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Buying Backlinks Is Bad!

by Jo Shaer, on February 4, 2014

Back in February 2013, we wrote a post on why buying backlinks was bad. On June 16 2013, Google updated its ranking advice:

It used to say:

“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”

It now says:

“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”

This is Google's way of saying, stop buying backlinks and focus on creating content that people will want to look to naturally.

With this in mind, it was great to see this video on Twit TV and get the low down on backlinks straight from the horse's mouth. Matt Cutts of Google!

The following is our understanding of what he said but also recounts some of his exact words.

Back links will always be a factor in Google's method of assessing which sites are the most authoritative but there are back links and there are back links.

How scammers have tried to trick Google

Buying Backlinks from Linking networks

Knowing that Google previously had focus only on the back links when assessing ranking, the scammers and spammers got to work to try to trick Google into believing that people thought their websites were the best. They set up linking website networks and they paid people to add links to their websites. SEO became a huge industry of people trying to make websites look better than they were.

These individuals forgot about the user experience. When Google puts a web page on their front page for a particular search, it is saying that this is one of the ten best answers to that question on the world wide web. If a user goes to that page and finds that it does not give the answer to that question, the user starts to distrust Google. Google does not like that.

So Google set out to join all the link networks to identify those sites involved. And the link networks made it easy for Google to find them - they advertised their services on the internet! It didn't take long for them to build up a list of websites that had a big question mark against them. Woe betide you if you had a link from a couple of these pointing to your site. That question mark increased in size to cover your website as well.

Paying people to write Advertorials

There was a big scandal last year when a national business sent gifts to influential bloggers in return for an article containing a link back to their site. And another UK company was caught buying advertorials containing links in online local newspapers. Both of these were considered to be scams by Google and the websites of these companies were penalised accordingly for some months.

Parked Exact Match Domains With Adverts - Bait and Switch

It used to be that you could find a good keyword, pick an exact match domain - a domain that exactly matches that keyword - and expect to come up high on the first page of Google. Scammers would purchase hundreds of these domains and 'park' them. They would put very little - if any - content on them but sign them up to receive Adwords. That's those little text based advertisements on different parts of the page. Those who used to do it have revealed that they could earn $100k/day without doing any work. At the end of the day, it was what Google called a 'bait and switch tactic'. The user thought s/he would get some useful information but only got some ads.

One of Google's algorithm updates stopped this - exact match does not necessarily mean that you will rank in search these days.

How Personalised Search has changed SEO

SEO is declining in importance because you cannot show an ROI easily any more - you cannot demonstrate that a site has risen x number of places because everyone sees something different.

The two type of SEO

Good SEO

Matt said: "there are two types of SEO, the kind of SEO that is all about making your site better for the user.

  • better architecture
  • clean urls
  • no duplicate content

that's just like making sure your cv has no typos

Bad SEO

And then there's the cheating - getting a lot of added value with links and spamming.

That's like lying on your cv and there will be repercussions"

Matt went on to talk about the impact of the most recent Google algorithm updates:

Panda This was all about content farms and low quality. Article marketing sites suffered badly.

Penguin This was targeting link networks and spam - actual cheating. These days, if you want to put up a small site you don't have to worry so much about the bad guys jumping ahead of you, the playing ground is a lot more level

Hummingbird This was a rewrite of the core algorithm to do a better job of matching users queries with documents involving natural language. It affected 90% of all searches - but usually just to a small degree. Longer queries with longer words - sometimes all the words matter and sometimes they don't. It tried to work out what the searcher really wanted to see.
"how do i put a rudebaker up into space?" - what matters are the words rudebaker and space.

The algorithm updates all work together and the latest work on how to promote the good guys. Google wants to identify the ones who are the authorities on a particular topic and make sure that these sites are on the front page when people search. So website owners need to ensure that they are giving the right signals about their expertise on a specific area to Google.

One example of how Google looks at backlinks was: the LA Times is a recognised authority and if they were to link to you, that makes you important too. However, if an expert journalist also links to you, it says to Google that you might be more relevant to journalists than another profession.

About Matt Cutts and Google

We learned in the interview that Matt was originally a computer graphics guy but he learned about algorithms because he wrote Safe search, a porn filter. He pulled up the rock and saw all the bad things lurking underneath. Google's algorithm team is broken down into different areas. The man at the top is Amrit Singhal, but he has a whole core of lieutenants who understand synonyms and spelling. Matt's area is about quality of individual sites and whether people are spamming or cheating

To be effective you have to understand what is going on - in the bigger picture. People don't have individual offices, the linking and webspam teams all work together so they can hear and see what other parts of the team are working on/finding out.

Matt Cutts on stopping the spammers and scammers

The most illuminating part of the interview came when Matt was asked about the psychology of spammers and scammers. And the way that Google worked to try to thwart them

[question ask="If you want to stop spam, the most straight forward way to do it is to deny people money because they care about the money and that should be their end goal. But if you really want to stop spam, it is a little bit mean, but what you want to do, is sort of break their spirits. There are lots of Google algorithms specifically designed to frustrate spammers. Some of the things we do is give people a hint their site will drop and then a week or two later, their site actually does drop. So they get a little bit more frustrated. So hopefully, and we’ve seen this happen, people step away from the dark side and say, you know what, that was so much pain and anguish and frustration, let’s just stay on the high road from now on."][/question]

If you have ever had to deal with a site which has received a Google penalty because they have poor quality backlinks, you will understand what he is saying. They do not make it easy to just remove those links. You put in the effort to buy them and scam Google and its users. Now you will have to put equally as much effort into getting them removed.

Buying back links has become a form of Russian roulette. Far better to write great content that people will share without requiring a monetary reward.

Watch the interview below.

Topics:Search Engine OptimisationSEO For Business

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