In this guest column, Digital 360’s strategic partnerships manager Don Milne (pictured below), takes a look at the dangers of Google’s SEO and brands hitching a ride on your website…
Google’s search ranking algorithm is complex beyond understanding. The few things we know for sure about search engine optimisation (SEO) are the things Google has told us.
Last year, Andrey Lipattsev, a search quality senior strategist at Google said, “I can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site” when asked what the most important ranking factors were, as reported by Search Engine Land.
Which means people can you use backlinks to attack your website or your clients’ websites.
What has this done to the digital marketing landscape in the last year?
Links have always been an important ranking factor. Links from high-quality, authoritative websites boost your rankings while links from untrustworthy or spammy websites hurt your rankings.
With Google reasserting their importance, it has given rise to new black hat SEO tactics. The danger of valuing backlinks so highly is that you do not have direct control over who links to your website.
This means that your competitors, disgruntled former employees, disgruntled customers, or anyone who feels like it can pay for a service that sends hundreds of low-quality links to your website to damage your search result rankings.
In a time when the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google, this can have a devastating impact on businesses.
What can you do about it?
If you or a client’s website has slipped in the search rankings, it’s worth having a look at your backlinks. You can use online tools such as moz.com and majestic.com to check the who is linking to your website.
A negative SEO attack is pretty easily identified. There will be potentially hundreds of links from untrustworthy looking websites. You can disavow the links using Google’s webmaster tools to neutralise their negative effect.
You should also consider proactively gaining good links to your website. This can be done with things like relevant directory listings and guest blog posts. To do this the right way, everything you do should provide value for users. Guest blog posts must have unique, useful content on a relevant website for the link to your site to have any value.
In Google’s ideal world, all links would be made organically. You write good content, so people link to your website. More good links makes your website more authoritative. Unfortunately, not many people will link to your business’s website if you sell pallets or oil-water separators.
There are plenty of ways to improve your backlink profile without resorting to black-hat tactics.
SEO agencies have a responsibility to be proactive about getting good links pointing to their clients’ websites. This can be done without violating any of Google’s quality guidelines or using black hat tactics.
In all likelihood, your competitors are already doing it.
What should Google do about it?
According to Google’s policies and everything they have said; black hat tactics shouldn’t still be effective. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.
To be fair, Google has improved a lot in recent years, and there are many black hat tactics which no longer work. The same kind of backlinks that are being used for negative SEO attacks were formerly sold as a positive SEO tactic.
Google recognised this behaviour and now penalises websites for it, which is what makes weaponised backlinks possible.
It’s very frustrating to see competitors benefit from circumventing Google’s policies. Eventually, negative SEO attacks likely to become ineffective as well. But until then, we all need to be vigilant about our links and continue doing things the right way for ourselves and our clients.