Once Upon a Time…
There once was a time when a local search engine user from a faraway land would be presented with the same keyword search rankings as you and I. This was a time long before Pandas and Penguins were unleashed by a mighty search engine king named Google, used as secret weapons for enforcing the monarchy’s increasingly strict content, quality and technical webmaster’s guidelines. Back then, black-hat search engine optimization strategies and spammy link building tactics were rampantly employed. Why? Because at the time, they worked.
However, that time has come and gone. In this modern day fairy tale story, the mighty search engine king has spoken. Thou shalt not participate in link spamming schemes. And thou shalt not engage in nefarious SEO activities, especially when they are clearly intended to deceive and manipulate the powers that rule over this Internet search kingdom. Websites that do? Well, they risk getting the search penalty guillotine.
”Good Day, Little Red Riding Hood.” “Thank You Kindly, Wolf.”
As the resident search marketing go-to person here at FS Local, I have seen my fair share of local business websites. I have also spoken directly to many small business owners. And during these discussions, the businesses are generally aware that Google had made severe changes to their search algorithms in recent years, all in the name of improving the quality and user experience of their search engine results pages. They may not be familiar with the details regarding the Google Panda or Penguin search algorithm updates, or know the difference between an algorithmic or manual search engine penalty. However, they are conscious of the fact that Google has been doing something, and somehow business websites had suffered massive losses to their keyword rankings.
Despite knowing this, these local business owners are still paying SEO agencies hundreds (even thousands!) of dollars a month to perform questionable link building activities for their company websites.
”Oh! Grandmother, What Big Ears You Have!”
Why are local businesses still hiring link builders to this day? Two reasons:
- ”Everyone else is doing it, including my competition.”
- ”Whatever it is that the link builder is doing, it’s working.”
It seems like many businesses are choosing to remain in denial. From an outsider’s point of view (especially someone with a background in SEO, and prefers to keep things “white-hat” as much as possible), this behaviour is a bit baffling upon first glance. But if you consider it from the business owner’s perspective, it makes sense.
Clearly, getting new customers while retaining existing clientele, running a profitable business, and keeping up with the competition are all top priorities. And the deceptive thing about link building? Initially, it works. Most businesses that hire link builders will see immediate positive results in the form of improved local search visibility in Google.
But therein lies the problem. The boost in keyword rankings might be great at first, but usually this is temporary. Consider this. What happens if or when Google decides to roll out another search algorithm update, one that targets sites with low quality backlinks, such as Penguin? Experiencing temporary top search rankings, is that work the risk if a few months later your website completely disappears from search engine results?
”But, Grandmother, What Big Eyes You Have!”
The scary thing is that many local businesses have no idea just what kind of inbound links are being built by the link builders they hire. Some might not even know where the links are coming from. I have spoken with several business owners about their experiences in dealing with link builders. And the general feedback I got was pretty consistent. Many were incredibly shocked – even angry – when they eventually learned the details to their website’s link profile.
That’s because the story is almost always the same. Most link builders deliver on their promise to improve a business website’s search rankings by building a large quantity of inbound links, often with the target keyword used in the link anchor text. But oftentimes, SEO companies conveniently fail to mention whether these links would be built on high quality sites.
There are rare exceptions to the rule. But generally, link builders wouldn’t bother going through all of the effort of building inbound links on authoritative webpages that are trusted by Google, with body content that’s written primarily for users and not for search purposes, on subject matters that are topically relevant to the business.
”But, Grandmother, What Large Hands You Have!”
Are you a local business owner? Have you hired a search engine optimization company to perform link building duties for your site at one point in time? If so, here are some things you need to consider:
- Your business website might currently be at risk of a search engine penalty.
- Your brand could be misrepresented in search results.
- You could be sending mixed signals to Google about where your business is located.
Translation? You website might be temporarily topping the search engine results pages now, but one Google Penguin algorithm update or a manual action penalty later and your keyword rankings could plummet overnight.
Now try searching for your business name on Google. Take a look at the types of websites that are ranking on the first page or two for your brand. Collectively, are these results accurately representing your company in a positive light? Or are you noticing sites like low quality blog networks, free classified ads or spammy message board forums dominating search results?
Lastly, you are a local business. Your main goal isn’t to rank well just anywhere on Google. Location matters. You want to be visible on Google to searchers who are located within the geographical areas that you serve. So what good is it to have hundreds or thousands of inbound links pointing to your business website, if they’re coming from sites that are housed on international top-level domains such as .asia, .eu or .us? And in case you were wondering, yes, this is a very common strategy employed by most link builders because links from international TLDs are easy to get.
”Oh! But Grandmother, What a Terrible Big Mouth You Have!”
Hopefully by now, you are no longer the Little Red Riding Hood of this story. Don’t mistake the link building company you hired as an innocent party with good intentions, when in reality it’s the Big Bad Wolf in disguise. And the sooner you realize this, the better. The last thing you want is to be eaten alive, which will happen if Google catches on to any and all linkspam activities in connection to your site.
Still in denial? Here is a direct confirmation that came from a top Google representative this past week (fast forward the video to around the 55 minute and 40 second mark), and it might just change your mind. In a Google+ hangout last Friday, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller stated the following in response to the question, “is link building in any way good?”
That is a good question. In general, I’d try to avoid that. So that you are really sure that your content kind of stands on its own. And make it possible for other people of course to link to your content. Make it easy, maybe, put a little widget on your page. ‘If you like this, this is how you can link to it.’ Make sure that the URLs on your website are easy to copy and paste. All of those things make it a little bit easier.
We do use links as part of our algorithm, but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your website than it actually helps.
My recommendation? By no means is it a bad thing to get other people and websites to link back to your site. But don’t bother hiring a specialized link building team to do the work for you, especially since there are many SEO firms out there who might not be on the up-and-up. They could be destroying your website’s credibility with each link they build.