“It isn’t terribly difficult for Google to distinguish between nofollow links that are blocked carte blanche across the board, but really should be considered more closely, versus links that are selectively nofollow, like those in comments or user generated content…
…if you had to ask if I wanted a nofollow link from Wikipedia, versus a followed link from some no-name blogger with no authority, I’m going to choose the Wikipedia link, time and time again. Google has the capacity to measure all sorts of things about a link, besides just whether or not its followed – the capacity to save themselves from the monster they’ve created.”
– Episode 1. Featuring Russ Jones, Moz, Technical SEO Podcast | Season 1
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.
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 (side note: I am not afraid of backlinks). 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.