By Matthew Schmoldt
Recently, Google updated the ÂLink schemesÂ informational document found in Webmaster Tools. The change was easy to miss. There were no large scale announcements.
Unlike a Wikipedia document, there is no easy way to see what was changed. Thankfully, the Internet has the wayback machine for such matters. The tool shows that two records have been kept this year for the page in question. One archive is from June 28th, the other is from August 5th.
As you can see, there seem to be significant changes. The June 28th version of the link schemes page had an opening paragraph that explained why external links were important and why Google uses them as a key influencer in search results. Now the document begins with a stern warning:
“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 GoogleÂs Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
To many, this paragraph is not only troubling but troublingly ambiguous. You will notice the use of the word ÂintendedÂ in the paragraph. How does Google determine if a link is intended to manipulate PageRank? In the second sentence, is Google saying any link building efforts will be considered manipulation?
On July 10th, Matt Cutts, the head of GoogleÂs webspam team, was interviewed and said the following:
ÂNo, not all link building is bad. The philosophy that weÂve always had is if you make something thatÂs compelling then it would be much easier to get people to write about it and to link to it.Â
Does the July 10th interview with Matt Cutts answer the questions of the August update to the link schemes document? My guess is, yes. Google seems to be preparing to take the webspam fight to the next level and has updated their official link schemes document with a hardcore and broad stance.
In the same interview, Matt Cutts said:
ÂI would concentrate on the stuff that people write, the utility that people find in it, and the amount of times that people link to it. All of those are ways that implicitly measure how relevant or important somebody is to someone else.
Links are still the best way that weÂve found to discover that, and maybe over time social or authorship or other types of markup will give us a lot more information about that.Â
It is clear to me, that link building is quite appropriate and still legal. But, shift from thinking about link building to the idea of link earning. High quality links from high authority links should be the target. These sorts of links are earned and not built with a few clicks of the mouse.
What else was changed in the link schemes document?
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 ÂfreeÂ product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
The above paragraph seems to be fairly black and white. Google doesnÂt want people to sell links for money or for products. But, what 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?
Matt Cutts has said that you should only pursue a link if it is something you would have built or pursued if SEO did not exist.
Excessive link exchanges (ÂLink to me and IÂll link to youÂ) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
The use of excessive and exclusively are ambiguous and troubling in this new entry in the document. It is impossible to know where the line is with this rule. But, remember, Google wants you to do things naturally. They want you to do things that make logical sense. If you are a flower shop, it makes sense to have a linking relationship with the local chocolate shop. It may make sense to link to the local cookie shop, to the local wedding dress store, etc.
Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
The ambiguous word here is Âlarge-scale.Â To me, I refer back to my rule of link earning and not link building. If the link is too easy to get, itÂs probably not the kind of link that is desirable. Removing the easy to get links removes most of the ability to create a large-scale link building operation. The hard links take time to get. Also remember, Google is targeting keyword-rich anchor links and not generic links in articles.
Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
This seems to be the one area where Google was decisive. Do not use automated means to build backlinks. If you are tempted to use automated programs, donÂt. Google is constantly indexing the Internet and can detect a sudden and unnatural increase in backlinks.