The Missing Link
Link building has long been a contentious aspect of SEO. Black hat, white hat and grey hat SEO practitioners all have their own ways of cultivating links for their websites, and, because of this Google have always been cautious when discussing links and their importance in ranking a website. So, when John Meuller recently mentioned links in a tweet, the waters became even muddier.
To be clear, link building as an SEO tactic is what Google objects to. They have no problem with the links themselves. Google believes that a sign of a high-quality site is one that has inbound and outbound links to other sites with good SEO ‘reputations’. In Google’s ideal world a link would be built by coincidence. Perhaps a local hotel owner is browsing the internet and notices a nearby restaurant’s website. He’s been there before and he liked it, so next time he updates the hotel’s website he puts a link to the restaurant there. This example would be a perfect link in Google’s mind.
If You Have to Ask, You’ll Never Know
What Google doesn’t like is any behavior that seeks to generate the link. So, in the hotel example, if the restaurant owner had emailed the hotel owner and asked for the link, maybe offering a free meal in exchange, Google would not be happy. Any kind of quid pro quo agreement relating to link generation could result in a Google penalty, which could seriously harm your SEO.
What They Don’t Know, Won’t Hurt Them
John Mueller’s recent tweet seems to reiterate this stance very clearly. If the links are not naturally occurring, you are running the risk of facing some sanction from Google. But how can you get links without asking? The simple answer is; create brilliant content that makes your website go viral. But that’s like suggesting someone just “pick the right numbers” when filling in a lottery ticket. So, what realistic steps can you take to improve your link profile without risking a slap on the wrist from Google?
Curation Over Creation
The safest option we can see at the moment is to focus on your own links. Making sure that your outbound links are all going to good, well respected, websites (that you are not getting any kind of kickback from). As well as making sure that any link that comes to your website is from a reputable website. If you see a lot of spammy links coming to your website you need to be quick to disavow them in Search Console, otherwise Google may think that you have asked for these sites to link to your domain.
Links In The Future
Where do you think link building will go in the future? Do you think Google’s opinion on creating links will ever change or evolve so that some kind of link outreach will be deemed acceptable? We’d love to hear your thoughts.