This SEO nerd says its OK to ask for links
Contributor Andrew Dennis shares recent tweets made by Google public Search Liaison Danny Sullivan and looks at how they've helped SEOs get a better understanding of what's OK when it comes to link building.
I feel invigorated. For the first time in what seems like a long time, a Google representative provided some clear and constructive communication regarding links!
I’m putting on my SEO nerd hat and want to dive into why this tweet excited me and give more context around the conversation.
Google’s public search liaison
Danny Sullivan was the Chief Content Officer at Third Door Media and co-founded Search Engine Land in 2007. He retired from Third Door Media in 2017 and three months later, accepted a position with Google to be their public Search Liaison. The position was created with the goal of helping Google and search engine optimization specialists (SEOs) better understand one another.
I feel this is a much-needed role and Danny has been doing a great job. Danny is uniquely qualified for the liaison position since he’s been on all sides of the discussion — as a citizen; as an SEO, content specialist and journalist; and now as a Google search representative. In fact, he used to be the one asking questions, trying to get clear information for SEOs.
This unique experience means Danny can truly appreciate the importance of the relationship between the SEO industry and Google. Because both Google and our industry are constantly changing, it’s important to keep lines of communication open and the dialogue going. Let’s look at a number of tweets made by the new Google public Search Liaison and how they’ve helped with those goals especially as they pertain to links.
Asking for links
The tweet I highlighted above came from a conversation started by Rand Fishkin, where he asked the following and tagged Danny’s Search Liaison account:
This should be an obvious yes, if someone is going to use or republish your content, they should be citing said content with a link. Plagiarism issues aside, these types of citation links benefit search engines as they help them recognize and return the original version of a page in their results.
However, these questions can be nuanced and it’s always good to get information and advice from someone associated with Google when possible. Here is what Danny Sullivan, Google public Search Liaison (GPSL) responded with:
Keep in mind Danny had previously worked on the SEO-side of this conversation so, no surprise he provided further context by adding:
Asking someone to cite the original source of your content with a link is not a link scheme, however trying to dictate anchor text or demanding multiple links quickly approaches manipulation.
The GPSL went on in a series of tweets to further explain the nuances associated with this question, and two key points stood out to me:
- Intent is very important
- And making specific demands can be manipulative.
These two points are integral to securing links in a way that benefits our businesses and clients and falls within Google’s quality guidelines to create a better web.
A common sense approach
It’s refreshing to have a Google representative say asking for links to your work is okay rather than saying asking for links can do more harm than good, or you should add nofollow attributes to all external links. But let’s not forget about the nuance and perspective Danny stressed. These nuances are why a common-sense approach is needed when thinking about nofollow, links and link acquisition because building links can be complicated!
This reminds me of an idea my colleague Cory Collins has often preached — link building isn’t about the tactic, it’s about the application. Any given link acquisition tactic can be leveraged for legitimate links, or spammed and manipulated. Of course, there are a few tactics that are outright labeled as link schemes (buying links, link exchanges, large-scale article marketing with keyword-rich anchors, and using automated programs to generate links), but for the most part, link acquisition comes down to the intent.
A smart way to think about intent is to ask yourself:
Does this add value to the web and benefit users or am I doing this purely to manipulate search rankings?
When asking for links, consider the editorial review process; did a “human being” associated with a legitimate site link to your page? If yes, that’s a good link, regardless of whether you asked them to link or they found your page and linked on their own.
Approaching links with a value-driven mindset should take care of Danny’s second point about making specific demands regarding links. This mindset focuses on relevance, audience, and reputation, rather than anchor text.
These are the types of links Google should be okay with, and the types of links we should strive for.
Yes, I’ve gone full SEO nerd here over just a handful of tweets from Google’s public Search Liaison but that’s because I’m genuinely excited by this type of communication.
We don’t always get such measured and thorough advice from Google, so I want to celebrate the effort to engage with the SEO community and help us work more efficiently. This common-sense approach to communication is what will benefit all parties involved (SEOs, users, and search engines) and help us build a better, more-connected web.
Now it’s on the SEO community to take this information and apply it to our work. So — demand all the links with exact match anchor text you want! Whoo hoo!
We should all have a common-sense approach and acknowledge we are trying to market a business and gain exposure but also understand the best way to do that is by providing value and helping solve problems by creating helpful content and link worthy pages.
I’m encouraged to see such reasonable and open communication from Google and I think we should all celebrate this type of conversation as it helps both sides better align themselves to the common goal of optimizing the web experience.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.