Recent changes to Google's Link Schemes help page
One of our members, Doc Sheldon of Top Shelf Copy, was noting on the boards that there's some changes (apparently?) to the Google Help docs on "Link Schemes". While I have no idea what's new or added, I did find a post from July, a thread on WMW from Oct. 2012. If anyone has a running tab on changes to this page, please do let me know.
As a guy that does a lot of forensic consulting, including Penguin and Unnatural Links issues, it seems this page is a bit of a blueprint as far as what might be causing you grief.
Anyway, I thought it was interesting since I hadn't really paid (pun intended) much attention to it's evolution.
Your site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links influences your ranking. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity.
Any links intended to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site, or outgoing links from your site. Manipulating these links may affect the quality of our search results, and as such is a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines.
Was changed to this;
"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 Google's Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site."
I guess they wanted to completely nuke any mention that links are part of how pages are ranked. LOL. Some of the other changes include;
- Added "partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking" to link exchanges
- Removed, "Linking to web spammers or unrelated sites with the intent to manipulate PageRank"
- Added, "Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links"
- Added, "creating links that weren't editorially placed or vouched for by the site's owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links" bits...
- Added, "Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles"
- Changed "Links that are inserted into articles with little coherence" to "Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites."
And they also removed the paragraph;
"It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest."
Again, likely that they've moving away from talking about links as a ranking factor. Next, let's get into some of the elements of the page shall we?
What is a link scheme to Google?
So, let's go through these and get a real sense of what's going on out there, without getting too crazy. I'll add some personal thoughts along the way. Let's roll....
"The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results:
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 "free" product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link "
Ok, sure, we know about buying/selling. I guess paying to drop a guest post has some issues as well, beyond mere SEO. There's a transparency issue. But the whole 'free product' bit, what if we don't ask for a link? I've seen a situation where someone sent out a product for review and at no point asked for a link. The bloggers, being what they are, indeed did link. End result? Person actually lost ranking on the term related to that product. Beware of WHO you send things too. Low quality outreach can backfire.
"Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking "
Sure, we've known about that one for a while. Although I have no idea what "excessive" means. And 'partner pages'? Isn't it good business to cross promote those you deal with, (suppliers, partners etc)? But that again tries to assess intent. Cross promoting is good business as far as I am concerned. Advice; don't have pages named "links" lol.
"Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links "
Yea, well... I touched on that one recently with; Google on Guest Blogging; be afraid, be very afraid . There is every reason to believe that this will become more of an issue. Be sure to choose your targets wisely and consider secondary benefits. What I mean by that is, forget the link. Consider traffic and visibility. The goal should be to create new followers that will one day themselves link to your website/brand. I guess the 'keyword rich' part might mean to also stick to brand terms in any links... hard to say.
"Using automated programs or services to create links to your site "
Yea well.. DUH. This one seems to actually cross over to the world of negative SEO. I kid you not. One of the recent clean up jobs I've been on was actually a ton (10k+) links to a site with anchors such as [viagra] and [porn xx] etc. These were trackbacks for the most part and most likely done with Xrumer or an equivalent. No SEO with half a brain would be using automated tools for link building.
The Nitty Gritty
So that's the general advice, but it doesn't stop there... here's a bunch of other AWESOME goodiness that have after that.
"Text advertisements that pass PageRank "
Ok, we got that. Paid text links are bad. I think the problem comes in when one starts to look at things like blogrolls etc. I have always helped cross promote my friends in the industry from my blog.... but no money changed hands. And no, it's not a recip link scheme either. It's called marketing. Should I be running around adding the nofollow attribute because Google might think I'm up to something? I personally don't believe so. So, how does Google know what's shady an not? Tis a bit frustrating.
"Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank "
Hey wait, didn't we already cover this one? Yes we know... paid promotional articles are bad. But where does it end? If people are paying for article drops that don't have links, but have entity citations (likely another Google ranking factor), is that a bad thing? Why no mention of that? Right, because links are the big daddy of ranking signals. Gothcha.
"Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example:
Jeez, on about the articles again. We get it already. Funny that they call it 'optimized' anchor text instead of something like "spammy" lol. There's been a lot of chatter about what exactly is 'natural' and that some penalties/algos are using anchor text ratio's as a signal. While I can appreciate that a natural profile doesn't have a high ratio of these, one has to wonder why Google bothers to give the anchors such a high value. Seems a bit counter productive.
"Low-quality directory or bookmark site links "
This one, much like the guest posting, is something I've talked about for a while. I guess the real issue here becomes that subjective "low quality" element. Should the home page show ToolBar PageRank? Should it be indexed? When I was writing about examples of various replies to reconsideration requests, we noted that Google was giving some directories as examples of crap links. The problem there of course is that these sites were actually still indexed and had home page TBPR. Seriously Google, if you think a site is crap, then please just nuke it.
"Links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites, for example:
Visitors to this page: 1,472
car insurance "
Ok, sure. Anyone that remembers widget-gate, knows that this indeed can be an issue. I guess my real problem here is that widgets can actually be a useful promotional tool. From what we know at this point you should use a brand anchor or nofollow the links in widgets. We've also heard the same advice on infographics in fact. You've been warned.
"Widely distributed links in the footers of various sites "
I'm not even sure if this one is our fault, pretty sure folks in the web design world had a hand as well. For those not familiar with page segmentation, you might want to brush up. To that end, I'd venture that site wide links in footers and side bars can potentially be an issue as well. Even blogrolls. We've seen more than a few cases that sites which got spanked had a high percentage of site-wide type links in their profile. Me personally? I tend to always link up my own properties. It's good business no? I guess the core advice is that they should be relevant to each other.
This sort of highlights where the nofollow attribute went mental. Originally it was about sites you didn't trust when linking out (and then for paid links). I don't pay myself for the links and I sure as hell trust myself... sooooo... what's wrong with a clean endorsement?
This one we've actually recently heard more about as far as it being an issue. The instance in question was a friend in the ecommerce world that was smacked by the recent penguin. He doesn't actively do any SEO and hasn't for YEARS. When looking around his link profile I noticed a ton of links from forum profiles, but all in legit engagement. He was active, not spamming.
When I asked a Googler about it I was told it might be an issue and that he might want to remove them. Really? Sheesh. It's the forum owner's job to add the nofollow not the poster. We used to have our company in the sig' on forums as a promotional tool. To actually try and drive some business. Again, actual marketing can now be something that get's you in hot water. Nice.
A troubled web we weave
I know that the above list can be daunting. In many circles of late folks keep asking; what is actually safe when building links?
That could be part of the problem, you're 'building' links instead of 'attracting' them. The unfortunate part is that most smaller businesses/websites can't afford the cost of promoting content or the time it takes to build a following organically (years, in most cases). This means the large brands will more and more dominate the Google search results.
What more concerns me is the other issues as far as false positives (people breaking rules without knowing it) and even worse, negative SEO. This isn't as obscure a situation as one might think. We are seeing these kinds of issues more and more lately.
Another thing that bothers me, as someone that's been in marketing longer that Google has been around is that they created the link economy. A lot of things that are considered 'bad' would have just been 'good' marketing once upon a time. Yes, I know there's the nofollow attribute, but often we can't control that.
I also wonder what will happen to the link graph itself. We know that most UGC sites use the nofollow and that a lot of authority sites either refuse to link or hey, charge for access. Will we get to a point where all of this actually starts to affect how the link graph looks? Time will tell.
Anyway, I just figured I would share this as we were talking about it on the podcast yesterday and Doc brought it up on the forums. Feel free to add yer own thoughts in the comments.
Other posts I found on changes to the Google Link Scheme page;