It’s no secret Google uses links to measure the authority of web pages. If a web page attracts links from other pages Google’s algorithm, the software it uses to rank pages and decide which page is number one for a search result, increases the importance of a page.
The most common analogy of a link is to liken it to a vote. If page A links to page B then page A is suggesting page B is a good page, page A likes page B. The only slight complication is the nofollow tag. In a nutshell the nofollow tag allows links to be added to a page that create a click-able link to another page without the link passing a vote. These are used for text link adverts for example where they will send traffic to another page without passing a vote.
I’m not going to go into any more detail on the nofollow tag here but I’d strongly advise reading the WikiPedia page for an in depth explanation. In short if you want to link from a page on your site to a page on another site without inferring any kind of endorsement use the nofollow tag.
What Are ‘Natural‘ & ‘Unnatural‘ Links?
In link building, A natural link is a freely given editorial link and an unnatural link is a link you make yourself. Both affect rankings in Google.
- Google is on record saying it does not want to count any link that is not editorial.
- Google wants to reward high-quality ‘user value add’ content that has earned organic or natural links. They want to reward a ‘good user experience’, basically – and unnatural links don’t form any part of that concept.
- Google never has wanted to count manufactured links – but its algorithms don’t work as well as they would like or at least, they say they do. So, some marketers shortcut the ‘value add’ task of the job and just build unnatural links to a site. This affects how a links-based search engine – like Google – rates the ‘popularity’ – and so ranking ability – of a particular website.
- The more links Google hasn’t classed as spam – the higher you rank – and the more traffic you get. Sort of.
- The type of links Google wants to count does not scale easily, and in fact, the type of links that scale easily are exactly the type of links Google wants to (at best) ignore or retroactively punish the violation. Perhaps that is the whole point.
- Critics will say this is because SEO is the biggest ‘threat’ to Adwords, Google’s sponsored advertising channel – but if Google didn’t take action on industrial scale manipulation – it would make the existence of their guidelines redundant.
- If a link is manipulative – it is spam – according to the Googleplex.
- You don’t need machine automation to be classed as a spammer. Somebody sitting at a desk making these low-quality links all day – manually – to fool only Google – that’s spam too – manual or not.
- Posting lots of low-quality guest posts or low-quality press releases on sites with a history of spamming Google – that’s spam too. It all comes down to the end product – the type of link you generate as a result of your activity.
- If links are designed ‘JUST’ to manipulate Google – Google calls them unnatural links – and if you have too many of them – you get a ‘penalty’ – or at least swept up in the carnage of the next negative algorithm update designed specifically to de-rank sites with those kind of links. Ranking adjustments, I think, could be based on how long you got away with fooling Google – and what Google thinks that deserves.
- The website link building industry was largely based on that kind of unnatural link building activity. Many still do practice those techniques now, clearly, ignoring the guidelines. I know the first links I ever ‘built’ would today be labelled ‘unnatural’ today – and so would my first optimisation techniques – but it’s a recognisable trend in Google what’s grey hat SEO today is black hat seo tomorrow.
- Take note that if it works to manipulate Google without you jumping through the value add hoop in the middle of that strategy, which Google demands you jump through – it’s spam. In short, it is evident if it is a scalable approach to manipulating Google – it’s spam.
- The professional services industry, which is led heavily by the Google PR machine, has little chance of deviating from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, for fear of, some say, Google’s heavy handed approach.