Long, long ago – way back in 2010 – all it took to get better search ranking were links from a bunch of sites pointing back to your own website. These links are called backlinks. Google would discover these links as it crawled the web, follow the link back to our site, and tally another vote for Authority. Get enough of these Authority-building backlinks and your webpage would quickly move up in search rankings. Backlink building was the core of search optimization at the time.
That was then. In today’s world, Google’s Penguin and Panda updates (among others) pretty well killed the practice of ‘any link will do’. Backlinks are still very important, but they need to be on sites that are relevant to our own.
I spoke with a prospective client a year ago who made medical instruments. They had been working with an SEO firm for years and achieved first page rankings nationally for their important web pages. They went home one Friday with their site on page one of Google search; they came back on Monday to find themselves on page six.
What happened? The Google update named Penguin happened. The SEO company they had been working with developed a lot of backlinks for the site’s pages over the years, boosting their rankings to page one. The problem was that those links were in the form of blog comments on sites such as petfinder.com and a host of other sites not relevant to medical instruments.
The Penguin update addressed a number of issues in search, among them the practice of placing backlinks on irrelevant websites in order to game the system for higher search ranking (spamdexing). Penguin caused the search engine to ignore the links on the irrelevant sites and the result was a severe decrease in search rankings.
Another issue came from articles with backlinks in them scattered around the Internet. The sites that were chosen to host these articles would take any content and post it – even meaningless or ill-formed articles could be posted. The Google updates severely reduced the Authority of these hosting sites (some were de-listed altogether). As a result any articles placed on these host sites for the medical instrument site no longer supported the high search rankings.
For a while yet there is an opportunity in developing backlinks through sharing meaningful articles on ranked distribution sites. However, even this practice may be on the way out as the sites that host the distribution fall lower and lower in Authority.
Don't Ignore Valid Backlinks
Backlinks are still important and they need to be found on relevant sites. However in today’s search optimization environment it is better to earn these links naturally as visitors share our site content; or perhaps by contributing meaningful posts to a relevant blog as a guest blogger. The old practice of planting backlinks anywhere and everywhere really is a thing of the past.
Next up in the SEO section of the Informatics blog we’ll talk about two key types of backlinks – ‘follow’ and ‘nofollow’. Two important link types that describe a site’s link profile.