Understanding Google’s Latest Assault On Unnatural Links

sel-link-schemeWithout much fanfare or publicity, Google quietly updated the Link Schemes/Unnatural Links document inside the Webmaster Tools section of their site last month.

If not for the excellent work of Barry Schwartz, many of us would have missed it. (I have a page change tool app set up for that exact URL, and it didn’t catch it for several days.)

Since this news hit the mainstream linking/SEO community, there’s been no shortage of reporting on the changes themselves, with nearly 6,000 results for the exact match search phrase “google updates link schemes.” The Web is certainly a remarkable echo chamber, considering this news is less than three weeks old as I write.

What is harder to find — and what I’m going to take a stab at — is further parsing the specific Google changes in a way that helps define what is and isn’t acceptable at the tactical level.

I don’t do this as a spokesperson for Google. I have no secret insider info, and I base everything that follows on experience and opinion. In three months, I enter my 20th year as an online marketer/content publicist, so I figure I must have learned at least two or three things during that time.

Links To Manipulate PageRank

What Google Said

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

Why It’s Frustrating

“Intended.” “May be considered.” With just 4 words, Google has left themselves plenty of wiggle room — and with good reason. The key issue for all of us is, how does one divine intent? It is quite possible to engage in a link building campaign that was not designed to manipulate PageRank but which has that exact effect — so how exactly can an algorithm know if you meant to do it on purpose?

What I Think/Tactical Response

My hunch is that the history of your inbound link profile will show whether you are purposely involved in link schemes or not.

A good metaphor here would be a college transcript. If you were a C student for three years and suddenly pulled a 4.0 your senior year, that tells a story about you as a person, at least academically. Similarly, if your site has a four-year history of backlinks from article farms, hundreds of mindless directories, and 10 different press release sites, then doesn’t that also tell a story about your site? I think so.

But no story is ever complete without a full examination of all aspects of a person (or a website). That’s why I think Google has to leave some wiggle room. The same exact anchor text press release strategy can have completely different effects for two different sites, based on their historical “link story.” The only proof I have of this are the stories from people I’ve consulted with who have used the exact same tactic and had completely different results. When I dig deeper into their backlink profiles, there’s always something there that tips me off. Something that looks a little right, or wrong.

From a tactical standpoint, you obviously should avoid pursuing links based on PageRank alone. One of my favorite questions to ask myself about ANY link I am pursuing is, “Would I want this link even if it didn’t help me rank higher?” Asked another way, “Can this link help me in ways other than just organic rank?” A larger part of your linking strategy should be the pursuit of links that fit these criteria.

Buying Or Selling Links

What Google Said

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link 

Why It’s Frustrating

Your average webmaster is likely not an SEO expert and thus may not be aware of what “PageRank” is — or how it’s passed.

What I Think/Tactical Response

Again, it’s all in the interpretation. Google is pretty clear about paid links that pass PageRank. The complication lies in the fact that many webmasters don’t have a clue what PageRank is.

Case in point: I was seeking links for an aviation website and identified a state aviation association that had an outstanding and heavily curated collection of aviation resources. If you had a high caliber aviation website, you could be included for free — but they also allowed you to pay a $50 fee to have your site included in a special “Featured Sites” section.

In talking further with them, many things became apparent. They had absolutely no clue what nofollow/follow meant. The term “anchor text” was foreign to them. They weren’t experts at SEO, they were aviators — and they weren’t selling links in order to help people rank sites higher at Google.

At first I was skeptical, but the more I talked to them and the more I steered the conversation toward SEO, the more obvious it became to me that they were not aware that, from a technical standpoint, what they were doing was a violation of Google’s Quality Guidelines.

In fact, I think many of us are so tightly enmeshed in this industry that we forget how many millions of websites exist and are maintained by people who have no clue about the minutiae of Google’s guidelines. In this case, the guy running the site was a pilot, and wouldn’t know a nofollow link from a windsock.

From a tactical standpoint, you must ask yourself if the risk of obtaining any link via any form of payment outweighs the reward. If Google did not exist, and you were paying for a link, the only logical reason for doing so would be because you felt that link would send you click traffic. That should be your guide. If Matt Cutts was looking over your shoulder as you purchased the link, could you explain to him why it has nothing to do with rank and everything to do with audience relevance?

Link Exchanges

What Google Said

  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking

Why It’s Frustrating

Once again, we’re left with some ambiguity. What precisely constitutes “excessive” in this case? And how does Google determine that an exchange is done “exclusively” for any particular purpose?

What I Think/Tactical Response

I’d like to know how Google defines “excessive” in this case. After all, there are many scenarios in which link exchanges would make absolutely perfect business sense. For example, let’s say you are a wedding planner in Atlanta, Georgia. You have partnerships with caterers, photographers, DJs, limousine companies, florists, entertainment companies, movers, cello players, harpists… even seamstresses and unicyclists, for all we know!

In what way would it not make sense for all these business websites to link to one another as a means of helping each other raise awareness of their individual companies? Forget Google, we’re talking marketing. Awareness. Click traffic.

This is what’s frustrating about ambiguous words like “excessive.” At what point should I stop partnering? How about hot air balloon companies? I’ve seen weddings that had them. What about boat charter companies, for those who want a wedding at sea? Or at a museum, or on top of a mountain?

The point here is, how does an algorithm determine that which is excessive from that which is excellent marketing? Again, is it historical linking behavior? But what if that wedding planner had been using a black hat SEO firm and for several years had been engaging in foolish linking tactics that had been detected by Google, but now was working with me on a completely different, white hat approach that was not for Google search rank, but for brand awareness and expansion? Can Google detect this? I sure hope so.

From a tactical standpoint, my suggestion is that reciprocal links can be very useful, but don’t reciprocal link with unrelated business for search rank purposes. Don’t expect Google to understand why a wedding photographer, SCUBA instructor and dulcimer player are related, even though we can likely envision a scenario where they actually are related.

Article Marketing & Guest Posting

What Google Said

  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links

Why It’s Frustrating

What exactly is “large-scale” here?

What I Think/Tactical Response

Let’s say I have a client create a fantastic article/ebook designed to help hearing-impaired high school seniors understand their unique college financial aid options. I then do outreach to a few hundred high schools and pick up 75 links as a result. Is that too “large-scale”? Or is it only a problem if I am submitting to the many article databases designed just for that purpose?

Is it based on anchor text and links? Can I submit an article to 5,000 venues as long as I don’t embed a keyword rich anchor anywhere, but instead include a plain text link in my bio? I’ve written over 100 articles for Search Engine Land, and a link to my site is in the bio of every one of those pages. Is that “large-scale”?

From a tactical standpoint, my suggestion is that you avoid completely all mass/general submission venues for articles. There’s no value left there IMO. But don’t ignore the opportunities that going vertical can present, like my ebook example above.

As for guest posting, this tactic all boils down to two key questions. 1) Why are you doing it? (Search rank? Traffic?), and 2) How credible are both the guest poster and the blog on which the post will reside.

I’ve never done a guest blog post and probably won’t, but one deal-breaker for me would be if a blog is actively marketing guest blogging opportunities. The words “Blog For Us” has become a red flag for me. I’d look at the caliber of all the contributors, the topics of their content. You could write the most elegant guest post in history, but if that same blog follows up your guest post with one about cheap Canadian pharmacies, well, oops.

Automated Linking

What Google Said

  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

Why It’s Frustrating

Do partially automated tasks count? How can Google tell?

What I Think/Tactical Response

Lastly, Google states “automated programs or services to create links.” But automated in what way? If I write 50 individual email link requests that are all 100 % personalized, and then save them in my outbox and use Thunderbird’s “Send Later” scheduler, isn’t that technically automated? Yes, but it’s not the kind of automation I believe Google is referring to.

From a tactical standpoint, my belief is there are many elements of the link seeking process that can be automated safely, and many others that cannot. Prospecting can be automated, though you should still augment it with your own research. Contact tracking and follow up is easy to automate. Identifying the proper contact person who can make a decision? That should not be automated.

Much of this is common sense. We all know when someone is playing us for a link and trying to make it look “personal.” Yet, people still try. Would you believe that in 18 years and thousands of link requests, I have never once sent an email unless I had the name of the person I was sending it to. A “Dear Webmaster,” or even “Dear Sir or Madam” is an automatic delete. Just because something can be automated does not mean it should be automated

Obvious, Or Not?

Some of what I’ve written above is definitely food for thought, but at the same time some of it seems quite obvious. But I assure you, it isn’t as obvious to many folks outside the SEO world, and that’s the overwhelming majority of site owners. They have no idea about the various monthly changes Google makes and what they mean.

Many operate solo, while some are at the mercy of an SEO shop or consultant to help them — and they’re often shocked to find out they have done something that perhaps they shouldn’t have. I know this to be so because I talk on the phone every day to people about these very topics.

Confusion is the norm. Fear. Especially for those who have been penalized and don’t know why, or who have just learned about a linking strategy and aren’t sure if it’s safe or will cost them their business.

I admit to being a Google fanboy, and I applaud Google for being more and more transparent with their guidelines. For giving people examples of bad links, for updating their Unnatural Links and Link Schemes documentation.

But even with this welcomed transparency, there is confusion, and perhaps even more confusion now than ever, based on my inbox. The devil is always in the details — in this case, in those few words sprinkled here and there that leave so much room for interpretation, and in mistakes with linking strategies. How would you define these words?

  • Intended 
  • May be considered
  • Excessive
  • Exclusively
  • Large-scale
  • Widely distributed
  • Automated
  • Low-quality

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with me that Google has to leave wiggle room because there could be exceptions? What would/should those exceptions be similar to the ones I’ve mentioned above? What else could Google do to help us?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Webmaster Central | Link Building | Link Building: Paid Links | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via EricWard.com.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Jonah Stein


    Sadly, I am pretty sure link prospecting is itself a violation of Google’s guidelines at this stage.

  • Berap D Parahubog

    true! :(

  • http://creativerty.com/ Rob jH

    Looks pretty much like any link you make yourself is now web spam… Especially paid links… unless its Adwords

  • FangDigitalMarketing

    Like the computer in WarGames states at the end of the movie, “Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

    I hate to say it, but most of your responses to the statements made by Google are more in line with, “Great, you said that, but I’m still not sure how far I can push things…” Rather than, “Thanks for the tip, I’m not going to even get near this sort of thing from now on!”

    As with most of the announcements coming out of Google and Matt Cutts these days, the “stop doing that!” notes were all things that were pretty obviously bad from the get go, even before the clarification, unless you’re part of the crowd that looks for ways to game the system rather than focusing on creating great sites that are first and foremost interesting to potential readers, etc.

    Guest posting, in an of itself isn’t bad… but the way it’s been taken over by the spam set makes saying things like “Large-scale” necessary. The rest, bad and have always been bad… it’s just that now they’re better at catching them.

  • Byron Hardie

    It is clear that Google is attempting to push those living on the “grey-hat” edge to a lighter shade. But as you point out there are legitimate uses for many of these tactics. The “buying and selling” can get so vague that it can handcuff many scared marketing managers worried about a Google violation.

    If you sign up for a Chamber of Commerce and pay a fee have you just purchased a link from their site? Should you request a nofollow of your link just in case? Clearly this comes down to intent but how do you objectively and algorithmically determine intent?

    I think you are correct where historical link profiling is considered but can it work in reverse? If you are hired to clean-up a client’s linking and do so, does it mean that you can’t do any type of legitimate outreach because their history suggests that the intent is to manipulate rankings? How long do you wait until you are in the clear?

    If you submit an article to a reputable blog and have a bio link or a relevant anchor text link and 5 years from now that blog is now full of spam, are you penalized for it?

    I have clients with millions of links so does it require a constant monitoring of every link for every client and the evaluation of each site where those links reside? After 17 years in this business the one universal truth is that Google is still creating more questions than it answers. Fantastic post Eric.

  • Garreth Dickson

    What’s frustrating is Google continues to state intent is to pass pagerank… and truthfully most of us could care less about the stupid pagerank. We build links to rank in the serps. It has now pretty much become a game of pick and choose google or the other guys. Thankfully most tactics still work in building links as long as your smart about it.

    I just hate the violation “intent to manipulate pagerank” because thats under the assumption we care about it.

  • Nick Usborne

    Eric, hi! I totally agree with your observations about the millions of people who create terrific sites, but have no technical knowledge about things such as keywords, linking, no-follow tags and so on. This troubles me a lot. Google asks that we create content with the reader in mind. Put the reader first. But what about all those people who create fantastic sites for their readers, but unknowingly break a few Google “rules” which they are totally unaware of. They are then penalized for doing exactly what Google asks them to do…put the reader first. I used to be a Google fanboy. Not any more.

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    The Google guidelines are getting a little ridiculous if even professional SEOs can’t tell what’s safe anymore.

    Google also has a lot of hubris telling webmasters how they should design their sites, and how they can interlink with each other.

    Paid links are especially problematic… this isn’t the web of the 90s, dominated by researchers and academics, linking to each other altruistically based on merit. Commercial interests dominate the web now, and there are going to be commercial relationships between sites that link to each other. Unless the link buying is blatant, there’s no way for Google to tell. Money buys links, either directly or indirectly, and Google should stop trying to police the internet.

  • Steve K

    Yup, pretty much anything you do nowadays with Matt and the Google Gods is against their TOS..who cares really….build links, don’t build links..have the greatest content in the world and you could be wiped out tomorrow because they tweak their algo’s again…whitehat, greyhat, or my favorite blackhat – yup…works for me personally…plenty of people lost their income overnight by following their guidelines to a tee..personally, I just carry on and if the site gets hit – it gets hit..carry on and do something else…

    The biggest issue and potential problem is someone could come along and blast your site..the only recourse – use their stupid disavow tool..sorry but I am not doing G’s work for them that they easily took care of just a couple of years ago by ignoring crappy links…why should we help them out – answer – don’t ever ever do it because you just give them too much data..let them figure it out…

    good article by the way…thank you

  • Byron Hardie

    From Google’s perspective they are trying to clean up the internet for the benefit of the users. However, I agree that the long-arm of Google is sometimes burdensome.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that if professional SEOs can’t agree on standard marketing tactics, how is the average business owner or webmaster suppose to abide by these rules. This very post by Eric proves it. He is one of the preeminent authorities on linking and even he doesn’t have a definitive answer. What about all of the people who are completely unaware of the Guideline changes?

    It isn’t that I necessarily disagree with the Google’s objective but I think what concerns many of us is that everything is up to their own discretion and there is no set framework for abiding by these rules.

    How would Google know algorithmically if there was an exchange of services or if a review of a product or site had editorial merit or compensated in some other way? What if an owner of a site is friends with the owner of another site? Is it so far-fetched to think that people that know and respect each other might endorse each other’s services? Isn’t that what is also done offline in other forms of marketing? The world is FULL of bias. Better not buy someone a beer if they may give you a link one day! Yes this sounds ridiculous but this is the logical end of where the ambiguity can go.

    If you can buy a link, what about a review, a like, a tweet, a fan, a connection? How can Google possibly determine intent? If you have a marketing campaign that includes a contest where you give away a prize but NEVER ask for likes or shares or links but you get them anyway as a byproduct of your social promotion are they still purchased?

    But let’s take it a step further. If we even assume that historical context comes into play, can you manipulate the link profile of a competitor? Doesn’t this bring up the age-old debate of SEO sabotage? Can’t someone purchase blatant links on your behalf? If your competitors are unaware of these links (as most webmasters are) then they will likely never disavow them.

    I’m not recommending this, but it illustrates a slippery slope we could be headed down.

  • http://www.paulbruemmer.com/ Paul Bruemmer

    link building vs. link development: Google should differentiate
    the two, with the later as acceptable SEO best practices. Link
    Development has a better ring to it. Google should offer-up examples of
    acceptable “natural methods” for developing appropriate links. Will they do it, never. Google’s
    “guidelines” have been arbitrary for many years now, and will
    remain that way, its their IP. The situation is like 3 cops at the doughnut shop watching a
    speeding car go by…it’s completely arbitrary if any one of them wants
    to get up and go give the driver a speeding ticket. Google is the same, they’ve
    intentionally written these guidelines with excessive wiggle room so they can drop the hammer on whoever they want, whenever they want…or not at all. Good luck with any form of link building, you might as well just cross your fingers, light a candle and pray a Hail Mary.

  • AJ Mihalic

    Eric – Pretty good coverage and thoughts on the change. To further illustrate the ambiguity, even your “rule” for paid links though falls short on affiliate links. You can explain a perfectly logical reason for wanting affiliate links pointing at you since they potentially send you business. However, Google doesn’t seem to like these links and by nature of affiliate incentives many of the sites they live on will be terrible, low quality sites.

    Should businesses be punished in SERPs for having affiliate programs because some of their affiliates try some nefarious techniques (or don’t or cannot use nofollow)? Logically, the answer is “no” but in practice…well, it seems to vary.

    Keeping yourself safe while marketing with affiliate requires clearly understand Google guidelines as well as the ability to manage your server(s) well enough to detect traffic referred through specified affiliate urls or campaign codes and redirect them in a way that “won’t pass PR”. Which is my/your point; Google’s standards seem to require a pretty thorough understanding of SEO to be able to comply, yet they have shifted to a “don’t do SEO” standpoint.

    Perhaps we should stop reading the Google guidelines for insight? It feels like listening to the government talk about the economy.

  • igl00

    they overdid it this time. but why would they care.. adwords money will fly from SMB firms.

  • Dan Ray

    Eric I love you, and like most of the people above me I had no idea this document had been changed, but at the same time I came to the conclusion long ago that expecting Matt Cutts and the Google crew to tell you how to/not to rank a site is like expecting a dad to tell you how to get his daughter into bed, just ain’t gonna happen, if we all just steer clear of the blatantly obvious “manipulation” tactics then we’ll be fine.

  • Benjamin Bicker

    Great article – thanks. As per….go back to the roots outset more than 1 decade ago.

  • Chris Rempel

    Here’s my favorite quote from Google’s updated Link Schemes page:

    “Note that PPC (pay-per-click) advertising links that don’t pass PageRank to the buyer of the ad do not violate our guidelines.”

    I think that makes it pretty clear, folks.

  • http://electricdialogue.com/ Mark Hughes

    Hi Eric, hope you don’t mind a quick question – but what would you recommend as the best page-change tool?

  • Chris Koszo

    Put into words exactly what I’m thinking.

  • chedgefa

    Are we allowed any links other than AdWords? Here’s a thought on a very small scale. I blog, and in these blogs I link to a group I belong to, to promote ticket sales. Should I nofollow these links too? That seems ridiculous.

  • http://www.eBizROI.com Rick Noel, eBiz ROI, Inc.

    Great post Eric. Thanks for sharing your interpretations and insights. To me, this further emphasizes the need to diversify traffic sources beyond Google, which is aligned with your link test on whether you would pursue a link outside of ranking factors.

    Clearly social and email marketing can help drive traffic outside of Google. The other key takeaway for me was reinforcement on just how much the current Google algorithm relies on links to determine SERPs and the need for Google to evolved to re-weighting non-link based quality signals (bounce backs to serps, duplicate, thin or spun content, copyright infringements). It sort of feels like an opportunity for the a next Larry Sergei to emerge and change the search game so that quality content wins more often. Once can dream!

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    It seems like almost any link you would build on your own could be considered spam. Google has put even more value on content as a way to earn natural links but how does a new site get their content in front of those who could/would link to it? And like you said, how large is large-scale? 10 links? A 100? A 1000?

  • Ralph Tegtmeier aka fantomaste

    “I applaud Google for being more and more transparent with their guidelines” – man, Eric: isn’t the whole point of your piece that this is exactly what they’re NOT doing, becoming “more transparent”?

  • https://twitter.com/NetCashFastTrac Kurt Wells

    Great article. I especially appreciate your “tactical response” answers about how to respond to these changes. My question is “How much or these Google changes is cyclical? Do things that worked then don’t ever come back to life again?

  • PurelyCoffeeBNZ

    Thought about this a lot, then I decided simply to remove my sites from Webmasters, Analytics & Google Plus. Why? Because it’s not my business to do Google’s job.

    Really. I’d love to have my sites in Google, but if Google can’t build a search engine that gets the job done, then why is that my job?

    Let’s face it: PageRank may be the core of the Google engine, but by counting links and evaluating them … Google’s created the mess that is the current situation.

    Google’s making it seem like some sort of moral crusade… Geez. Clean your own index up and do it right yourselves. Don’t expect your webmasters to do the job for you.

    I mean, it’s like the council asking you to build the roads, add the roadmarks & signage, before PERMITTING you to drive your car.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo

    Thanks for sharing and plugging it on your site. I know I really enjoyed
    this piece and I’m certain others will as well. Keep up the great work.opentext hummingbird

  • http://www.boastingbiz.com/ Donnie Strompf

    IMO for money making phrases (insurance, ecommerce, anything transparently profitable) they should stay away from links all together focusing on user behavior via social, pogostick count, and mentions. They should roll out Authorship for users and brands. If you want traffic from Google, you need to add value that is detectable by real behaviours.

  • Illogicalthinker

    But adwords doesn’t give you any link power so really nothing.

  • http://creativerty.com/ Rob jH

    I watched a hangout on Air with Google Swedish rep and he suggested now adding nofollow to all press releases now and went on to suggest that anything you post yourself should be nofollow, seriously?

    I think this screenshot I took from Google’s own predictive search when typing in Google says it all, Apparently Google is evil, my friend, God and down! #LOL

  • Ashish Ahuja

    posted around a week back how to use this change to our benefit and how to change our strategy for press releases and guest posting http://www.avainfotechseo.com/how-to-do-article-marketing-guest-blogging-after-recent-google-link-schemes-document-update/

  • Lisa Hosman

    Ha ha.. love this “Don’t expect Google to understand why a wedding photographer, SCUBA instructor and dulcimer player are related – even though we can likely envision a scenario where they actually are related.”. I am thinking of this scenario right now. :) Great article with great advice. I have learned that the rule of thumb really has to be whether or not any link will potentially send you traffic. I have a feeling that even a somewhat spammy link becomes less offensive to Google if it is clearly sending traffic to your website.

  • Durant Imboden

    That was probably written in response to the frequent (and dishonest) claims on webmaster forums that Google is “selling links” with its AdWords and AdSense ads.

    Google makes it clear that any paid link can be made compatible with Google’s guidelines, simply by using “nofollow,” advertising redirects to non-indexed pages, etc. As long as a link doesn’t pass PageRank, Google isn’t going to throw a snit fit.

  • muski

    If Matt Cutts was looking over my shoulder, I would hit him a punch on his face so he gets some sense knocked into himself! This is all a strategy to drive ‘more money’ into the ‘already full bank accounts of googla’!

  • guy

    google just don’t know what to do next and currently places all responsibility to small/medium webmasters. They do it not because it good or natural, but because they can and they are dictators of internet. And they not need to answer any our questions, because it “secret sauce” (what really is not true!)
    This answers what we listen from Mr. Cutts is really not very important and even lie sometimes. Him never give answers for really important questions, like you mention in your article.

  • guy

    I also want to add to my comment. I NOT will follow google rules/guidelines/etc. At my sites small % of google traffic after this pandas & penguins. I will take my attention to bing, but not to google. So I will use recip links, and other things. Google is NOT important when it not give you traffic. So if you also getting from google only few hits, stop follow their rules. Leave google alone with wikipedia and youtube.

  • Spook SEO

    Awesome post. While there are tons of things to be frustrated about because of the changes made, I’d rather look at it the positive way which is…

    Google is trying to make the search engines better.

    If I don’t do this, I’ll end up going crazy with all these updates.

    Thanks for sharing. Cheers!

  • Matt Tragna

    How about Google fixing the majorly flawed algorithm to not be so heavily weighted on incoming links and PR instead of forcing everyone who may or may not be a SEO and understand link building to walk on eggshells and jump through flaming hoops.

  • Adrian Fox-Kirk

    Links for me are simply used for generating traffic to my site from another valued website. I don’t believe that a page rank has anything like the importance that it used to, and as long as I’m getting traffic and building my value and presence on the web, then I’ll continue to do my link building.

  • Miguel Silva Rodrigues

    Some good points here, well done. I can’t go into detail, but you’re right when you say it’s about looking at the big picture. That’s what Google does. They can’t be more explicit about scale or numbers because they don’t even have that granularity internally. It’s not about exact numbers, but about intent and scale, which is easy to spot when looking at the big picture.

    One thing for sure, anything with a speck of automation is risky, period. Because linkbuilding shouldn’t be a process but a reward. Unfortunately, with the rise of social networks, Search Engines really have to catch up, because, honestly, who still links out these days? People just share URLs.

  • http://www.bigoakinc.com/ Shell Harris

    I agree. I have been pushing DuckDuckGo.com for months, much like I pushed Google.com back in the 90s, leaving Yahoo.com behind.

  • http://creativerty.com/ Rob jH


  • Jack

    But Matt still says that link are back born SEO…You are making me MAD..LOL

  • Makiki Travers

    Great analogy using the C – student!

  • Global eBiz Solutns.

    Starting to agree with you, though I’m still hoping the Google algorithm improves. I find myself optimizing for Google, but using duckduckgo or even Bing more and more for personal searches.

  • Hanne

    The team at Google is a bunch of liars giving out confusing statements. An example

    “Links within in your press release should be no follow, but if your story catches journalists attention, they can have a do follow link to you”.

    - Why only a journalist is granted a do follow right, cant it be a blogger?, cant it be any relevant website.?

    - How many small businesses stories catches journalists attention ?… mean they will be link less for decades ?.

    All Google wants is that the SEO’s should sit idle or change careers as every whitehat method used by SEO’S today will be a spam tomorrow.

  • http://www.eplatformmarketing.com/ James Hobson

    I do find it amusing that we judge Google for judging others.

    I answer “very subjective” to the question: “How would you define these words?
    Intended – May be considered – Excessive – Exclusively – Large-scale – Widely distributed – Automated – Low-quality”

    Firstly, I do support Google’s right to run their company as they see fit and within the rule of law. I do believe that there is a real need to manage the out of control manipulation of rankings; however, I think we’re all stymied at how this can be done in a fair manner.
    As with any effort to curb undesirable behaviors it’s often a challenge to clearly and objectively define unacceptable behaviors. Truly, what is “disorderly conduct” other than a license for law enforcement to subjectively apply punishment? I think Google is effectvely addressing”disorderly conduct” but the general public [most site owners] don’t know there are “laws” much less what those laws dictate.

    Where I really struggle with some of Google’s actions are that at least in court you get tried by a jury of your peers, you know exactly what is being charged and what evidence exists, and you can’t be prosecuted for things you did before it was illegal. We have worked with many clients who never had any ill intent in their internet marketing efforts, had their rankings plummet without any notice and are stunned to find out how difficult it is to achieve a verdict of not-guilty.
    To me, just as in parenting, to be fair you have to clearly define the rules and expectations, and make certain they are understood, before you start disciplinary actions. Don’t say “get home early” . . . tell me what constitutes “late”.

  • Doc Sheldon

    Great stuff, Eric! I agree with just about every point you made, particularly regarding the algrithms’ ability (or any individual on the Spam Team, either) to determine intent.
    I wouldn’t hold my breath, waiting for them to quantify “too much” or “excessive”, though… they get more benefit from being vague. That’s why I find their claims of transparency so ludicrous.

  • http://www.Jewelove.in Sambhav Karnawat

    A very detailed & helpful article. Thank you Eric.

  • sharithurow

    Hi Eric-

    Excellent work, as always.

    I fall back on my scholarly ways when I approach link building. If I were writing a term paper or an academic paper, what documents would I genuinely cite? I think that is what Google is after.

    Problem is that Google’s approach…the average person is not a scholar. I still feel Google rewards popularity vs. true authority. To be perfectly honest, most of the topical/subject experts I know either don’t have the time or don’t really care (or know) what social media optimization (SMO) is.

    So the squeakiest wheels often get the most grease. Not necessarily the true subject experts….

    My 2 cents.

  • C Jones

    I agree. The terms they use seem extremely vague. I suppose they
    had to start somewhere and are possibly looking for more input? We’re not that worried though because we’re going to continue to stay focused on creating quality content for consumers, with links to that content wherever it’s relevant.

  • Andre Scolinie

    I have many sites that pull articles from content sites and place a reference and credit link back to the source of the content site. Your article now explains why I’m getting so many request from the article’s author to delete their link even though the articles have been on my sites for several years. Personally, I think Google has gone off the deep end and has become too dictatorial. I now take the approach of automatically removing the hyperlink and leaving the text of the link for all content articles. This, in effect, will remove the historical and NATURAL back link that has been in place for many years. Personally, I don’t ascribe to Google’s draconian methods and I have no confidence in their statement that “they are just trying to help the web sites gain more exposure” when all they are really trying to do is drive more webmaster to take out paid advertising on Google’s search engines. Fortunately, Google is not the only search engine on the net. I’ve had more success working with other less popular search engines and have been getting a lot of quality business from them which has resulted in an increase in revenue. I used to play Google’s game until I ran a test with several other search engines. Google has always driven less traffic to my sites than the other search engines have. My life is a lot easier and more profitable without Google.


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