The SEO industry often finds itself in thrall to Google, and to one person in particular: its head of webspam Matt Cutts.

His team effectively operates Google’s non-paid results police force. Sites deemed to have flouted the search engine’s webmaster guidelines may face justice in the form of ranking penalties. Cutts and the Google Webmaster team produce plenty of useful videos detailing many aspects of website optimisation and, more often than not, he is answering questions from people who’ve kept on the right side of their rules.

Occasionally, however, he will tell people to stop using a specific tactic because it’s descended into the realm of what Google considers to be spam. At this point, there’s a good chance that Google will be looking to put a stop to it. Such a post appeared on Cutts’ blog in January stating:

“Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.”

While the warning was pretty clear, he did acknowledge that guest posting as a promotional tactic had been around long before Google (and indeed the world wide web) existed. Guest editorials, opinion pieces, columns and letters to the Editor have long been a staple of the printed press.

But it is the “way to gain links” that is the salient phrase in Cutts’ statement, because it is their manipulation that most bothers Google. Put simply, a link from one website to another can count as a ‘vote of confidence’ for the content it links to, and is one of the most important of more than 200 factors used by Google’s ranking algorithm.

The issue is that both Google and web links are open to abuse, with some SEOs having spent many years looking to manipulate the use of links using a wide range of tactics to try and improve the rankings of the websites they are working for. The scale of the activity is such that Google has a page dedicated to link schemes it does not like. This page is worth paying attention to, because excessive use of these types of schemes is likely to get a website flagged and could potentially incur a ranking penalty.

While it is difficult to know Google’s exact definition of link spam, anecdotal evidence suggests that websites with large quantities of links from a small number of domains, heavily repeated anchor text links and links from irrelevant sites are those that might cross its threshold.

That said, many of these schemes have proved successful in the past, with many businesses taking the “Lance Armstrong stance” of: “If everyone else is doing it, then why not me?”

The answer is that while such schemes may work in the short term, significant penalties have been incurred by JC PenneyInterflora and, allegedly, Expedia.

Crucially, considerable time and effort is needed in recovering from these penalties.

So what does this mean for the communications industry?

While much has been made of the negative impact that the blacklisting of guest posts will have, for marcoms professionals there is a silver lining in that their skills should be in more demand than ever.

The objective of good quality communications is to: raise brand awareness, generate sales leads, increase website traffic or help clients penetrate new markets. In SEO terms, this activity can result in high quality links from one website to another. Rather than soliciting or even offering to explicitly pay for links, a PR campaign can create a great story that publishers are happy to link to.

Moreover, campaigns can help in the development and strategic placement of “marquee content” on a website, so this too can be promoted and linked to. As such, the ways in which PR can support the website optimisation process are myriad.

Google provides a succinct summary of how links should be perceived: “[They] are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”

This is the mindset that needs to be adopted to ensure that the quality links required to get the best search visibility should be a by-product of great quality content and promotion, not a means to an end in themselves.

Want to know more?

Get in touch

We’d love to hear about your business challenges and talk about how we can help solve them.