The Dark Side of Digital Marketing – SEO & Link Building in 2013

Andrew Birkitt

Lead Technical Engineer
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

As I sit here at my desk pondering SEO and link building in the current search engine climate I decided it would be a good idea to put pen to paper, or more appropriately finger to keyboard. Well I have already managed to cause controversy in my opening sentence, mentioning two terms that lead only to the dark side in many people’s eyes.

Matt "Yoda" Cutts

However call it what you will we all still aim to improve sites rankings and that will always require a form of optimization for search engines. I am not for a second saying that you should look to manipulate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, but what I am saying is that it is only natural to align yourself with practices that will achieve the best results in terms of rankings and search traffic. Part of this will always be link building, whether it is done actively or passively. Matt Cutts and Google haven’t come up with a completely new algorithm overnight which eliminates the benefit of gaining links to your site as a vote of confidence or more appropriately authority. What they have done is push the emphasis on earning your links and making sure you realise that your methods must be more natural.

This leads on to the question of what is natural?

  • Well I can tell you that building your own linking network of sites isn’t natural.
  • Adding links on any site that will accept your keyword stuffed anchor text is definitely spam.
  • Paying for advertorials is definitely a very bad idea as this has been the focus of many of the recent interviews and comments by Matt Cutts.
  • Another unnatural practice which has been highlighted over the last week and is likely to land you in hot water with Google is embarking on mass article or guest posting campaigns that focus on gaining specific keyword anchor text links.

Here is a link to the latest guidelines on link schemes from Google:

With a lot going on in terms of Google updates everyone is being very cautious about the tactics they are using to make sure they are doing well in the SERPs. As I said in my last post you need to focus on your site and not primarily on what Google updates are doing. Chasing the algorithm is like running a race that you have lost before you start. What I think needs to be highlighted is the fact that Google rewards great sites; a good example of this is site speed. I have experienced the impact of having a very fast and a very slow site. I will shortly be writing a full in-depth post on this, but back to this post, we need to focus on producing a site that visitors love and find a pleasure to use. Google then believes that we will be rewarded for this both by their algorithm and by the fact that we will gain more links naturally. Don’t for a second think that what Google is pointing out means that all the practices mentioned in their link schemes page should be abandoned completely. What they are saying is use some of them but do it in moderation, as with most things in life this is ok and a more natural practice, helping them distinguish those that are manipulating the system and those that are truly working to build something great.

Guest Posting

Guest posting is still a great tool for the marketing of your site, brand and yourself as an author. This fact is clearly highlighted by Google encouraging people to sign up for Google plus and setup authorship. Completely wiping out any benefit of guest posting would only lead to a major part of the benefit of the internet and what Google stands for being damaged – information sharing. Just make sure when you do it that you aren’t purely doing it for a link and that you aren’t producing a large number of content thin posts. Write guest posts to share worthy information and build your reputation as an authority in your niche, that way everyone will benefit. Make sure that any link you place in this type of post is relevant and I would suggest highly specific.

Paid Advertorials

Another controversial suggestion I want to make is the fact that you may well still want to considered paid advertorials, but not for the aim of gaining a link, but for the aim of gaining exposure to a highly targeted audience. Go on, ask for a no-follow, you will still see benefit even if it is not directly impacting your rankings as once may have been the case. By thinking outside of the box you may find what you have paid for is of value, as it may still lead to links from the audience it was exposed to.

Link Exchanges

By lumaxart (Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

With the idea of link exchanges or linking between partner sites; Google puts an emphasis on the excessive. I would suggest that if you have a sister site you do place a single followed link between them, but not a sitewide link. I have seen several sites recently that have sitewide followed links with their partner sites. You need to make the decision about whether one single link on a page, such as your homepage, will be sufficient for the user to find it. If this isn’t the case and you think it would be better from a usability perspective to have a sitewide link between your sites then make sure you add a rel=”nofollow”. This clearly tells Google that you need the link as it is, but you aren’t using it to manipulate PageRank.

Forum and Blog Commenting

One more link scheme that needs highlighting and is my pet hate; forum and blog comment links. Used in the correct manner forum links definitely have their place. Take for instance a hobbyist forum about some type of vehicle and a link to a supplier of relevant spare parts. However those that just try to spam forum comments need to realise that Google and Webmasters cottoned on to this a long time ago. When I have been working on sites that have needed their link profile cleaning up I have seen many anchor text specific links in the actually posts and signatures – the majority of which were no followed! Don’t be afraid of adding a link in a blog comment or forum if it is in the correct scenario, in other words it would add weight to the comment.

So what else can we do to build links for Authority?

Well, it is clear that the basic principle of link building and in turn SEO is that we should produce great content that can be exposed to a relevant audience under the guise of an authority in that specific niche. The challenge comes in every aspect of this, and that is why you need to set out with a plan to achieve this goal – that is true digital marketing and dare I say it SEO! Quick wins in terms of search engines are becoming few and far between once the on-page factors have been properly crafted without over-optimisation.

Get Your Social On

Many businesses don’t see the benefit of social media and the effort that it takes to build up a decent following. They want to be able to quantify the benefit of social media,  although this can be monitored to some extent with utm tracking parameters, when you post a link you need to look far beyond this. Building up an audience and making sure that you truly engage with them will increase your authority within your niche. It will also give you a highly relevant target audience for exposing your content to. Not only will this help when you want to publish your content, but it will also help when you want to find other opportunities such as guest posting. Social media does take time to do, but if something you produce goes viral that time will be more than justified. It also needs to be taken into account that being proactive on social media will help with your reputation management, as you will be talked about on social channels whether you have a presence or not, make sure you are there and benefit in every way.

Make sure your content has an identity
Make sure that you have setup a Google plus profile and that you have setup authorship on your content. This is a simple process that can be done following these simple guidelines:

This will help to start making you recognisable in your niche through the content you produce and the contributions you make to relevant communities. Use this to help grow your digital footprint!
Creating Great Content

In order to create great content that people want to link to you need to make sure you are offering them something over and above the norm in terms of an information resource. Alternatively you can create great content that is absolutely up-to-date. There are great posts online that have become dated, so you could take them and put your own spin on them and publish as current. I was recently at the @lincstweetmeet event and I heard @JonathanOB_ talk about how he has made the Oxford Street Waterstones twitter profile so popular. He has built a personality and he makes sure that he includes anything current that is making the news and he relates it to book, usually with a touch of comedy. This has been very successful and should be considered when you are looking at building your online persona and producing natural content. Could you make your reach further by relating what you do and what you are writing about to current events in the press? As a side note I would highly recommend following @WstonesOxfordSt.

Link Building & SEO by Any Other Name….

Link Building and SEO will always exist, even if they are disguised as something else, how we go about them will evolve along with any other process. Don’t be afraid of these terms or what they are just make sure that you are going about them in the right way, placing your focus on quality over quantity. Remember moderation is a great thing and as I pointed out in previous posts you should make sure that you are in this for the long haul building something that will stand the test of time!

Featured Image Credit: By Tom Bayly from England (British Night Sky  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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