SEO Backlink Building with Google in 2018
Best and Worst Backlink Strategies
by Dr. William Sen
Sellers on eBay, Upwork and Fiverr offer it daily: hundreds, even thousands of backlinks for just a few bucks. If you have been working with SEO only superficially, you might have heard that external links to your website is good for SEO.
What is missed is that backlinks can lead to the opposite effect, namely Google punishing your website for doing this. Because it’s one of the the things Google hates the most: backlinks that have been created for SEO purposes. Google calls them link farms; SEOs call them artificial backlink building. And it’s the worst thing you can do.
What’s Google’s Deal with Backlinks?
Since the Florida Update in 2003, Google has declared war on artificial backlinks referred to as link farms. Since then, Google has been building and developing control mechanisms specifically designed for this purpose. Even a few years ago, backlinks still worked fine. If you are one of the old-school SEOs from 2015, you still might think backlinks are good for SEO. But as it’s already 2018, it has been a millennium from an SEO standpoint. Consider that every year in SEO is like 10 years in real life. That’s how fast things change in the SEO world.
Google recognizes purchased backlinks within a few weeks. The methodology of Google is brilliantly simple – and many could actually have known better if they thought about it: Google knows the history of a website and how backlinks to that website have been taking place naturally over time. If all of a sudden, from one day to another, hundreds of backlinks appear on your website, Google will raise the red flag and that’s where the disaster starts.
Even so, if all backlinks were high quality backlinks, Google would still know that the site owner has initiated a backlink campaign that goes against the Google Guidelines.
What Google wants is simple: Google wants backlinks to develop in a natural way. Google wants users to put backlinks based on their interest and own will – not triggered by automatic mechanisms or abrasive strategic campaigns.
There’s nothing wrong with building a backlink strategy that complies with Google’s policy. However, this endeavor requires a special skill and sensitivity, which I would like to address in this article below.
But before we do this, it’s imperative that you know what happens if you don’t do this the right way – because the consequences couldn’t be more severe!
Consequences of the Google Punishment
If Google discovers that your backlinks that are not kosher, the site receives a so-called Manual Action. That is, Google sends a warning to the administrator – which is you – through the Google Search Console. As a consequence, the website often disappears almost completely from the search engine result pages (SERP). We’ve seen losses of up to 80-90% of traffic on websites that have received such punishment from Google.
The problem with a Google Manual Action is that the website can take several months or years to recover from such a punishment. I have helped many customers over the years to have the penalty removed from Google again. If the customer has made use of such services and backlink building strategies as described above, cleaning up the negative backlinks is one of the most exhausting efforts in SEO. Especially because the process can take several months and costs valuable time that could have been spent on positive SEO measures. The cleaning process also tests the patience of the client and the SEO team.
The task of a rescue operation like this is to identify all artificially created links and to create a list. Next, this list is uploaded to Google in the so-called disavow format. Google then ignores these links on that list which basically means they are not being considered as ranking factors anymore. And this is what you want: You want to tell Google not to consider these links anymore as you’re stating that they are all spam backlinks.
The last step is to send a personal message to Google called the Reconsideration Request. After this, it can take several weeks until a Google employee checks these links and decides whether all existing spammy backlinks have been listed on that disavow list. Usually Google then sends a message that the disavow list is not complete and it cannot remove the punishment – bummer!
In this case, the disavow list needs to be expanded and the process repeated until Google finally accepts the disavow list as complete and then accepts the Reconsideration Request. In my 20-year history as an SEO, I have worked on countless “Reconsideration Requests,” and in all cases, the client had taken a backlink campaign into their own hands, thus putting themselves into this mess. In my most successful case, I was able to remove the penalty after the third Reconsideration Request, which is very rare. It’s common that 20 or more Reconsideration Requests are necessary until Google acknowledges the redress. The problem is that it seems almost impossible to spot all dubious backlinks that Google has discovered. Since Google does not tell us which ones it doesn’t like, an elaborate research process is necessary.
The further consequence is that after a successful reconsideration request, the website can take up to a year to recover. The lost keyword rankings are by no means back in the SERP. They usually stay lost and the website has to rebuild the Google Trust from scratch – sad but true. An SEO campaign is needed to position the website to where it was before.
The rule is simple: you should never risk a punishment by Google. Backlink building should only be left to senior SEO professionals who are fully aware of the consequences. It’s like driving a motorcycle. If you want to get advice from an experienced biker, ask those who have been in an accident before. Usually they will be able to tell you how to avoid accidents. A wise and very experienced biker once told me: “A biker waits to fall from his bike one day – it will happen, that’s a certainty.”
I can’t stress the risks of backlink building strongly enough.
How to Build a Clean Backlink Strategy
Meanwhile, it should be clear that massive entries in directories, guest books and anything similar is an absolute taboo. A backlink on a website only makes sense if the content really has a need to link to your website because it would help the user and the topic is related.
Here is an example: if your website is about Artificial Intelligence and a blogger writes an article on that topic and links to your article, that’s a thematically relevant backlink and is viewed positively by Google. But beware: If every one of this blogger’s articles deals with different topics and each time links to a thematically relevant website, Google already knows that this blogger sells its backlinks services. In this case, the blogger’s website might already be flagged as such, and the backlink can be classified as negative SEO. That’s how you risk a Manual Action.
Backlinks should not be placed on websites that have basically made backlinking a concept. Brian Dean of Backlinko, one of the leading experts in backlink building, recommends, for example, to create a list of potential backlink partners, while at the same time to avoid large portals that also monetize articles and backlinks from external sources. This also includes large portals like Forbes, Times, Money, BusinessWeek, and many others.
For a healthy backlink strategy, you have to make sure the website has all three of these features:
- Backlink Virgin
Setting backlinks is not part of the concept and is not a product of the website.
- Topic Relevancy
The website should be relevant to your topic – the closer the website is to your topic, the better.
- Low Spam Score
It pays off to have a look at moz.com to see what the spam score of the website is you want to place a backlink on. If the spam score is high, it is strongly advised against it.
- Domain Authority
And while you’re at it, check the Domain Authority (DA) of the website and see if it’s worth the struggle.
In most cases, a backlink is motivated by contacting the website administrator. The cover letter is also a communication process that needs to be prepared. They are many ways to motivate other website administrators to place a backlink for you. Also remember, you want to control how the backlink is being used. The use of the backlink should look as natural as possible.
Successful SEO without Backlinks
Backlinks are still very important for SEO today. However, this does not mean that websites without backlinks cannot have high rankings. A good SEO strategy, which includes high-quality content, can be very successful even without backlinks. I’ve been able to see great success from clients as well as competitors who could achieve very good results without a high number of backlinks. Backlink building is one of the success factors, but not the only key to SEO success. As always in SEO, they are so many other factors that can lead to a successful SEO campaign.
Last but no least…
Backlink building at the beginning of an SEO campaign is not recommended because Google knows that no website can get backlinks overnight. Websites with little content but with many backlinks will especially arouse Google’s suspicion. Backlink building should only be tackled once all other SEO measures have been successfully exploited and backlink building is the only thing left to do. Only then does it make sense to continue the efforts by helping it with some dignified and solid backlink strategies.
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