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No, Google Still Doesn’t Think Link Building Is Bad

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For more than a year, webmasters have been receiving a great deal of messages from Google about unnatural links pointing to their sites. Sometimes it’s obvious which links Google does not like, but often times, it’s not so clear. As we’ve discussed repeatedly in the past, people became afraid of links to the point where they’d go around and try to have legitimate links removed from legitimate sites in an effort to reverse old link building efforts for fear that Google would not approve and send a penalty their way.

Has Google made you afraid to build links or to leave existing links on the web? Let us know in the comments.

Since this phenomenon really started to run rampant, Google has given webmasters the Disavow Links tool, which lets webmasters tell Google specific links to ignore, but Google’s message with that has basically been that most people shouldn’t use it, and before using it, do everything you can to clean up the bad links you have out there. So, while it is perhaps a helpful tool, it hasn’t necessarily put all of the fear of link building to bed.

But Google wants you to know that it doesn’t consider link building “illegal”. Google’s Matt Cutts did an interview with Stone Temple’s Eric Enge last week, which Cutts tweeted out to his followers as a reading recommendation.

We discussed some of the things Cutts said, mainly surrounding guest posts, in another article, but link building was another big area of discussion. Enge, introducing the piece, notes that there are people who think link building is illegal.

“No, link building is not illegal,” says Cutts. “It’s funny because there are some types of link building that are illegal, but it’s very clear-cut: hacking blogs, that sort of thing is illegal.”

But even beyond actual law, Cutts confirms that “not all link building is bad.”

“The philosophy that we’ve always had is if you make something that’s compelling then it would be much easier to get people to write about it and to link to it,” Cutts tells Enge. “And so a lot of people approach it from a direction that’s backwards. They try to get the links first and then they want to be grandfathered in or think they will be a successful website as a result.”

He notes that a link from a press release would “probably not count,” but if the press release convinces an editor or reporter to write a story about it, then the editorial decision counts for something.

Cutts thinks a great way to build links is to build strong Twitter, Facebook and Google+ presences, and strong, engaged followings, then create great content that you push out to the audience, who will likely share it, and start doing other things that cause visibility and help it rank (these are actually Enge’s words, but Cutts “completely” agrees).

In essence, you shouldn’t rely completely on Google, and should diversify your way of getting to your audience. If the Panda update taught the web one lesson, that was it. Ask Demand Media.

When asked about authority as a ranking factor, Cutts tells Enge, “I would concentrate on the stuff that people write, the utility that people find in it, and the amount of times that people link to it. All of those are ways that implicitly measure how relevant or important somebody is to someone else. Links are still the best way that we’ve found to discover that, and maybe over time social or authorship or other types of markup will give us a lot more information about that.”

On the subject of those link messages Google sends Webmasters, people often say they want Google to give them more specific examples of bad links. Google says it will try to give more in the future. This was the subject of a new Webmaster Help video Cutts put out this week.

“We’re working on becoming more transparent, and giving more examples with messages as we can,” said Cutts. “I wouldn’t try to say, ‘Hey, give me examples in a reconsideration request,’ because a reconsideration request – we’ll read what you say, but we can really only give a small number of replies – basically ‘Yes, the reconsideration request has been granted,’ or ‘No, you still have work to do.’ There’s a very thin middle ground, which is, ‘Your request has been processed.’ That usually only applies if you have multiple webspam actions, and maybe one has been cleared, but you might have other ones left. But typically you’ll get a yes or no back.”

He continued, “But there’s no field in that request to say – a live amount of text – to just say, ‘Okay, here’s some more examples. But we will work on trying to get more examples in the messages as they go out or some way where you…for example, it would be great if you could just log into Webmaster Tools and see some examples there.”

“What I would say is that if you have gotten that message, feel free to stop by the Webmaster Forum, and see if you can ask for any examples, and if there’s any Googlers hanging out on the forum, maybe we can check the specific spam incident, and see whether we might be able to post or provide an example of links within that thread,” Cutts concludes. “But we’ll keep working on trying to improve things and making them more transparent.”

I don’t think the audience was completely satisfied with Cutts’ video. The top YouTube comments as of the time of this writing are:

“Great question. Very unsatisfying answer.”

and

“Matty, great non-answer. You should run for office!”

Those were the two with the most upvotes.

Have you been affected by Google’s link warnings? Do you think Google provides a sufficient amount of examples of what it considers to be bad links? Have you altered your link building strategy over the past year? Let us know in the comments.

No, Google Still Doesn’t Think Link Building Is Bad
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  • Lester

    Do you remember the good old days when Google was a benevolent dictator instead of the tyrannical dictator that it has become? Hail SkyNet!

    • http://N/A Kevin

      Sounds like the US government

  • http://www.destinationtoyota.ca/ Cliff

    I think the main problem is that when people start seeing fluctuations in the rankings(especially when rankings are dropping), they assume that it’s something that they did that changed the ranking and tries to make an explanation. However, they often overlook the things that the competitors did. Perhaps the competitor has build more links and thus increased in their ranking.

  • http://www.lawyerratingz.com Bob Nicholson

    My company operates the LawyerRatingz.com website. Our attorney listings include links to the attorney websites, as well as ratings and reviews posted by clients. We get a constant stream of threats from attroneys demanding that negative reviews be deleted (we ignore them). But recently, we’ve been getting demands that “unauthorized links” be removed because we are damaging the law firms’ SEO efforts. We ignore those demands too, but it’s interesting that a lot of law firms have gotten the idea that links can hurt them. I suspect there is some expensive “service” consulting with these lawyers and telling them they should only have links provided by the consulting firm.

    • Peter

      What I would be interested to know is what happens when 20 different lawyer firms all disavow your site. Does Google say “Wow, look 20 different sites all flagged this guy and there’s loads of backlinks out to the same sites over and over. Gotta be spam” and you get a penalty.

      That’s assuming the disavow does actually work of course. I’ve still yet to see a concrete case of it genuinely working and I know ours certainly hasn’t been acted upon.

  • http://N/A Kevin

    TBH, I don’t give a sh1t what Google does. I don’t use them for a search engine and I get my own traffic elsewhere. Anyone who puts all their eggs in Google is an id1ot. Th erug can be pulled out from under you ANY day, for no apparent reason

    Thanks, but no thanks

    • John

      Me too, I get my traffic from other sites, I never trust a search engine for traffic, learned that along time ago, now they can do what they want and it doesn’t hurt me at all.

    • http://www.vintagetextile.com CMA

      Totally true. Google is losing market share in many search categories because its algo now eliminates so many top websites due to supposed “bad incoming links.”

  • Matt

    Ah yes, the joys of Google’s bi-polarism.

  • http://newscanada-network.com/ jadtechnic

    Link Building is not bad at all, Google for the most part keeps all in fear of many things to be honest.

    |Think about this for a second ” how is it that Google became so big and popular from the start”

    do you honestly know or consider they got where they are by suggesting not doing just what they have done from the start link to others they literally link to virtual every site on the internet and remain in the top ranking ..

    they virtually curate every website on the internet and every social net work news site and yet never lose rank ..

    they virtually attempt to advertise on and have banners on nearly all websites and blog on thew internet ..

    if linking to other sites was bad or spamming google would be at the bottom of there own list think about it guys they took over search market made a bundle of money took over advertising took over browser market took over mobile phone industry working on taking over operating system all by linking to everyone on the internet with or with out permission..

    this is how I am starting to see it any how the reason they keep making people and companies more fearful with there threats is because there place at the top is teetering by the next person or business who takes it up a notch better then them first …

    getting ahead in this internet world is all about taking risks at every step just ask those who where invested before the so called .com bomb in 2000 these are today rich and famous in the internet world yes there was some sad stories along the way how ever trillons were made in them years by all even the little mom and pop seller of online auction sellers back then ..

  • http://newscanada-network.com/ jadtechnic

    I can not help think had the guys name been ralph rather then page would we all still be clamouring for a ralph rank of 10 ,

  • http://www.pstviewerpro.com Dan

    It’s frustrating when clear webspam shows up in the results for key terms. One frustrating phenomenon is when “free” but low quality software products get lots of links, making it difficult for higher quality but paid products to rank at all. Lots of links are only indicative that a site has lots of links; it’s not necessarily a barometer of quality. With the clear webspam results we are now seeing in our results since the last major update, (i/e a re-purposed .org domain from a college event), it’s still way too easy for spammers to game Google. Meanwhile, in our case, we’re less connected to our prospective customers through Google than we ever were, because Google would rather feed them spam results first.

  • http://www.enviroequipment.com/blog/ Enviro Equipment Blog

    Spammy link building is bad and Google should go after it the World Wide Web is based upon linking of one website to another. It’s how Google (and other search engines as well) finds websites in the first place.

    • http://www.rankwatch.com Rank Watch

      Google doesn’t want website owners or marketers to keep on building links which is of no help to them and to the users think that they can improve the PR of their website, hence its rankings and search traffic. Google wants a site to earn quality, authoritative and relevant links, mentions, social media shares etc because of the quality content they produce and the way in which they are helpful to the users.

      • http://www.vintagetextile.com CMA

        “Google wants a site to earn quality, authoritative”

        I partially agree. However, problem is in “authoritative” concept. Google has now taken on itself the monopolist role of deciding what is “authoritative”. Hence, Google searches are becoming less useful and less relevant.
        I can’t speak about other categories, but in the vintage clothing segment, where the top query is “vintage clothing”, Google is rapidly losing market share on search to Yahoo and FB, because Google has arbitrarrily and capriciously decided through its algo to ban many top vintage websites for that search term.

  • http://www.vintagetextile.com CMA

    Can’t generalize but our website, which was among top sites for period 2002-2012 for query “vintage clothing”, was removed by Google for its database for the key search term because of links.

  • http://www.vintagetextile.com CMA

    Can’t generalize, but our website, among the top up till 11/2012, was removed from Google for the top search term “vintage clothing” because of links.

    In any case, we now rely on FB and Yahoo for business, as Google is becoming less and less relevant because of the “unreliability of its highly filtered searches”, according to our clients.

  • http://Www.australianbizdirectory.com.au Free Online Business Directory

    It is good to know that google like link exchange. But it is little too late for a lot of Internet users. I personally think google have done some a lot of damage and have cause some financial loss to some businesses because of their knee jerk reaction. Personally, the horse has bolted a long time ago.

  • http://www.21stsoft.com Michael Cordova
  • http://vayamcs.com vayamcs

    Nothing bad about this just a process of improvement. And I like the way google update the system.

  • http://www.alltelecoms.biz/ allcommy

    I think Google appreciates the links made from other. In this sense direct link building is unnecessary for the SEO but not for an advertising.

  • http://www.varadesigns.com/ Vara Designs

    Google appreciates the links made from other, google realy dose consider those links

  • Brian

    Look, it’s the same old story we hear trotted out every couple of years. Keep your links natural. Just do the work. Articles, commentary, blogs etc. Affiliates will be left alone so long as they are genuine. End of story. We had a scare when Panda came along, and Google Gibbon proved to be a non event, so affiliates just need to keep going and keep honest. The effect on my sites over the years is negligible. B.

  • http://www.murderbydesign.com.au Angela Cockburn

    We are an events entertainment company. On one page only we list venues where we have performed several times and where we and our clients have had a positive experience – it’s not easy to get on that list. We currently have no other out-going links.

    Recently we had a call from one of those venues, a small boutique hotel that we have performed at a few times each year for over ten years, demanding that we take down our link to them.

    Yes, we’ll take down the link. We’ll also stop recommending them to clients who phone or email us.

  • max

    I think one of the continuous chaos with google search is thats they mostly do wishful thinking like this Mr. Cutt beside of what they tell the outcome is in a way that they trash the good and elevate the nonsense, authority and link handling are 2 worst parameter which create this chaos. What kind of a SERIOUS system is based of roaming around “begging” for links but don’t care about content which is Google style.

    Another problem is this extreme horizontal style of links and another link and another and another etc. which is total nonsense because finally you cant find anything anywhere because you no remember where it is insteas of putting it into maybe longer one page where you know where it is. If you dont believe try to find anything in their webmaster tools help etc which is a show case of this chaotic philosophy. By the way, a example, I try since about a half year to find out (in their help environment) how this links via you tube , picasa, flikr etc. are handled but it is no way to find out how they evaluate those sources, means how many links would be accepted from one site or page to lets say you tube. Since as usually it’s only one link either incoming or outgoing to a other site. If I made (in and out) lets say 20 youtube links is this valued 20 or since it is the same site (youtube) only one? same with flickr and similar any idea? In the last over 10 years I made about 60 help questions there where i got around 5 useful answers all other where trash. I would suggest to Google to improve their help system, the current is below standard. This are real world problems which Mr. Cutt should answer not this abstract stuff he tell us in Salvadore Dali style.

  • http://www.davenportandco.com Daveda Davenport Howe

    I have a ton of links. I am afraid to take more and afraid to delete any .

  • marc

    we are currently jumping through 50,000+ hoops because google saw some of the links unnatural. We plan to resubmit back to google, but who knows what they will say and how long that will take. We are on our 6 month now. We certainly didn’t pay for links over the 11 year life of the business. Currently we are not ranked for our top keywords and revenue is down 2/3rds very sad as we had to let employees go. We are trying to use google products and less and less as we don’t like where they are headed.

  • http://www.crestline.com Zac

    I get that unnatural looking links can cause some harm to your search engine rankings, but it often difficult to really know what looks natural and what will be docked by Google. It then becomes a guessing game especially when Google releases updates to Panda and Penguin.

  • Shiloh

    Say NO to Google’s dictatorship crap. If you have a business or website that depends on Google rankings it can be destroyed at any time with Google’s constant rule changes and penalizations. Its ridiculous! I will post links any way I like that I think will bring visitors to my web site. Its my web site and I will not be under Google’s “rule”. Simply take away their power by using BING. Its a better search engine now anyway!

  • http://www.theyareevil.com CharlieE

    I don’t give Google a thought when building links. Why should I? They never give me a thought.

    I do, however, get requests every day to remove outbound links on my sites from terrified Website owners. Not. Gonna. Do it.

  • http://www.mobiusdma.co.uk Mick

    Google changes its mind that much its no wonder people get confused about what links are good and which are bad. Lots of work can simply be undone on a site and to its rankings just because ‘Google’ doesn’t think the link is good? Unfortunately we are hearing of more and more cases of this? I’m all up for Google trying to make it fair and dropping people/sites that are obviously link farming or just paying to be at the top but they need to make sure they are ‘Definitely Right’ about what they are deciding before ruining peoples businesses!

  • http://www.mapcruzin.com mike meuser

    YES – this link building google censored crap is nuts. My site has been online since 1996. I’ve never bought a link or asked for one. Anyone I have linked to is because it is relative to the content of my site and of interest to my visitors. I have seen my rankings fall, fall, fall. 2 years ago my traffic from google was 3 times what it is now. My keyword searches end up now on page 3 or 4 where they used to be top of page 1. Bing, on the other hand, still has me on page 1. Google has completely messed up searching with their crazy algorithms. AND might as well say this. Adsense has gone nuts. An example – 2 months ago I searched for a plumbing fitting. I found it in 30 minutes. Now 2 months later I see ads on websites about the fitting! Makes no sense at all. Why would I care 2 months or 2 days later?? They’ve obviously got their adsnse algorithm all messed up as well. Well – I just hope that bing and others take more of a share of search from google so we’ll be rid of the messed up mega-monster who is really messing up the internet.

  • http://www.tab-nero-x2.com/ Nero

    A friend of mine used to do paid articles on his blogs. He tells me that he’s getting about an email a week asking to have the links removed.

    Meanwhile, I agree with another commenter here, who suggested that it might be time to move over to Bing.

    • http://www.rankwatch.com Rank Watch

      Google has definitely not asked any webmaster to stop building links but it actually means having linkable or link worthy content which naturally earn links rather than one manually building links and wasting time on it. Google also has time and again show that this is one of their major search ranking factors.

  • http://performetrics.com.au/ performetrics

    Ah the old G machine, screwing with the heads of the masses again. The only things I consider to be 1005 accurate are those I test myself =)

  • http://www.rocketaudit.com/ Brian Wells

    It’s frustrating at times, but I definitely think that there are ways of doing things the “right” way that Google approves of. And, as others have mentioned before me, Google isn’t the only thing that matters in regards to having a solid foundation for a site/business.

  • http://www.royalegraphics.co.uk/html/labels.html Self adhesive labels

    I’ve been trying to get my head around link building for a few years now. I always try and swap links with websites that are relevant and yet there are websites out there that rank a whole lot higher having thousands of irrelevant links (most of them are always broken links to websites that don’t exist).

  • http://www.iafrica.tv/ Robin @ iAfrica TV

    SEO is becoming natural, customized results of Google when we search something by staying sing in to Gmail account. Just take care the relevancy, and provide what do are showing to provide. That’s the key point.

  • http://www.alfidicapital.com Anthony Alfidi

    Google is cracking down only on bad link building, not all link building. Search engines are about real people seeking quality content. Poor SEO practices have made a mess of the web. Get real content and reach out to real businesses run by real people.

  • http://www.demondemon.com Paul Rone-Clarke

    I’m glad you posted this again. Self promotion in all forms of business is just something that has happened since the first caveman traded the first rough hewn wheel for a piece of meat.
    Google understand that banning it would be pointless. Also the idea that you are going to crowd source every links (if that’s what people mean when they talk about such vacuous phrases as “natural linking”) is a process that needs a helping hand.
    The idea that you direct links should add value, use decent content and, above all, not be selfish in terms of either linking structure or content aim – well that’s an idea we are all going to have to get used to. http://goo.gl/oCn85s Shows a new idea. “Link Mesh” or powered link node. (corny names) the idea being that profiles are built up over time, linking is done to benefit the reader primarily and the target site owner as a secondary consideration. Co-citation and relationship building are key, as is building up a long term audience.
    Strong content
    A far better standard of content
    An understanding of the market
    Unselfish linking
    Patience
    It works – but I very much doubt the crash and burn black hat brigade would have much time for a method that required this level of long term commitment

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