A bit of a rehash of an old article we did, but the key points remain as relevant today as they were when we originally penned this missive.
“Build it and they will come” – works for baseball fields in the middle of a farm in Iowa – doesn’t work for websites (unless your exceptionally lucky).
Websites, like anything else, need to be actively marketed, promoted, managed and updated in order to be successful in terms of generating traffic and achieving high search engine rankings for their chosen keywords (the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive – you can generate significant traffic whilst performing badly in search engine results and vice versa).
Strangely, many small businesses – and larger businesses for that matter – believe that websites are indeed like baseball fields.
The basics of SEO – content and links
As we all know (or should know), SEO is primarily dependent on two things (there are many many other factors):
- Links to the site
Unfortunately, many businesses (and dubious web design and SEO consultants for that matter) take this at face value and act accordingly – generating content for content’s sake and building links from anyone and everyone. Whilst this may have worked in the past (long distant past) – it doesn't work now.
Search engines take in several hundred factors when indexing websites – from the relevance of the content to the backlink profile (age, growth, quality, relevance). These are constantly changing (well, regularly changing) such that a lot of “traditional” SEO techniques (i.e. the ones you will read about on outdated webpages) will result in search engine penalties – if not the complete removal of the site in question from search engine results.
Search engines penalise manipulation
We've recently had some real world experience of this - with several queries from businesses that have been excluded from Google's search engine results due to link manipulation (if they can contact you - they do tell you why you are being excluded). Two of these businesses were internet based businesses - so there exclusion was somewhat critical.
Why were these sites excluded? Quite simply they brought the cheapest SEO service they could find - which went out and created thousands of backlinks in a matter of days and weeks, many from "directory sites". This huge increase in backlinks from non-trusted (polite way of saying it) websites triggered Google to remove the sites from their index due to backlink manipulation.
Search engines achieve market share (and profitability) by providing relevant results for each and every search query. They spend a lot of time, money and energy to achieve this. If they detect that people are manipulating the system unfairly - they will penalise them. At first - they will suppress search engine rankings, subsequently, they will blacklist.
This goes for keyword stuffing, plagiarism, irrelevant content and all the other "traditional" means of gaming the system.
Bad link building strategies will hurt your business
Make no mistake – bad links will harm your business. Initially search engines will place your site lower in search results, and if the manipulation is considered significantly bad, they will blacklist your site.
Some of the things search engines look at when analysing links are:
- reputation of the site linking to your site – if you have links from a site with a bad reputation (think directory sites in countries you haven’t heard of) – bad. However, if you have links from a site with a good reputation – good
- relevance of site linking to your site – good if the site is relevant to your industry – not so good if it’s from a completely different sector
- context of the link – if the link is in a piece of content which is relevant to your business – great. If not, or if it’s part of a long list of links – not good
- anchor text (the text of the link) – if relevant to your site – good. If not relevant, or just the site address – not so good
- age of link – older links from established relevant and up to date sites good – older links from dormant sites / new links from non relevant sites – not so good
- growth profile – thousands of links in a matter of months – exceptionally bad. Slow organic growth of links – very good
- link swapping – interlinking between sites – not good.
Obviously a very brief list – but just to give you a taste of what search engines are looking at when it comes to links – not all links are the same!
Unfortunately, many small businesses when it comes to building links to their site tend to do all the bad things – be that swapping links or buying a job lot of links from that "cheap" SEO Consultancy they got an email from. The consequences – lower rankings if not blacklisting.
What should a business do to build links?
Based on the above – it would seem that many link building strategies that small businesses may undertake will result in being penalised. So what should they do?
- register with respected online business / local directories – only a couple, but to verify your status and location (remember a lot of Google searches are local)
- get links from professional / trade organisations – another means of validation
- develop relevant and appropriate content which people will link to – otherwise called content marketing, where the content does the work of developing links
- use social media extensively – not just blasting links – but to add value and build relationships – search engines are increasingly building social scores into their rankings
Building effective links to your website is not a quick process. It takes time and effort – like anything else. The temptation to take short cuts can be strong – but don’t.
So what happened?
They were asked by Google to remove the backlinks to their sites. Which to say the least was challenging - as they didn't know anything about the sites linking to them, most of them were "less than scrupulously" run and, there were thousands of them.
Google was very understanding of this - and only insisted in the end that the businesses provide proof that they had tried to remove the links (i.e. copies of correspondence) before they nullified the links.
There's a moral there somewhere.