One of the more tricky aspects of SEO is link building. This is something that can be extremely tedious at times but also gives you the opportunity to be quite creative. How creative you need to be really depends on the market you are in.
Certain markets are extremely competitive and require you to pull out all the stops to keep up. Recently there was some controversy caused by a blog post over at the Red Cardinal centered around GoCompare and their link building tactics. It appears GoCompare have a company who offer webmasters content in return for a link.
What’s a Company To Do
This is something that interests me. I have a number of clients in ultra competitive markets. It’s extremely difficult to keep up with competitors link building techniques and not break Google’s TOS. Although what GoCompare did may of violated Google’s TOS and their email may of been worded incorrectly, providing webmasters with free content isn’t the worst thing you can do in return for a link. At least you are providing something of value for the webmaster and if the content is good (fulfills a need, is informative) then you are also providing content for the search engines and users. The one thing most webmasters need is always good content.
Food For Thought
A client should always have the final say in what they are ok with in terms of a link building strategy. The SEO engineer working on this should be completely up front in any risks involved in the strategy. For example, when looking at competitors in the food industry, I noted the company MyDisk.co.uk appearing quite heavily in the search engines for a number of competitive keywords. Looking at their back links it’s clear at some point they engaged in some pretty poor linking strategies. Having lots of links from cookie cutter sites like (nice photos):
will not get you any real lift in the search engines and worse still, if you over cook that strategy, you may find your business is gone overnight (although no proper business should be reliant on Google traffic to survive).
The problem is some markets are simply over crowded and although Google would state good content will attract links naturally. This isn’t much use if all your competitors are bending the rules and not getting penalized for it. Although pagerank was the original answer to ensuring the *right* site appeared top for selected keywords, it’s flawed in a number of ways. In an interview between Aaron wall and Fantomaster there are some great points made by Fantomaster on this topic. Not least the line “And if I happen to link to some article of yours I happen to be in violent disagreement with, trying to refute it in all bitterness, and ridiculing you on the same stride – does that link constitute a “vote” even in terms of “relevancy”?”.
This is a great point and is something that is particularly relevant to the countless link bait articles that do the rounds (I am sure everyone remembers the SEO is dead brigade). When should a link count as a vote and when shouldn’t it. The nofollow tag helps with this matter but you cannot expect all webmasters to use this tag each time they link out but don’t want to pass a vote.
The Move to Social Buzz
Link building is still part of an overall algorithm and anything reliant on machine generate code is open to gaming and link building is no different. The quest for pagerank has increased the amount of spam on the internet. Google recently changed their algorithm again to try and combat black hatters. But at times it seems they are fighting a losing battle.
The answer to this problem may lie in a patent filed back in 2006 around FriendRank. Some key points from this are:
“Google is going to provide an advertising server, that will target advertising to all, some or just on the profile of the most highly ranked (by Google) social site user’s profiles.”
“And That Google can currently and in the past, determine which social site users are “influencers” as Google in their own words says that they “rank” users of social sites.”
This could be one of the solutions to Google’s over reliance on pagerank. Ranking sites based on social buzz, would in theory, help to ensure all rankings are legitimate and verified by your community (which is what pagerank attempts to do). How your brand is mentioned and how many people are pushing your content to the top of social bookmark sites could all be used as evidence that you are an authority on a certain topic.
But this again is open to debate. It was recently cited that Digg is controlled by the “Digg Mafia”, most of the content that reaches the first page is put there by 10% of the users. It will be interesting to see what changes Google have in store over the next year around this subject.
What do you feel about link building in aggressive markets, are you prepared to bend the rules to keep up ??