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."
"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.