Google’s software uses links to assign authority to pages. To avoid confusion that means links TO your web pages not links FROM your web pages, although linking from your web pages is a very good idea for your readers!
In Simple Language
In essence, Google assumes that if one page links to another page it’s giving it a vote of confidence. It’s the main mechanism Google uses to automate the process of ordering its search results. Put simply, links to your web pages improve their status in Google's index and their rankings in Google's search results.
Here's some more detail on link building for those interested in learning.
A Quick History Lesson
When you look at the history of Google's algorithm it was always supposed to be a merit-based system where pages attract links by being useful or interesting. For example, if you search “what is SEO” you will see us at or near the top of Google. This is because that page has been linked to by others in their blogs etc, it’s become popular and has received a lot of votes making it an authority page that ranks well.
There's even a mechanism for linking to pages you don't like in a way that doesn't endorse them. It's called a NOFOLLOW link and it's a bit like giving someone directions to a restaurant you don't like. "Yeah, turn right at the traffic lights and it's on your right, but if you're asking for my advice don't bother, it stinks."
Still with me? Exciting stuff isn’t it.
Because of the above, a whole industry has sprung up selling links. They do this to assist businesses who want to fake their popularity and there are varying degrees of risk associated with this activity. I’ll explain.
Because Google knows people manipulate its search rankings, by buying links, it has created an entire webspam team (of PhD’s) to address this issue. The result means that whilst buying links can work, it can also result in your site being removed from the search listings altogether, ouch!
What Does Google Say?
Here’s what Google says about it but here's a quick overview.
- The very best links are those you earn.
- There are some high-risk link building techniques you should probably avoid.
- There are some lower risk techniques which you should probably avoid.
- Link building can work and help your business.
- Link building can damage your brand and ruin your business.
Here’s an example of a link building scheme offer I was sent.
In essence, they allow you to post content on blogs they control and these posts will contain strategic links back to your site. After getting hammered by Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates such schemes are back on the rise, I've already blogged about the return of the link sellers, although they never really went away.
A Purists View
Hard-nosed business people will be comfortable faking their popularity by buying links if they believe the benefit outweighs the risk. This approach can and does work, I'd never suggest it doesn't. However, my purist view is if you attract links instead of buying them you really can build an economic moat around your business.
By that I mean your rankings will be rock solid and will effectively lock your competitors out of Google's top spots. But it's tough in most niches and very very tough in competitive ones.
Earned Links Can't Be Copied
One of the reasons I advocate earning links is that they can't be copied. When a top blogger on the subject of SEO links to a page I've created because it helps her communicate her point, even if one of my competitors finds that link no amount of begging will secure one for them.
That's not the case with purchased links, to copy these you simply need to find the link peddler and that's easy.
It's A Thorny Subject
There's no doubt the subject of links and link building is thorny. Securing great links is hard but without them, it's difficult to improve search rankings. As already stated, in competitive niches the temptation to cheat is strong, some might argue it's more than that, they might suggest it's necessary. Ultimately the choice is yours but when my agency, who specialise in helping businesses generate leads online, are asked about links we always advocate earning them. It's working for us.
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