“…perhaps the greatest sin is to attempt to fool God – that is, game Google’s search algorithm. There are 3.5 billion search queries a day, so in essence the search algorithm gets one three-billionth better every time you search. But that’s not always the case. In 2011, a New York Times investigation revealed that a consultant working for JCPenney had created thousands upon thousands of false links to make it seem as though the JCPenney site was more relevant (that is, had a greater number of other sites linking to it). That false evidence led Google’s algorithm to rank the site near the top of its search results, which juiced sales. When the Times uncovered this optimization, JCPenney promptly felt the wrath of God. The company was banished to oblivion: second page on Google’s search results, the equivalent of being left on the far bank of the Jordan River.”
– The Four, Scott Galloway
I’m glad relevant, contextual back links continue to be the strongest ranking factor within Google1. This is the hardest element of SEO to build – the hardest to fake. And I emphasize relevant, because at the end of the day domain authority is a metric that can be manipulated.
It’s no surprise that trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites. And when a news article or blog post or publication links out, they are making a public endorsement of that landing page / domain and associating their brand with it.
That’s risk. This is a static webpage, not a link within a social media post that will shortly disappear from a user’s feed. Furthermore, adding an external link is inviting users to leave your website. A webmaster has to feel strongly about the quality of an external entity in order to associate it with their own.
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I’m also glad that with the Penguin 4.0 algorithm update, spam backlinks are devalued and/or ignored from the overall profile. Systematic attempts to spam your backlink profile can still result in manual actions from the webspam team (as we’re told), but, at last, this removes the threat of negative SEO from competitors, which webmasters shouldn’t have to worry about.
Case in point:
In 2013 I worked on SEO for a junkyard and salvage company in East Orange, New Jersey. We would “burn” competitors, as the owner called it, using ScrapeBox to point massive amounts of spam links at the competitor’s domain. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was that results within Google could be manipulated in this way by anyone with an internet connection, some software, and a comfortable relationship with moral turpitude.
Although, I cannot be too dismissive of the experience… it did force me to get really “creative” with anchor texts.