Friday, December 15, 2006
Late in November we were at SES in Paris, where we had the opportunity to meet some of the most prominent figures in the French SEO and SEM market. One of the issues that came up in sessions and in conversations was a certain confusion about how to most effectively increase the link-based popularity of a website. As a result we thought it might be helpful to clarify how search engines treat link spamming to increase a site's popularity.
This confusion lies in the common belief that there are two ways for optimizing the link-based popularity of your website: Either the meritocratic and long-term option of developing natural links or the risky and short-term option of non-earned backlinks via link spamming tactics such as buying links. We've always taken a clear stance with respect to manipulating the PageRank algorithm in our Quality Guidelines. Despite these policies, the strategy of participating in link schemes might have previously paid off. But more recently, Google has tremendously refined its link-weighting algorithms. We have more people working on Google's link-weighting for quality control and to correct issues we find. So nowadays, undermining the PageRank algorithm is likely to result in the loss of the ability of link-selling sites to pass on reputation via links to other sites.
Discounting non-earned links by search engines opened a new and wide field of tactics to build link-based popularity: Classically this involves optimizing your content so that thematically-related or trusted websites link to you by choice. A more recent method is link baiting, which typically takes advantage of Web 2.0 social content websites. One example of this new way of generating links is to submit a handcrafted article to a service such as http://digg.com. Another example is to earn a reputation in a certain field by building an authority through services such as http://answers.yahoo.com. Our general advice is: Always focus on the users and not on search engines when developing your optimization strategy. Ask yourself what creates value for your users. Investing in the quality of your content and thereby earning natural backlinks benefits both the users and drives more qualified traffic to your site.
To sum up, even though improved algorithms have promoted a transition away from paid or exchanged links towards earned organic links, there still seems to be some confusion within the market about what the most effective link strategy is. So when taking advice from your SEO consultant, keep in mind that nowadays search engines reward sweat-of-the-brow work on content that bait natural links given by choice.