In a recent interview, Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting asked Google’s Matt Cutts a question that weighs heavily on the minds of today’s SEO professionals: “Is link building illegal?”
Google’s algorithm changes over the past few years have scared many a webmaster into believing that backlinks could be detrimental to his or her site. No longer the basic SEO staple it once was, link-building has instead developed a reputation as risky behavior that Google is poised to punish.
If anyone can debunk that misunderstanding once and for all, Cutts can. Matt Cutts is perhaps the most infamous member of Google’s organization, known for his work on the Search Quality and Webspam teams. His blog, which chronicles Google algorithm updates among other things, is nothing short of required reading for anyone involved in search marketing.
In response to Enge’s question, Cutts says simply, “No, link building is not illegal.”
He goes on to explain best practices for successful link building: a common-sense approach that emphasizes quality over quantity, author reputation, and relevant content.
Cutts says that Google still values high-quality backlinks but suggests that many people are working in reverse when it comes to link building.
“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. 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.”
Instead, primary focus should be on building a useful site full of great content – content that visitors will link to without any prompting. Build a site so full of insightful articles, helpful videos, and to-the-point infographics that your readers can’t help but pass them on.
Of course, this isn’t new advice. Content has been king since the earliest days of SEO. However, Google is getting better at reading social signals that can boost a site’s reputation. And these days, it’s all about reputation!
In other words, “…it is true that a lot of SEO is now circling back around to good old fashioned marketing.”
What does this mean for search engine optimization?
The on-site search optimization rules still apply. It’s still important to get the basics right by using appropriate tags, setting up meta data that “talks” to the search engines to provide relevant keywords, descriptions, and titles, and of course, writing great content that emphasizes the things you want your customers to know.
Traditional marketing tactics should be employed.
Because being “liked” or “followed” on social networks like Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn help to signify your value to search engines like Google, getting noticed is more important than ever. Cutts tells us, “…if you think like a good marketer and think about what will appeal to people, you will find your job as an SEO and getting links or trying to build your links will be easier as well.”
Creativity is key. Give your visitors something unique. Get them talking with a controversial article. Make a video that makes them laugh. Create an infographic with compelling data. People are insatiable when it comes to social media, so give them something worth sharing and they’ll pounce on it – increasing your site’s search reputation at the same time!
Many roads lead to success. Don’t pick one marketing tactic and stick with it. Take every avenue you can. If you just rely on Facebook, you’re missing out on links, reputation, and traffic you could get from other sites. If you only produce text articles, you’re missing out on an audience that appreciates graphics.
Eric Enge observes, “You can argue about how good Google is about detecting a particular signal today, or whether a given signal is noisy or not, but over time Google’s capabilities in these areas will continue to get better and better.”
In other words, send all the signals you can. They’re only going to strengthen your site’s performance over time.
If Doctor Who’s Dalek villains worked in marketing, that word would replace “Exterminate!” as their battle cry. Syndicating your blog or article content on authoritative websites can be an excellent way to improve your reputation and generate backlinks at the same time. However, it’s important to make sure that Google identifies you as the original author. Tags like “rel=canonical” and “rel=author” are important mechanical ways to take credit for your work, and even something small like publishing it to your own site a few days before it goes into syndication can help the search engines track the original content back to your page.
Put a face on your brand. Your reputation contributes to your site’s reputation, as long as you put yourself out there in connection with your company. Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt revealed the following tip to the Wall Street Journal:
“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”
However, Cutts replies to that statement by turning the conversation back to the real question of the day: is link building dead?
“Links are still the best way that we’ve found to discover [how relevant or important somebody is to someone else], and maybe over time social or authorship or other types of markup will give us a lot more information about that.”
In other words, do your link building right, but do it. It matters.
To read Eric Enge’s entire interview with Matt Cutts, click here. To learn more about how ImageWorks can help with your internet marketing needs, call (800) 308-8573 or talk with us online.