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Sunday, August 12, 2012

How to Build Backlinks

It is out of question that quality backlinks are crucial to SEO success. More, the question is how to get them. While with on-page content optimization it seems easier because everything is up to you to do and decide, with backlinks it looks like you have to rely on others to work for your success. Well, this is partially true because while backlinks are links that start on another site and point to yours, you can discuss with the Web master of the other site details like the anchor text, for example. Yes, it is not the same as administering your own sites – i.e. you do not have total control over backlinks – but still there are many aspects that can be negotiated.

Getting Backlinks the Natural Way

The idea behind including backlinks as part of the page rank algorithm is that if a page is good, people will start linking to it. And the more backlinks a page has, the better. But in practice it is not exactly like this. Or at least you cannot always rely on the fact that your contents is good and people will link to you. Yes, if your content is good and relevant you can get a lot of quality backlinks, including from sites with similar topic as yours (and these are the most valuable kind of backlinks, especially if the anchor text contains your keywords) but what you get without efforts could be less than what you need to successfully promote your site. So, you less than what you need to successfully promote your site. So, you will have to resort to other ways of acquiring quality backlinks as described next.

Ways to Build Backlinks

Even if plenty of backlinks come to your site the natural way, additional quality backlinks are always welcome and the time you spend building them is not wasted. Among the acceptable ways of link building are getting listed in directories, posting in forums, blogs and article directories. The unacceptable ways include inter-linking (linking from one site to another site, which is owned by the same owner or exists mainly for the purpose to be a link farm), linking to spam sites or sites that host any kind of illegal content, purchasing links in bulk, linking to link farms, etc.

The first step in building backlinks is to find the places from which you can get quality backlinks. A valuable assistant in this process is the Backlink Builder tool. When you enter the keywords of your choice, the Backlink Builder tool gives you a list of sites where you can post an article, message, posting, or simply a backlink to your site. After you have the list of potential backlink partners, it is up to you to visit each of the sites and post your content with the backlink to your site in it.

You might wonder why sites as those, listed by the Backlink Builder tool provide such a precious asset as backlinks for free. The answer is simple – they need content for their site. When you post an article, or submit a link to your site, you do not get paid for this. You provide them for free with something they need – content – and in return they also provide you for free with something you need – quality backlinks. It is a free trade, as long as the sites you post your content or links are respected and you don't post fake links or content.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Google Penguin Crashes Wedding Site's Shady Link Building Strategy

The past month has been a painful one for thousands of webmasters hit by the Google Penguin update. If your rankings dipped, no doubt you've been faced with a bunch of questions regarding the future of your site and any potential recovery methods that might be available.

After any Google update, be it Panda, Penguin, or any other one, you can fit in one of the following category profiles:

Positive Impact

You played by Google's rules and your rankings increased.
You did some shady link building and got away with it.

Negative Impact

You played by Google rules and you still got hit … “collateral damage”.
You did some shady link building.
You had no idea what link building strategies were used because you outsourced it.
You are confused by how Google might treat SEO or you might have received bad advice and thought you were playing by Google’s rules … but you weren't.

No Impact

Your rankings weren't affected.
For those who have been negatively impacted, what follows are details about one site that has been hit by the Google Penguin update. This site was guilty of doing some shady link building and had no idea what link building strategies were used due to outsourcing.

I won’t disclose the name of this high profile site in the wedding niche. Also, I'm not affiliated with this site in any way. The data was tracked and benchmarked through cognitiveSEO (disclaimer: I work for cognitiveSEO) to present the case, as a demo, to show how their link building tactics affected their rankings.

A Short Timeline of Events

It all began with their shady link building campaign – one which resulted in:

Around 60 percent of their links coming from a set of “link networks” and a high range of low quality articles.
Over optimized “money keywords” anchor text distribution.
Big discrepancy in “link profile” comparison among all the major competitors in the same niche.
Eventually, a tweak to Google's algorithm caught them:

March 25, 2012: Their rankings dipped. (This is prior to the official Google Penguin date … but, in my point of view, Google had been working on this algorithm update since the beginning of this year. You can read on the Google Webmaster Forums a lot of people that complain about the unnatural links warning and rankings dip from the beginning of 2012.)
April 25, 2012: Their rankings took another dip. (Corresponding with the official “Penguin” update release.)

Link Building Tactic Dissection

This wedding website used a set of link networks, where low quality content posts were added. The majority of the posts contained one or two links with “money keywords” pointing to their site only. No other external links were found in these articles. These posts were added gradually with a rather normal link velocity.

The second type of low quality and unnatural links were found in weak content articles posted on all kind of sites. They respect the same pattern as the link network blog posts presented before.

The major identifiable pattern is the type of written articles/blog posts and money keywords used. All anchor text was "unnatural" with the sole purpose of driving link juice to the main site and rank it higher. The link building strategy was SEO focused rather than human focused. You can clearly see this in their anchor text distribution:

We can see a totally unnatural brand anchor text distribution. Almost no brand keywords, mistypes navigational keywords, mix of brand and money keywords. It is all optimized for the money keywords.

By the way, this site had a pretty high ratio of the “wedding rings” keyword on its main page that might look like the keyword was over stuffed. The rest of the pages on the site had a pretty natural keyword distribution.

A natural anchor text profile will normally look like this.

When comparing the link profile of this wedding site to their major competitors (major players in the same niche that weren't affected by the Penguin update) this site had a major discrepancy in their link profile. They were the only one with ~60 percent links coming from low quality blogs. The rest had a similar distribution of links by the site type profiling.

How easy it is to Google to find these kind of anomalies in link profiles? Rather easy it seems, compared to other things they do, that are way more complicated to implement.

Penguin Recovery Methodology
What should this website do to recover?
To begin, they should remove all those “link network” backlinks and low quality article links. While doing this, they should start developing and implementing a creative viral campaign (infographics, videos, etc.) to attract natural links to the site.
Forget traditional SEO for a while. Don't focus on any “money SEO” at this point – just do it for the sake of visibility and increasing site authority. After building back the lost site authority is when they can focus on the “money keywords” and more traditional SEO.
Removing the majority of their link profile is going to be a really tough task, unless they have direct control over the link networks or can communicate with the owners of the link networks to ask them to remove the links.
Google's Penguin update was a real hit for thousands of shady SEOs, because removing a link can be even harder than acquiring that link in the first place. It is a concept that could be called “link demolition.”
At least one Penguin recovery has been reported, at the time Penguin 1.1 rolled out late last month. The only difference is that the presented site apparently played by Google rules and still got hit as “collateral damage”. A big piece of their recovery came from removing unnatural links.
Identify Penguin
To do this, you first need to find the anomalies in your link profile compared to your still ranking competitors. After you did this you need to identify low quality links that might have caused the unnatural link update trigger. If you were able to find all these than you have the “cause”. Now you need to find the “recovery method”.
Penguin Recovery
The main recovery methodology (not exactly 100 percent proven yet) is to remove the “unnatural links” and rebuild your authority by building “quality links” (you could go the viral link building way for example – infographics, etc.). After all Penguin might be just an “authority slap”. Rebuild that and remove the links that drag that authority down might be the way to recovery.
If too many “unnatural links” or impossible to remove them … start with a totally new domain and re-build everything. That is the worst case scenario. Either way, it's going to be a tough job. Even Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts said that a domain could be totally dipped by Penguin and a recovery could not be possible in certain situations.
Tell Google About it
Ask (and pray) for a site review from Google, after your unnatural link removal is done. You might even have to wait for the next Penguin update to come in effect to see any improvements.
Future Link Building Strategies
If you're seeking a medium- to long-term “relationship with Google”, start to think more creatively and forget about the old link building tricks that worked for years. Google is smarter than that. If they still work, it will likely only be for a limited period of time.
Google’s classification algorithms will catch the majority of these tricks. Still, there are some major gaps in their algorithms that can be exploited (you can see some of the most spammed keywords still contain spam pages in the top 10 results).

These pages got here by using the oldest tricks in the SEO industry (just applied with a different flavor):
  • Cloaking
  • Google bombs (but with a distributed link velocity, and a distribution of low quality links combined with high authority links)
  • Hacked sites
  • Advanced link networks (that are harder to spot by Google at this point in time … their owners just need to be paranoid enough so that they don't leave any traces around)
  • And other tricks …
Google is always moving forward and advancing, focusing on their own interests and not the interests of the webmasters. They will finally catch these "Made for SEO" sites.