tags. This means these links won’t pass PageRank and SEO benefit to the sites being linked to.

Google made this clear several weeks back when it published a post on the Google Webmasters blog snappily entitled Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies.

This was a pretty clear warning, but one many bloggers ignored to their detriment.

Last weekend Google imposed outbound linking penalties en masse on many blogging websites that provide reviews for free products and contravene Google Webmaster Guidelines by not making links nofollow.  These penalties were manual actions, rather than algorithmic, and either just affected some parts of a website or in other cases, the entire site.

Why should you care?

If you run a website that provides reviews and wonder if you’ve been hit with this penalty, log into your Google Console account and if you have there will be notification messages. If you don’t have a Google Search Console account (you should – they’re free and easy to set up), a sudden drop in Google organic traffic will be a surefire indication you’ve been penalised.

If you have been affected, then you’ll need to remove the culprit links or wrap them in nofollow tags and then submit a reconsideration request asking Google forgiveness. Don’t hold your breath – it will take longer than you hope. For more details check out this penalty recovery guide from Google.

In summary, there is nothing wrong with linking out from your site at all – just do so judiciously and if there’s a monetary consideration wrap the links in nofollow tags.

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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