Why it doesn’t pay to use artificial offsite links As Part of SEO

Most SEO professionals worth their salt will understand the risks involved in using linking tactics to try and quickly manipulate Google to their advantage. For business owners new to search this type of information is important to understand. This is particularly true if you use an external agency which is offshore or one that offers suspiciously cheap rates for the results they’re promising.

If you’re already pretty familiar with offsite links, then use the contents here to jump ahead!
What are offsite links and why are they important for search marketing

What is artificial link building?

What should I do instead? (an organic offsite strategy)

What should I do if I’ve already been using artificial link building?

References and Helpful Links

Let’s get cracking!

Imagine the following scenario:
I decide that I want to make some money from Nike by copying their online store. They made over $30 billion in 2016 anyway*, should be plenty to go around right? I decide to replicate the original nike.com website exactly, and steal their content, URL structures, look and feel, everything.
I’m forced to use a very slightly different URL, nike-original.com, but everything else is 100% identical.

Now my website looks and functions exactly the same as the original, not even customers can tell the difference. How do you think a search engine would tell them apart? Which does it choose to rank within search results pages?
In order to do this Google and other search engines have to step outside of the website itself and look at the wider landscape. It reads and records the content from other websites, making a note of how many times various URLs are mentioned within their outbound links* and how prominent these links are featured.
All of these links and references to a particular brand or product are calculated and weighed against each other to determine the authority of a website. It’s this authority score which helps in determining if a website or page is the best fit for the top of search results. It’s not the only factor, but it is still very important.

What is artificial link building?

Let’s say I get a bit more clever, now that I understand how offsite links work and why they’re important. I get together with a team of likeminded webmasters who understand how to automate the building of websites and page content (plus they want a little bit of the Nike action – who wouldn’t?). In a few short months we manage to set up a network of fresh websites which are closely interlinked with each other. Each of these websites shares a link back to my duplicate website, nike-original.com. In terms of raw numbers there’s many more of them than there are websites which link to the original Nike site. In the eyes of a search engine it now appears there’s a huge buzz around my fake site.

This is the essence of artificial link building; a focus on rapidly building the quantity of links and offsite mentions with a disregard for the quality and long term effects.

So now we’ve got all the links in place here comes payday. With all these offsite links and signals surely my authority score must be massive? Can Google be so easily fooled??

For me and my team of (theoretical) spammers, unfortunately not!

As touched on above, a huge factor in website authority is the quality of these offsite links and mentions. Here’s just a couple of things which might trigger a red flag within search engines:
• There’s an excessive amount of other outbound links on the page.
• No content on the website appears to be related to the destination (e.g. Nike gets a link from a website about ducks &geese).
• The page doesn’t have any content at all other than the link itself.
• All of clickable text of the link (anchor text) exactly matches the title of the page or product.
The list goes on!

Is it really that bad to use these type of links? What’s going to happen to my website

Google has what they call a ‘manual penalty’ which it can choose to apply to a given website which is believes has been gaming the system for its own advantage. These are normally quite severe and can drastically affect a business’s overall bottom line.

As the name suggests, these are manually applied by a member of the Google team and so are fairly infrequent, and typically applied to set an example for websites which are particularly egregious in their use of poor quality link tactics. One of the classic case studies for a manual penalty is Interflora, a UK based flower company. In late 2012 they were hit with a penalty and essentially dropped off the face of Google. Leading up to this they were utilising paid links in a scheme very similar to the one I described above. Although they never stated how much business they had lost, moving from visibility across 22,000 searches to almost nothing surely had to hurt.

What should I do instead?

There’s a variety of different tactics one might take to expand the authority of their website. A key thing to note here is that the majority of these tactics take time.
This is most true for new businesses which have little to no brand awareness and few partnerships to draw on. Having said that, the benefits from having a high authority from offsite strategy is significant. Being at the top of a search results pages can often mean the difference between success and failure for a business.
Here’s some straightforward ideas to take away:
1. If your brand has close ties with third party partners, publishers, distributors, etc then leverage this relationship. Ask if they would be able to include a link to your website within their footer, on a ‘partners’ page or something similar.

2. Undertake a search for websites which may have covered your business or brand in one of their news articles. If they don’t feature a link to your website, then kindly ask they include a URL. The more relevant to the article content, the better. Most of the bigger publishers are quite reserved about throwing around links for no good reason, so make sure you position this from the perspective of their customers.

3. The final and most beneficial method also happens to take the longest. It’s essentially just great content, just with a bit more planning than might be normal for your business. The goal with a project like this is to develop something specifically to capture the attention of relevant publishers within your industry. As an example, for travel this might be something like Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, or even just smaller industry publications.

A unique offering from your business forms the basis for a landing page which you’ll share with publishers, with the hope they’ll be interested enough to feature within their own channels. If you have contacts anywhere or inside knowledge on content that works for a given publisher, then so much the better.
These are just a few ideas, but the sky is really the limit for attracting offsite interest in your company. The key is to always ensure that it’s authentic and offers value to the end customer in some way.

What should I do if I’ve already been using artificial link building?

If you believe you might have used this type of link building method before, or perhaps an agency or team has used it on your behalf, then you should consider some of the following actions. Sooner rather than later is ideal.

Firstly you’ll need to undertake backlink analysis to examine the overall quality of links which are directed at your website. There’s a variety of tools which can help in this regard, including Moz Opensite Explorer, Ahrefs and Majestic SEO to name just a few. Most premium SEO tools will include a feature like this, and they’ll help you pinpoint if there is actually any links which you should be concerned about. Alternatively you can download a list from your Google Search Console account and manually review each URL.

The next step is to kindly request Google to disavow these spammy or low quality links (i.e. remove them from consideration). You can do this by compiling a disavow file and submitting it through Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools). You can find a more comprehensive guide in the links at the bottom of the page. Normally this process takes some time (perhaps several weeks) but the results at the end will be well worth it, depending on how severe the amount of low quality links were.

And that’s it! We hope this has helped you. Offsite strategy and links can be a tricky thing to manage, so if you have any more questions or concerns about your website, Cherryielding is here to assist when you need us.

Get in touch through our website here!

References and Helpful Links

A comprehensive guide to the Disavow file – https://moz.com/blog/guide-to-googles-disavow-tool
*https://news.nike.com/news/nike-inc-reports-fiscal-2016-fourth-quarter-and-full-year-results
*Outbound links are simply anything you can click on which takes you out of the original website to a new one.

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