Google’s John Mueller answered a question about link building practices in an Office Hours hangout. Mueller outlined Google’s passive and proactive actions against certain links and offered suggestions for a better way to acquire links.
Is it Necessary to Spend Thousands of Dollars for Links?
The person asking the question noted that he watched many link building YouTube videos and read case studies that demonstrated that link building is necessary for best rankings.
The question asked:
“…The question is on link building practices. So we …approached many… companies… they say they will charge thousands of dollars or ten thousands of dollars to get the link… from the home page or the news sites and…
They also talk a lot… about …we should get a high authority …link and stuff like that.”
Next he explained how companies he approached showed him examples of sites that were high ranking because of their link building.
The person continued:
“…they also showcase that okay, see this is a site which is ranking high on …Google and …they have taken our service and they have paid us.
So if you pay us then your site will also rank because we are going to put …your site backlink with the good article on the home page…”
Are “Such Practices” Necessary to Rank in Google?
Next he questioned the wisdom of spending money on what he perceived as low quality link building, what he called, “such practices,” implying manipulative practices.
He seemed troubled that according to the link building claims, Google’s search rankings reward manipulative practices that cost thousands of dollars.
He continued the question:
“I don’t think that it is wise to put money in such practices or not. Like what are your opinion, like what are your final wordings?
And one more thing. …There are a lot of people over at YouTube and they’re writing a lot of blogs also like these are the best link building practices, you do this… and you do like that and they are charging a lot of money but we don’t want to engage in such stuff like that.”
The person asking the question ended by asking:
“We just want to know… what we should do now?“
Screenshot of John Mueller in the Office Hours Hangout
How Google Treats Manipulative Link Building
John Mueller related how Google treats artificial links:
“What should you do now…
I think that’s a super complicated question because there’s no one answer for everyone.
So I think first of all, like you probably recognized, artificially building links, dropping links on other sites, buying links, all of that is against the webmaster guidelines.
And we take action on that algorithmically, we take action on that manually.
And the actions that we take include demoting the site that is buying the links, demoting the site that is selling the links.
Sometimes we also take more subtle action in that we just ignore all of those links.”
Screenshot of John Mueller Explaining How Google Handles Paid Links
Google: Paid Links Have No Effect
Google’s John Mueller says paid links have no effect:
“For example if we recognize that a site is regularly selling links but they also have other things around that, then we often go in and say okay, we will ignore all links on this website.
That basically means …a lot of these sites are things where people still sell links because it’s like they can sell it and they find a seller then of course they’ll try to do that.
But those links have absolutely no effect.
So that seems like a big waste of time from my point of view.”
Mueller Describes Non-Black Hat Links
Mueller ends his answer by suggesting Google-friendly link building tactics.
His first suggestion is the classic create content and tell others about it approach. It’s an oldie but a goodie but it can work.
Mueller suggests to build it and tell others about it:
“That said, I do think that there are ways that you can approach the topic of links in a way that is less black hat where you’re buying links from other sites.
But where you’re actually kind of actively creating content that you know will attract links and then going out and reaching out to other sites and saying hey, we have this interesting content, don’t you want to take a look at it.
And …kind of encouraging them to link to your site but without this kind of exchange of value, exchange of money, all of that.
And that’s something where some people are very experienced in doing that and they can really kind of guide you to find those topic areas that are interesting for other people.”
Building Links to Product Pages is Hard
Creating content and telling others about it isn’t always an appropriate strategy for an ecommerce website. An ecommerce website offers products, not articles.
Attracting links to product pages is one of the toughest kinds of links to acquire because people generally don’t feel enthusiastic about certain products and when they do feel enthusiastic the typical ecommerce store is one store of out thousands selling the same product.
The problem with attracting links to product pages is that it’s extremely difficult to make the case that one store out of thousands is more deserving of a link than the other stores selling identical products.
The tactic of building content to help rank a product page rarely works because the links acquired for that content boosts the content and not the products.
One can internally link from the content pages to the product pages and that might help.
But I’ve rarely seen that happen, even for content pages that went viral.
There is simply no replacement for a direct link to a products page.
Here’s what John Mueller said about acquiring links:
“Where if you’re selling refrigerators then obviously a category page of refrigerators is not going to be very interesting for other people.
But if you can create a survey around refrigerators that is somehow fascinating to others that’s something that’s a lot more interesting for people where they say, oh… here’s this really cool survey about refrigerators.
Did you know that they were like this or they were invented like this or whatever.
That’s the kind of thing where you’re creating something that other people find interesting that other people want to link to.
From my point of view that’s the kind of link building that I have less of an issue with because you’re creating something that other people are linking to it because of what you’ve created.
But it’s not that other people are linking to your content because you’re giving them money to do that or because you have kind of these back door relationships with the other site.
So that’s kind of the direction I would take there.”
Mueller Warns Against Link Building Shortcuts
Next Mueller turns away from offering constructive suggestions for building links and returns to discouraging short term solutions because they can get you banned, don’t go for short term rewards at the expense of long term success. That’s pretty much what he advised (you can watch the video below if you’re interested).
Links More Important than Popularity?
Some sites have built-in advantages that help them acquire links.
For example, a wildly popular store cannot rank for their key terms, forcing them to pay to rank for those terms. Their popularity is driven through social media.
A keyword phrase that the popular store should rank has a search result that has in fourth place a regional brick and mortar with stores in a handful of rural states.
Site A is the wildly popular store and Site B is the regional store.
Google Trends Showing Search Popularity of Two Online Stores
Site A is wildly popular online with tens of millions of followers on social media.
Site B has social media followers in the low six figures.
The Google Trends graph makes it clear that there is enormous search traffic for Site A’s brand name but Google ranks a relatively unpopular website as #4 for a highly coveted two word keyword phrase.
The relatively unpopular Site B is a regional site that acquires many links from regional news media sites. They also have live links (with coupon codes) from “influencers” which seems to indicate an active promotional campaign.
How Popular is Site A?
Here is a Google Trends graph showing how Site A is nearly as popular as McDonald’s:
Google Trends Graph Comparison with McDonald’s
As you can see, site A is nearly as popular as McDonald’s but it can’t outrank a regional store that happens to have decent links…
Circling back to the person who asked John Mueller the question, one can understand the frustration that is inherent in the question that was asked:
“We just want to know… what we should do now?“
Watch John Mueller answer discuss link building at 1 minute mark:
How to Write For Google
Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?
I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.”
I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.
As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story.
I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.
Items to review before you start your SEO writing project
– Do you have enough information about your target reader?
Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions.
Here’s more information on customer personas.
– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?
It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.
Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today.
– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources
When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.
– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?
Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.
– Did you conduct keyphrase research?
Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.
Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.
If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.
– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?
Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.
– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?
Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!
Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.
— Do your keyphrases match the search intent?
Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position.
— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?
Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”
– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?
Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.
As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.
– Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?
Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power.
Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential.
– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?
Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!
– Is your content written in a conversational style?
With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.
Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.
Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.
–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?
A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.
Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.
Items to review after you’ve written the page
– Did you use too many keyphrases?
Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.
– Did you edit your content?
Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.
– Is the content interesting to read?
Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.
– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?
Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.
Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.
– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?
“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals.
Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.
– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?
Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.
Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.
– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?
If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.
Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.
– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?
What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.
Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.
– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)
Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.
– Does the page include too many choices?
It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.
– Did you include benefit statements?
People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.
– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?
It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.
Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful.
And finally — the most important question:
– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?
SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics?
If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job.
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