Matt Cutts published a new Google Webmasters video where he addressed the question asked by a user about backlinks becoming less and less important in future iterations of the Google search algorithm.
In short, the answer is no. Matt mentions in the video that they are trying to move more and more towards a conversational search, and for whatever reason uses a couple of searches relating to Justin Bieber as examples. Is Matt a closet Bieber fan? Maybe.
Matt also discusses how Google envisions being able to recognize pages published by experts in given fields and giving them a stronger weighting in the search results.
Truthfully, the Google search results are weighted so heavily around links, it is hard to imagine a future where they are still not playing a significant role. Sure, other factors can gain more weighting in the future, but it will be hard to replace the data that links provide about relevancy and popularity.
There is nothing new and nothing surprising in the video. If you have been paying attention to Google’s acquisitions and patents, they have been trending towards conversational search for about a decade now.
You can watch the full video here.
Since the time that Google first released Penguin, people have been under the impression that their anchor text ratio plays some role in getting screwed or not getting screwed by the Penguin filter. I have already argued over and over again that the problem is not the ratio of anchor text in the links. The problem is the crappy backlinks, but that is another story. Going along with this, one of the most common recommendations I see people out there making to others is that you need to use the naked URL of your site for the anchor text in a lot of your links to make it look “natural”. Well, I am going to show you examples that prove you can rank just fine without concerning yourself with naked URL links.
First, what do I mean by naked URL links? It simply means that you are using the URL of your website, or some variation of the URL, as the anchor text for your links. For example, if your website was www.yoursitestillsucks.com, using any of these as the anchor text in a backlink would be what people refer to as naked URL links:
Many IM’ers out there and wannabe SEOs will recommend using these types of anchor text for 20% or even more in your link profile. You will find posts like this all over the internet. In this one, a 30% ratio is recommended.
This user recommends a combination of 50% naked URLs and “generic” anchor text links.
Is it really necessary to have that high of a percentage of your links as naked URLs in order to rank successfully in the SERPs? Well, the great thing about SEO, despite what a lot of people might tell you, is for most things you do not actually have to do any testing. With SEO, you have a giant laboratory where most of the tests have already been run. It’s just a matter of whether or not you can access the data, or enough of the data, to feel reasonably comfortable to draw conclusions from it. Where is this great laboratory? Simple. It’s the SERPs.
In a lot of cases, all you have to do is study the websites that are already ranking to draw conclusions about what does work and what does not work. This is one of the things that drives me nuts about some of the incredibly stupid questions actual SEOs ask. Most of the time, all you have to do is study the SERPs. All the answers are right there already.
So how does that relate to this discussion? Take this ridiculous theory that you need to build a lot of naked URL links in order to rank successfully. I took a look at some highly competitive search terms in the insurance industry. I picked off some of the top ranking sitse and took a look in Ahrefs at what type of anchor texts were being used. If you have been holding to this theory of naked URLs, you might be rather shocked.
First I took a look at www.farmersinsurance.com. This site is ranking for all kinds of competitive insurance terms. When you take a look at the anchor texts, you will find that only 0.45% of the links found in Ahrefs show naked URLs being used. That is not 45%. That is less than half of one percent.
Next up was www.ehealthinsurance.com, which ranks number one for the highly competitive term health insurance. This one was a bit higher, clocking in at 6.59%. I suspect though that some of the reason this one is a little higher is that part of their SEO strategy was to go ahead and use the URL in links a little more since it contains the term health insurance.
I took a look at the site ranking number two for this same keyword, which was www.healthinsurance.org. What I expected was to find something similar to the previous example with this being an EMD. It would make sense for them to use the naked URL since it includes the exact match of the keyword. I was right. This one was the high water mark in the group of sites I checked with 7% of its links using naked URLs.
The last example is www.metlife.com. This website has an internal page that owns the top spot for the term life insurance. It also ranks extremely well for a lot of highly competitive life insurance terms. Ahrefs reported 2.43% of its links using naked URLs.
If you dig through some of these links on these four sites, you will find that a lot of the links using naked URLs are in business directories that only allow that type of link. They were in no way intentional. They were just the only option.
Now does that mean that a site with a higher percentage of naked URL links will not rank? No. Not at all. My point of this discussion was to show you real life examples in the SERPs that show that A) naked URL links are not necessary for rankings and B) they are not as “natural” or prevalent as people claim they are.
I am sure if you dig through the SERPs in Google you will find sites that are ranking well which use 30% naked URL links or even higher than that. However, looking at these sites I pointed out which are ranking for highly, highly competitive keywords, proves that such a high ratio is not at all necessary to achieve the rankings you want.
I really get sick of this question. Does link velocity matter?
For those of you that do not know what link velocity is, it is the rate at which a webpage acquires links. So why am I talking about this again? Well, I got an email today that read something like this. (Names and information have been changed to protect the foolish.)
Hey Mike, I need your help. I have been doing SEO work for a client for 3 months now, and I am having a bit of trouble. Three of the top sites for their primary keyword are using unnatural link velocity and not getting penalized for it. They have days and weeks with huge spikes in links and then nothing. Their sites are www.cantoutrankthissite.com www.cantbeatthisoneeither.com www.eventhisonebeatsme.net My client’s site is www.theyshouldfire.me. I am building 10-15 links to their site everyday like you are supposed to do. Why is my client’s site not ranking better and why are these three competitors not getting penalized by Google? Thanks for the help, A Not-So-Great SEO
Yes, I get emails like this all the time. It just makes me shake my head. I do not know where to even start other than to tell this person they need to get a new line of work.
Well, let’s discuss link velocity, yet again.
There are those out there that believe Google will actually punish a site based on the rate at which it acquires links. They will also tell you that to look “natural” when building links you should build XX number of links per day or per week. For some reason 20 and 50 seem to be a popular numbers among these people. According to them you should build 20 links per day, consistently.
Please show me one site that “naturally” gets 20 links per day, every day. In fact, I cannot think of much that would look more unnatural than that when it comes to link building.
It’s such an asinine theory. It blows my mind that anyone buys into it.
Let’s take a look at a real life example going on right now. I live about 45 minutes from the Gettysburg Battlefield. This week is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I went into Google and searched for Gettysburg 150th anniversary events. Here is what I found.
One of the top ranking sites is www.GettysburgCivilWar150.com. This is a perfect site to use as an example. The site was built specifically for this event. What that means is right now, and over the past few weeks, it has probably seen a big spike in new links. After the event is over though, how many sites are going to keep linking to it? Not many. Yet, I bet it will stay in the top of the SERP.
When I run the site through Ahrefs, my suspicion is confirmed.
A spike of about 2400 links in 2 months after being flat for 5 months before that (and probably even longer if we looked back before December 2012). You can also see that as the event as arrived and people have already made their plans for what they are doing during the week, the links have slowed down to a trickle.
Yet the site survived Penguin 2.0. It is doing fine with the latest rolling update going on right now. Want to know why? Because this is more often what natural link building looks like.
Think about it. Let’s say there is a semi-popular blog that writes and extremely controversial post on some subject. What often will happen to that post is it will get circulated around among that community. Other bloggers in the niche will mention it in a post and link to it while arguing their opinion on the subject. Forums will discuss it. It might make its way all over Facebook and Twitter. Depending on the popularity, the site is going to see a spike in links.
Now most websites are not creating content like this everyday. Most are not even doing it every month or every week. This creates a link profile that has lots of peaks and valleys.
The same thing can happen for popular retailers. When Apple launches its latest iTurd product, their website, as well as sites like CNet that review the product, will get big spikes in links when the product is announced and again when it actually launches.
My point is simply this. There is nothing unnatural about link spikes. Link velocity is nonsense.
While we are on the subject of stupid myths, take a look at the anchor text breakdown of this same site.
What? 70% of their links have the same anchor text? No way!
Yep. All that crap you hear about varying your anchor text is mostly BS too.
If there is one tip I can give people about SEO, it is to stop listening to the fools on marketing forums claiming to know SEO. Some people will tell you that you should test things yourself. While there is no harm in that, that even is really not necessary. All of the answers... all of them... are right there in the SERPs for you already. You just need to analyze it. You can see what is and what is not working. It’s all right there if you look at it.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, you are probably aware that Google unleashed its latest major algorithm update, nicknamed Penguin. This was the long rumored “over optimization penalty” that was coming. When webmasters and internet marketers got wind of an “over optimization penalty” in the pipeline, they all assumed that this was going to target onpage SEO. That it would go after those pages that were clearly going out of their way to target one specific phrase. Once Penguin was released, however, Google clarified that remark and stated that what they were really after with this update was webspam.
Since this algorithm update, message boards, blogs, Twitter, and any other online medium you can think of has been full of people up in arms over the changes. Of course, it is only the people who got hit by the update that are voicing their dissatisfaction. The typical search engine user is completely oblivious that this change has even happened. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone you know who does not make a living online what they think of Google’s Penguin update. They will have no idea what the hell you are talking about.
The dust is still settling on this change. We do not know everything yet, but there is a lot of bullshit floating around out there about it. Let’s clear up a few things.
First, this update had little to nothing to do with onpage SEO. It had everything to do with backlinks, and more specifically, low quality backlinks. In the post on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog linked to above, take a look at the second example they list. It is a post with poorly spun content that is basically unreadable. It also has links throughout that are completely unrelated to the content. Where can you find backlinks like this? Sign up for this shitty service or any of the other crap this provider offers, and you will get tons of them.
It is not too hard to uncover large chunks of the network used for that service. From there, it is just a matter of following the links to see what sites they are working on. I have looked at 87 sites so far. I cannot find one with a keyword in the top 100 of Google’s SERPS. So yes, this update was about backlinks and what Google considers to be webspam. Use services like this or any of the “SEO” gigs you find on Fiverr at your own risk.
Second, although this update was previously referred to as an “over optimization penalty”, it is not a penalty. It is an algorithm change. If you saw a drop in your rankings in Google, filing a reconsideration request will not help you. Reconsideration requests are for sites that Google has found a reason to manually penalize. You fix what they found to be wrong, file the request, and if they deem your actions to be adequate, they remove the penalty.
Penguin is embedded into the algorithm. It is a part of how they rate and rank sites. If you got nailed for having lousy spammy backlinks, you need to work on getting rid of as many of those backlinks as you can. That, of course, is no small task.
In that regards, it is similar to last year’s Panda update. Reconsideration did not help. You had to make changes to hopefully improve your site (in the eyes of Google), and then wait for Google’s spider to recrawl your site and to be reevaluated in their index. Likewise, you need to start getting rid of poor backlinks, and hope that when Google reevaluates your link profile they see more good than bad.
Lastly, people keep crying that SEO is dead now. There is nothing you can do. White hat SEO doesn’t work anymore. Blah, blah, blah. Go back to 2003. Anyone remember the Florida update? Yeah, SEO was dead then too. Since then Austin entered our lives, we have had a Big Daddy, Jagger, enjoyed some Caffeine, and were given a Panda, just to name a few updates. The same outcry is heard each time. Google is done. SEO doesn’t work. This is the end of Google. The SERPs are all screwed up.
Can you find specific examples of something that ranks high which probably should not? Absolutely. However, that was true before Penguin too. Have sites using nothing but “white hat SEO” been hit by Penguin? I have found several people claiming this, but each example I looked into, it has been pretty easy to see they were not innocent. Almost instantly you can find spammy backlinks, usually in large, large numbers, pointing to their site when you take a peek at their backlink profile.
It is pretty simple really. Stay away from cheap backlink providers. No Fiverr gigs. Nobody promising a page one ranking for $99. Do not use autospun unreadable content. I don’t care how “original” your spinner says it is. Forum profile links, forget it.
Keep a good, clean backlink profile, and you have nothing to worry about.
That might seem like an odd thing for an internet marketer to say, but it is the truth. The systematic elimination of the most popular blog networks by Google is actually a very good thing for internet marketers.
What? But I relied on blog networks for my rankings.
Well, if that is you, that is your own fault.
Now why is this a good thing? Simple. It thins the herd. It eliminates a large majority of internet marketers from competing with the rest of us. It will largely eliminate marketers and wannabe SEO’s who are not willing to put in the work or money necessary to achieve top rankings.
Public blog networks made it far too easy for people to achieve high rankings in low to medium competition SERPs, didn’t they? They were also extremely cheap in both cost of money and cost of time. Anyone, with little to no SEO knowledge could rank their site.
Let’s be honest. All you had to do was either write a few 150-200 word articles or pay someone a few bucks to write you a bunch of them, and then you submitted the articles to the blog network or networks you belonged to and made sure to include anchor text backlinks to your site. That’s it. If you belonged to one of the really bad networks that allowed spun content, you could even take one of those articles, pop it into The Best Spinner or some other spinner, hit a button to autospin it, and pop out 100 more articles you could post to the network. There is no SEO knowledge or skill in that.
Now, before everyone starts calling me a hypocrite, did I ever make use of public blog networks? Yes I did. I didn’t use them for their “high PR” benefit though. I used them for anchor text and IP diversity. It was an easy place to get some additional links. I also rarely pointed the links at a site I cared about or any sites belonging to a client of mine. The links instead went to other properties. They never amounted to more than 5-10% of a backlink profile, and I never used any that accepted spun content.
I know many others used networks in this way too. Those are not the people I am talking about here. I’m talking about the ones who used blog networks for the majority of their link building. The ones who submitted the maximum number of articles they could each day so that they always had links showing up on the home pages of the high PR domains.
It’s scary to think about, but I have talked to many people who have called themselves SEO’s, and they made public blog networks their only backlinking method.
Some of you probably felt you had to over utilize public networks just to keep up with your competitors because that is what they were doing. Guest posting would never give you the opportunity to get as many contexual links as one of these networks did. If you did not keep up with the Jones’, you felt you would be lost in the SERPs and never able to catch up. I can empathize with you.
If you didn’t have a private network of your own to get quality backlinks from, you may have felt like you had no choice. Even though you were doing all the other hard work of SEO, you still couldn’t get to the top 3 for your primary keywords.
Don’t think of the death of blog networks as Google attacking SEO’s or internet marketers. That is not the case at all. What they did was level the playing field again for everyone.
One of the most popular forms of backlinking for internet marketers over the past two years has been the utilization of “private” blog networks. I use the term “private” loosely. Yes they are private in that you have to become a member to use them, but when everyone knows about them are they really private?
Over the past two weeks, it has become obvious that Google and their web spam team have put these networks squarely in their crosshairs. There was the public outing of a site using Authority Link Network, which led to about 5000 of its domains being deindexed.
Matt Cutts confirmed this on Twitter.
Today, one of, if not the most popular blog network announced they are shutting their doors.
And then there is the worst of the worst, SEO Link Monster which has had nearly all of its sites deindexed, yet will not admit it and still continues to accept new paying customers.
Does this mean it is the end of such networks? The large public ones, I would say yes. I’m sure there will be others launching to try to fill the vacuum these left behind. They will undoubtedly claim that they have some super secret method of staying under Google’s radar.
In my opinion, these networks were a victim of their own success. Their popularity is what put them on Google’s radar. There has been little evidence that this was anything but manual action taken by Google and their web spam team.
Many people are going to be discouraged by this. In their minds, SEO just got a lot tougher and a lot more expensive.
For those of us who are serious marketers though, I would say this is nothing but positive news. The harder things are, the more effort they take, and the more money people have to dump into building their business, the more people will give up and abandon their efforts. In other words, less competition.
Think about it. Was it a good thing that anyone could spend $59/month and a few bucks on some content and be able to rank easy to sometimes medium difficulty keywords? That just invited more and more people into our niches. It also made more and more people think that they are SEOs.
If you were relying on any of these link networks for the majority of your link building, you weren’t doing it the right way to begin with.
The best way to get good high quality backlinks has always been to build up your own quality web properties and link from them. That has not changed. Those properties can be domains you own, Web 2.0 sites, YouTube channels, forums, business directories, and a host of other ideas.
You know why most people will not follow this advice though? Because it takes time. It takes effort. It will not make you rich overnight. But that is why they will be starting the next “My site dropped 100 places and I don’t know why” thread in some forum, while those of us who are willing to put in the work will just continue on.
If you talk to just about any SEO, they will tell you that the most important thing in any SEO campaign is link building. (If they tell you “content is king”, start looking for an SEO. They have no idea what they are talking about.) Knowing that link building is so important, most everyone is doing it, or at least your top competitors are anyhow. So in a world where everyone else is building links, how can you make your link profile stick out (in a good way) to search engines? One way is by utilizing a tactic called link blending.
Link blending, much as it sounds, involves blending your links in with other links. The key to this tactic is to blend them with links to high authority and either directly relevant or similarly relevant pages. I generally use pages that are already ranking in the top 50 for a search term that is related, but not something I'm really focused on ranking for.
For example, let’s say you are trying to rank a page targeting ‘getting rid of bed bugs’. You find a blog about household pets, and the webmaster agrees to allow you to publish a guest post on their blog. Of course, you are going to link out to your site in the post. However, I would also link to something like a scientific journal page about bed bugs and maybe find an article about the adverse health effects associated with bed bugs on a high authority site to link to as well. Your article might have something like:
If you are faced with the challenge of getting rid of bed bugs, not taking aggressive and immediate action can have some serious health consequences.
Obviously the ‘getting rid of bed bugs’ would link to your main site, while the ‘health consequences’ would link to the article I mentioned above.
You are not just limited to doing this with guest blogging. If you build other domains to build links off of to your main site, you can use this same tactic on them. What you want to be careful about though is overusing it and constantly linking to the same sites. If you distribute 10 articles to your network of sites, do not have all 10 articles link to your main page and the same scientific journal page. Mix it up, and do not do it in every single article.
In the eyes of search engines, this builds a relationship between your site and other authoritative websites in your niche. It does take a little more planning and effort, which is why most internet marketers and SEO’s are not doing this. However, utilizing a tactic like this will make your link profile stick out from the rest of the crowd.