|Redefining Editorial, Natural Links|
The disconnect between what Google wants and what webmasters believe.
Preface: I have had the privilege of late to work with some websites that have received unnatural link notices via webmaster tools. Unlike previous messages from Google, the few I was privy to read were much more customized and detailed.
While two of the websites essentially had a host of what I would refer to as junk links, one was an exception and did not. In fact, this website had what I would refer to as business promotion links. Article directories, Squidoo pages, guest posts and the like.
What is interesting about this particular website is that all of the content in which the backlinks resided was in my estimation valuable and quality content. It appear the main factor for the flag imposed by Google on the website was that the content was not editorial in nature and therefore the links leaving the content and pointing at the target website are "unnatural". In the reinclusion request response, Google cited specific examples of article directory content links to the website.
Question / Discussion:
What makes a link editorial in nature and natural?
External content marketing is targeted outreach and therefore, in theory might not be considered natural since it requires you to either connect to the target and determine the best content to match the medium, or vice versa (you connect, they request particular content, you development, they publish)
Is this process inherently natural? Does it depend on the source of the link?
Is it about the type of link one receives back and the anchor text used in that link? (Straight www link versus anchor text vs business name vs anchor text in post content) Receiving a citation (reference) based on the quality of work is an age-old tradition, one that precedes Google.
If the above holds true, what are the subtleties between great, published content with inbound links to your website and content marketing?
Is the premise all about ownership? For example, if content is published with no connection to the business in authorship, is this a signal as to whether the content is editorial in nature?
If content marketing insofar as creating specific content to suit the needs of a particular target is NOT natural linkbuilding, then where does this place guest posts, and is there a future for inbound marketing, save for building very high quality content on your own website, and outreaching with other websites to share / blog / based on that content?
My impression is that Google wants you to put nofollow tags on any "promotional" backlinks that you create or arrange for. Otherwise they view it as a possible attempt to artificially boost rankings and traffic.
Also, in Google's eyes, "natural" backlinks to your site are those that are voluntarily given by other people without any knowledge or involvement on your part. Anything else wouldn't qualify as natural, but would still be acceptable if it is nofollowed.
Aristotle: Correct, this seems to be Google's premise.
But how would this explain their thoughts or view on
Chamber of Commerce / Association memberships
Surely those are not 'freely' given to any website naturally. They are given to those that signup and provide enough documentation to prove that they are a business.
This is where the B+W of the guidelines starts to melt away at the corners.
Chamber of Commerce / Association memberships
This may be an example of a type of backlink that Google's algorithm disregards because of uncertainty about its origin and purpose.
In addition to looking at backlinks individually, I think Google's algorithm also looks at the "naturalness" of a site's overall backlink profile. For example, if a site has a thousand backlinks, and all of them are dofollow links with the same anchor text, that wouldn't look natural. For a backlink profile To be natural, it should a mixture of dofollow and nofollow links, from different types of sites, and with a variety of anchor texts.
My guess would be that there are two possible flags:
1) site used - does the site specialise in giving links for content?
2) anchor text - even where the site passes muster, is the link noticeably 'optimised'? (and as you say, I'd expect this to be looked at on a group level too)
Chamber of Commerce / Association memberships
In many areas of the US these links are the result of applying for membership and tendering a membership fee as well.
|Is the premise all about ownership? For example, if content is published with no connection to the business in authorship, is this a signal as to whether the content is editorial in nature? |
Yes, I think it is.
The more "distant" that the link is from the owner of the site (meaning, the less ability the owner of the site has to influence the posting of the link), the more value it has (in mu humble opinion).
I don't have any proof, I am sorry to say. I just "feel" that links from comments, or guest blogging, or articles are seeing as being under the control of the destination site, and thus have little value.
On the other hand, my site was recently linked to by Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and Huffington Post - which I had no influence over whatsoever - and then tanked in the SERPs. So take my advice with a grain of salt.
Hope this helps.
I think it's pointless to look at this like we're the Supreme Court taking Google's guidelines to their logical conclusion. If we did, then yes, all linkbuilding without "no-follows" is black hat.
That said, if I look at the SERPS, the sites left standing are branded. This suggests to me that Google is actually very ok with BBB / Chamber of Commerce links. This is a major quality signal to them because it shows you're an actual company.
I think a good question for moving forward is, what happens to guest blog posts?
|Google cited specific examples of article directory content links to the website. |
Question / Discussion:
What makes a link editorial in nature and natural?
Most if not all article directories require publishers, obligate them, to link to the source of the articles and to publish the articles exactly as they are, with no changes whatsoever, specifically and very explicitly with no changes to the links. There is zero editorial decision for granting a link in that transaction. It's a this for that transaction resulting in a link to the business being promoted.
|That said, if I look at the SERPS, the sites left standing are branded. This suggests to me that Google is actually very ok with BBB / Chamber of Commerce links. This is a major quality signal to them because it shows you're an actual company. |
Further to that point, and the question about guest posts, how can they be above board for Google for much longer?
Probably the most disturbing point - where does this leave the middle class web-preneur in terms of link development?
This also begs a serious question of Google:
For the small business owner looking to become a brand, what opportunities still exist that remain "above board" with Google linking guidelines in terms of inbound link building?
Could the next set of updates truly signal the process of significantly reducing the impact of links?
Even so, how could brands NOT dominate in ANY world based on citations where large brands have the manpower to penetrate?
Back in 2004 or so it was a commonplace that reciprocal links were white hat. As ridiculous as it sounds now, that is what the situation was. I thought it was ridiculous and started the ball rolling on the concept that Google has never said recips were white hat and that there was a fault in the way web publishers of the day were carrying on with their business. I did not say it was black hat. I only said that it's a lie to imply that the rigorous reciprocal linking being done at the time was without risk. The SEO industry has taken that notion to the far extreme and have abandoned recips but that's another case of poor critical thinking and a poor response, just as bad as the first position.
Then there was the post from about a week before Penguin [webmasterworld.com] where the OP was asking whether a powered by link was suspect and I said that it was not editorially given and that put it on a risk trajectory. A week later it turns out that the editorially given sniff test is an important component of Penguin.
My jaw dropped when I read the post by the article trading network guy whose club was penalized. In the post he said he'd never could have imagined that Google would penalize his article trading link scheme. Imo, that business model was doomed from the moment the doors opened on it.
None of those businesses had to suffer either because it's all here in the link dev forum. You don't have to pay me a monthly subscription for an email, I give it away for free here and on my blog. I'm not tooting my horn about how I have been consistently several steps ahead of what the industry believes. I just want to point out that all this Penguin penalization did not have to happen if people applied the most basic sniff test that we have discussed here which is whether or not the link was editorially given.
Someone quoted to me what he was told in a private email subscription that he pays for, that the link guy said to do your links as if you're doing it for the site visitors, not as if you're doing it for Google. That's fortune cookie nonsense. I say that everyone should do links absolutely conscious that Google is looking over your shoulder. Build your links knowing what basic test Google is applying and alter your methods so that they pass the most basic tests. I'm not telling people to Spam Smarter. I'm telling people to be aware of what Google is onto and alter your methods to fit within it. Building links for the long term has always been this way, always.
I would never have known Penguin had happened had I not read about it on Google's blog. Penguin didn't touch me. It didn't touch me because I don't take the expedient path, I don't take shortcuts. It's the expedient shortcuts that are going to kill you in the long term.
I think it's by degrees at this stage. Black , grey , white.
White is from authority / brand and doesn't contain an anchor text common to any other, with the exception of the site name perhaps. It is from a source that has no vested interest in the target site, except for genuine "arm's length" recognition of it's brand. Links are likely to be proportional to the size of the brand reputation.
So if you rank for terms most common in any language, and you are not a big show, the chances are that Google has the site lined up for removal in some way.
Grey, is from sites where it's hard to know what's going on, where link builders play on the edges of deifinition, and is probably on the target list for deprecation. Lot's of tactics exist in this zone, and i think Google has been sick of it since it started it's SE.
Black - well "hello Penguin" - everyone should know what this targeted in links and there's more to come, if there are enough site's left - and those will likely only be brand.
Technology is moving fast, and i believe Google is thinking ahead to a day when recognition of links is going to be a minimal part of it's algo [ if it isn't already ].
Links are rarely freely given. They are mostly subject to some reciprocal influence, and frankly the World is mostly lazy and unmotivated about taking the time to give them.
The fact that some industry has sprung up and may be at the top end, and quite sophisticated, is not sustainable and widespread.
Google knows this and now the signals are growing elsewhere. I give it 3 -6 years when links will be worth zilch.
|White is from authority / brand... |
Brand and Authority are terms relative to the symptoms of what is going on. Let's get past the symptom and get down to what is responsibile for the symptom. That's the difference between the fever (symptom) and the illness (a specific virus).
Think of it like this. A goal can be to filter out links that do not meet the sniff test for editorially granted links. The goal is to identify links that fit the circumstances of what a normal link, an actual citation, should look like.
If Google is applying Panda-like notions of quality to links, or restated, if Google is applying common-sense notions of quality to links, then sites with a lot of keyword rich anchors aren't normal and go into the spam bucket. Plop.
If a "powered by" link in a footer is not editorially granted then it is a good candidate for the spam bucket. Plop.
Both of those may be working for some and not others, but make no mistake, there is a risk factor.
|I give it 3 -6 years when links will be worth zilch. |
How about other kinds of citations?
|How about other kinds of citations? |
Granted - i see this as being important in academic areas - but in the commercial space i can't see the quality in volumes.
Do you see it differently?
Google is a citation based search engine. The traditional citation they have used are hyperlinks. But there are other kinds of citations apart from links. It's logical for Google to expand to other citation forms, particularly since since publishers are still stuck on gaming hyperlinks. It is known that Google is, to a certain extent, using social media citations. That is just one of many other non-hyperlink citations that are making it into the algorithm today.
Citations will simply mean signals. We are already seeing this. Social signals, authorship, local and non-local unstructured citations, mentions. It is all evolving.
martini: I think you are correct in terms of the interpretation of editorial, and being extremely persistent in ensuring that all links meet that criteria.
Still, its important to understand that ANY content marketed to any website (IMHO) represents itself as a potential to be non-editorial. The only difference in that realm is the same as it has always been - who is further ahead in understanding so that they are building links which do not convey those classic signals of manipulation. (using brand links, www, calls to action and non-seo anchors)
Still is a slice of the same pie.
One problem really is that internet marketing, at the core, is about getting noticed. Its about citations. Its about communication, contact, deals, movement growth. It's not about being passive. And being non-passive often means aggressively asking for citations.
The second issue is the weight of brand on the impact of links. The rulebook is simply not consistent in any way.
Editorial links? What is editorial nowadays and free - really free - in 2012. The retiring professor at the ancient EDU? Your buddy who you bought a case of patron for a valuable "editorial" link on his website? Content-producing machines that themselves are brands because they churn out massive content in their niches? Mentions, press releases? Let's face it - 99% of everything is paid in some respect. It's the nature of planet Earth 2012.
I agree, links for what they are now, are not sustainable and are morphing into various signals.
I have read some studies about the ability to Google to understand, access and read databases. Databases about ownership, membership, associations, civic involvement and the whole gamut.
I was just involved in a mini-study which proved to be quite fruitful in a very competitive space, which "might" add some weight to the idea that these types of formally dismissed citations (confirmation of membership) might be playing more of a role in the SERPs than I otherwise was previously aware of.
Links from post in niche and general blogs could be Natural?
I mean links in the post not in the comments.
|"While two of the websites essentially had a host of what I would refer to as junk links, one was an exception and did not. In fact, this website had what I would refer to as business promotion links. Article directories, Squidoo pages, guest posts and the like. |
What you're refering to as "business promotion links" for the one exception site are for the most part "junk links" as well. I really wouldn't call such a site an exception. Maybe they just had different kinds of junk links.
Any link that you can "plant" on another webmaster's site (blog comments, forum sigs, and yes... article submissions, squidoo pages, hubpages, etc.) are unnatural/non-editorial and many of these were targeted by Penguin or other algo changes over recent years.
As Martinibuster pointed out, these techniques for building links have ALL carried with them a certain amount of risk since people began using them as "shortcuts" to link building. And the time has finally come to "pay the piper".
Why would anyone consider links built by submitting hundreds of articles to EZA or GoA or other submission sites so that they could be republished on hundreds of sites a "natural" or "editorial" link anyway? There is nothing natural or editorial about it, regardless of whether the content was written by someone in a third world that can hardly speak/write the language or by a pulitzer prize winning author.
As far as Chamber of Commerce, BBB, and other "association" links, it seems perfectly "natural" for such associations to link out to their member business sites. If the webmaster or web designer of the Chamber site feels that such links would be useful to visitors of their site (for example newcomers to town looking for different types of "reputable" businesses), why should they not make the editorial decision to include links to those businesses on their site? The Chamber could just as easily make an editorial decision at any time to take those links down. There is no contractual obligation to keep them up because they were "paid for".
There are still ways to get "editorial", "natural" back links. But it takes time. It sounds cliche, but it requires writing great content for your site or building a useful tool and creating some useful resource, and then making other webmasters aware that they exists (often don't even have to ask for the link, just make them aware that your content/tool/resources exists). And the links do come.
However... These are not links that "you" as a webmaster can "plant". The process is not something that you can mass produce to build lots of links quickly. And you have to rely on other webmasters to make "editorial" decisions on whether or not to give you a "natural" link.
For the past year, I've been reading a lot of Eric Wards old posts from the past decade, and have been trying out more and more of his techniques which have shown very promising results. Is it easy? Not really. Can you build lots of links fast? No. Are they effective? Yes.
|Editorial links? What is editorial nowadays and free - really free - in 2012. The retiring professor at the ancient EDU? Your buddy who you bought a case of patron for a valuable "editorial" link on his website? Content-producing machines that themselves are brands because they churn out massive content in their niches? Mentions, press releases? Let's face it - 99% of everything is paid in some respect. It's the nature of planet Earth 2012. |
I think the new buzzword is "reputation management"
|Matt Cutts: Establish a reputation in that niche, become a leader in it, and then expand from there. [stonetemple.com...] |
Personally, i believe all link building and the steps of efficiency should be driven around this. Any business must have sustainability written across it's plans as the founding objective otherwise it won't survive. SEO and Google's involvement in it needs to address this. Google currently does, if you have brand reputation.
@CainIV - great contributing post - btw