Ever since Google announced the first iteration of the penguin update, future-proofing their SEO output has been a major focus for lots of agencies. Lots of us have seen signs of agencies frantically removing links (both high and low quality) and changing their approach in order to hide from ‘the penguin’.
In addition to the changes that Google has made so far, it’s fundamentally important for SEOs to be thinking ahead of the curve, in order to protect the work they’re doing for their clients and also their business.
The following tips are focused on what I believe Google will be doing in the not so distant future in order to improve the quality of their results and prevent websites from ranking through manipulating their algorithm.
Avoid obvious footprints
Guest post references:
Guest posts have become the new ‘easy’ tactic for SEO’s of late, which has consequently left it as an opportunity for Google to target algorithmically. Although placing content on other people’s websites isn’t something that I would consider spam, it’s something that is being over-used and is probably having a considerable affect on the quality of Google’s rankings – so therefore I think sooner or later Google will address this (by devaluing these types of links).
My recommendation for this would be to try your best to get contributor slots or columns on websites, as these don’t have the same ‘guest post’ footprint that makes the link susceptible to being de-valued. I would also recommend trying to get bloggers to place their content under their own name, as this just makes a guest post link a good, natural reference link.
The same principle applies for infographics, if you can think of another term for your graphics to avoid making it easy for Google to take mass action, it would help to make it a more sustainable link. Offering to write an introduction is a great way of doing this with infographics.
Although there’s no guarantee that the search engines are going to take action against these link building tactics, there have been lots of hints from Google representatives.
Avoid websites that are / have been selling links
A few years ago, when I used to get replies from bloggers asking for money in exchange for placing articles, I used to try really hard to get them to place the content for free and I always saw it as a great achievement if I succeeded. Now, it’s important to think about how other SEOs are responding to requests for money – if they’re all paying for links, search engines are clearly going to think you’re paying too!
With this in mind, I think it’s really important to avoid any site that is selling advertorials or links in general because search engines will be looking for patterns within the content being published.
At the very best, links on editorial websites that are selling links are going to be devalued, making it a waste of content and time.
Keep your links diverse
For the vast majority of SEOs at the moment, the focus is primarily on building branded links, commonly to counter aggressive anchor text distribution from pre-penguin times. I would strongly recommend mixing things up in terms of they types of links you target and not just trying to generate the same branded links within articles.
The way I look at it, search engines are looking for unnatural patterns within link building and in my mind, generating lots of text links from articles is clearly identifiable. I would recommend trying to completely mix things up and target image links, image credit links, branded URL links, citations within articles, combined branded and keyword anchor links etc.
Think about quality signals!
Although there’s a lot of debate as to whether quality signals are playing a part in SEO at the moment, I believe that there are obvious signs of whether an article is high quality or low quality that search engines must / should be looking at.
I believe that targeting links from websites that are generating social shares and comments / engagement is going to increase the value / sustainability of links, be it now or in the future. We generally try to get our clients to engage with articles where they’re featured, be it by sharing on their Facebook page or via Twitter or by commenting on the article and trying to encourage more people to do so. I would recommend this, as suddenly the content looks a lot more natural if it’s generating a response from its readers.
Think about the value of context
Over the last 18 months or so, there has been a lot of talk about how Google interprets context and uses it to understand the value of a link. One of the most frequently referenced principles is LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing), which is basically a process for identifying context or meanings of an article or content based on the words in the article and how they’re used.
I don’t know if search engines are using LSI within their algorithms or if/how they’re measuring context as part of link valuation, however I think they are probably doing something. With this in mind, I think it’s really important (especially on the topic of future-proofing your link building) to keep content as relevant to the website you’re link building for as possible.
On this note, we’ve also started targeting citations within articles as (in addition to the benefits citations can have for local SEO) we believe that this is something that search engines are going to be looking at or look at as a quality signal. Rand Fishkin did this whiteboard Friday on co-citations as a potential replacement for links last year.
Simon Penson wrote a great post on link building without links on SEOmoz recently (he’s also written a lot of the best articles I’ve read recently on SEW), which references LSI and is definitely worth reading.
This article from Aaron Wall also discusses LSI and how search engines can use it to understand context.
Start using author profiles for link building
Authorship has been a hot topic for the last year or so and is widely expected to be a big part of Google’s ranking algorithm in the future. Authorship is expected to start ranking articles by the person who wrote it and attributing value to the links based on this.
I would recommend using authorship on all articles being written on behalf of clients, whether you use your own name or the name of a full-time employee (obviously post-conversation with them).
Please feel free to add any other suggestions for future-proofing link building efforts in the comments section below.