Backlinks (links to ‘your’ website from another) are important as part of an SEO strategy. If the backlinks are on quality websites and have relevant information around them then search engines may rank your website slightly higher in search results.
You can EARN backlinks by doing ethical things like:
- asking a supplier or referral partner to link to you
- sharing photos or documents in exchange for an attribution link
- donate to charities and publish your logo on their websites
- sponsor a sporting club that links to your website
- participating in an event or expo that links to each participant
- asking a friend who runs a website to mention you in their news/blog
- join a business network that has a directory of members
- register your business in a local business guide
- buy an existing website and publish your link to it
- give expert comment for a blog post of a website
Want some more ideas? Check out this post on moz… about link tactics.
There are lots of ways to get links, most of them are a subtle variation on: giving generously and receiving published recognition and thanks via citation; i.e. you do something helpful and get a link in return. Earning well intentioned links due to your website being an interesting with knowledge, ideas, solutions will help with search engine ranking for years.
How not to get backlinks to a website
Hacking other websites for SEO links is not ethical and probably not even legal!
Paying a hacker to access a website is definitely not something we would consider ethical or sensible. That’s exactly what one business we found seems to have done… paying a supposed SEO expert to hack into other peoples websites and insert links into those pages. There could be a short term improvement in their search positions but it’s not a good long term strategy. It’s a ‘blackhat seo’ strategy to exploit vulnerable websites for gains in Google.
We were looking at the Moz Open Site Explorer (moz.com/researchtools/ose) report for a business in Australia to see what might be contributing to the hundreds of backlinks they had. Further digging in Google for information on this company and their SEO revealed what appears to be questionable website marketing.
Looking at the links to a competitors website might seem an odd thing to do but reverse engineering the backlinks of a website is common practice and it helps uncover new business directories, blogs and websites friendly to advertisers.
We found these spam style backlinks in the source code of multiple websites
All that HTML is not supposed to be there, they are most likely links inserted by some software or person trying to game Google. Essentially it is lots of links with somewhat random text pointing to all sorts of unrelated websites.
And yet the front end of this particular website, what you see if you browse to it, looks fine. There was no visible indication of the hack.
It’s only once you delve into the source code of the page that the link spam becomes apparent. So what can we learn from this.
Choose an SEO provider carefully
Advertising for an ‘SEO’ may not be wise in the first place. Perhaps it would be better to advertise for a talented writer, publicist, speaker and media producer and then get that person to learn how to optimise pages, write blog posts, press releases and host a podcast intead. Whatever the decision a business makes about who to hire for SEO services it is anything but certain that the results will get the increase in traffic and sales desired.
In the haste to gain links to a website an unethical provider could end up causing more harm than good. If you read the wise words of leading SEO experts it is abundantly clear that they advocate doing SEO that is akin to publicity and publishing with outreach rather than links for the sake of SEO.
The best link building methods are just publicity by other names : ref: moz.com
For example, if you write an amazingly detailed blog post on a topic, include terrific graphics, charts, quotes and case studies then announce it to people of influence, and they read it and agree it is valuable they might promote the blog post on social media, their own websites and blogs.
Google figures out what is right and wrong eventually
Google engineers are geniuses. They have Google Chrome, Adwords, Adsense, Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Google Search, Google Maps, Google Android, Gmail, Google+, Youtube and more. A great swath of the internet is Google controlled or monitored and surely use the data they collect to figure out which is the next website that you or I want to see.
Googles engineers know how to write code that can figure out if a link should be on a website or not and if they find that a slab of links embedded in a web page obscured by something like this:
They will soon enough work out how to identify, measure and eliminate the effects of those links.
This kind of coding directly violates Google published webmaster policies:
Hiding text or links in your content to manipulate Google’s search rankings can be seen as deceptive and is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. ref: webmaster tools.
We asked one of the owners of a website with these hidden links if they knew anything about them.
Clearly the website owner had no clue what was lurking beneath the surface of their website.
How could a business end up with such links
Let’s look at how an otherwise honest business could have their website link injected into unsuspecting victims websites. The following is somewhat speculative since we have not interviewed the people who appear to be involved but the trail of evidence is pretty well pointing to some fishy search optimisation practices.
The links had really strange text and the sites they were on clearly did not intend to have such links. The Moz spam score is an indicator of issues too. Here is a short screenshot, there were pages of them.
Speculating what might have happened
Considering all that we can find about the business hiring more than one SEO provider and the kind of links they are getting we can speculate on what lead to this.
- Business A opens and builds a good website and optimises it properly.
- Well established Business B is worried they are losing clients.
- Owner of Business B looks for an SEO fix for their website.
- Results are not what they expected and timeframe is short.
- Another SEO provider is found and hired to do the same job.
- Person/s hired for SEO work get client links injected into other websites.
- Hacked websites discover the links, then clean and secure their pages.
- Backlinks gradually removed and any benefit is lost.
This is speculative but plausible.
Have reasonable expectations of an SEO provider
A few months and you’ll be number 1 on the first page of Google for all your keywords, yeh right, in your dreams. If a website is just knocking on the door of page one and there are not many competitors in your area a Google Maps listing could work well but a couple of months of ‘seo’ is not a recipe for success.
SEO is not a quick fix. If you need a quick fix buy some Google ads or Facebook ads. SEO takes time, it takes planning and adding to and improving a website. The days of doing some spammy stuff on the internet and rocketing a website to the top of page one seem to be well and truly gone.
If you put out offers like this:
Then don’t be surprised when someone says for a few hundred dollars you can be on the first page of Google and that never actually transpires. There are a lot of SEO techniques and keeping up with them is challenging.
There was a further posting where you can see the business owner was growing impatient. The first job post was later followed up with another request for someone to solve these rankings issues.
3 months of SEO? That’s barely long enough to see changes in the rankings let alone take out the top spot.
Customised search results for each person
It would be unwise to get obsessed simply by search rankings. Ultimately what businesses want is for their websites to get new clients, enquiries, sales and visitors. In ‘break-fix’ type of services where customers are in a hurry for a solution Google is the place to be for those leads.
Top positions in Google are not necessarily going to result in new leads, especially for professional services where reputation and referral are preferred. For example, a mortgage broker might be competing for a key word like ‘Sydney home loans’ but if the typical behaviour of consumers is to go to their bank or ask their friends what broker they used then top rankings in Google for such a keyword may not provide a good Return on Investment (ROI). A business in such a position might get a better ROI from their mailing list growing, networking, events, blogging and communicating on social media.
An ethical choice for SEO and backlinking
We are keen proponents of the creation of detailed, interesting, original web pages that Google will index properly. Combining all the technical SEO stuff that we do for our clients, the meta tags, image alts, headings, internal links, trailing slashes, speed optimisation and more with a sensible link building strategy, blogging, content updates, creative input of media and over time a website can rise to an appropriate position in the search rankings. It might not be possible to knock wikipedia off the top spot or beat a multi national company with massive brand weight but being found on the first page of Google where your competitors want to be for suitable, relevant and contestable keywords in your city is a reasonable expectation.