As we celebrate our company’s 14th anniversary, we are reminded by today’s Search Englne Land post about Google’s warning to webmasters selling links that the black hat/white hat SEO debate continues, though aspects of the conversation have changed. Now, instead of dynamic page substitution aka cloaking, doorway pages or hidden text, the recurring discussion for the past 6+ years has been linking.
Once Google introduced the science of link tracking and patterning as an element of its ranking algorithm, every online marketer sought to amass as many links as possible. After that technique seriously skewed the relevance of Google results, Google innovated again by identifying relevancy in linking so, a link from my mother’s hobby site (senior golf scrambles) would not help my business website. Soon after followed another notch up in relevancy which was Google’s attributing “authority” to certain websites, giving a boost in ranking to sites that were links on such authority websites. Authority websites include government and academic websites, the sites of leading publishers and established directories, Wikipedia and generally any well-established website that, due its content, authorship and ownership could be considered a category leader on a particular topic.
Throughout this time, many companies have asked us to create linking campaigns. The answer is a very limited “yes” as we can help a company identify relevant sites with complementary information that might wish to offer a link, but we have stressed that links shouldn’t be harvested in any artificial way, especially the purchasing of links from link farms – or purchasing them from reputable sites that perhaps just don’t understand Google’s guidelines.
Links have to be earned, and they can only be earned safely and effectively by the ongoing creation of excellent content that fulfills the needs/interests of visitors who thereafter offer a link to the content. So, does SEO still matter? Certainly. Your site has to be indexable; your content should be developed and framed within a keyword strategy; your analytics need to be monitored for SEO roadblocks and opportunities, and more. But, the next time you might be tempted to contract for a linking campaign, buyer beware. Ensure that the SEO company’s linking philosophy is in complete agreement with Google’s guidelines, or you can face what many sites have during the last several Google updates – a serious decline in organic traffic.
For a deeper treatment and highly readable reminder, here is the NY Times treatment of the JC Penney linking scandal.