Google Modifies Definition of “Link Schemes”

Provides View into the Future of SEO

As Google is so integral to the modern marketing effort, any hint of a change to its search algorithm gets immediate attention. Google usually notifies its users of possible changes on its Webmaster guideline pages or has members of its Web Spam team discuss the changes in public or on video releases.

Two weeks ago, Google included a notation on its Link Schemes page that adds links contained in press releases and guest blog posts among those that could be non-compliant with Google’s guidelines. Google Web Spam team member John Mueller followed this up in a video hangout in which he noted that links for distributed content like press releases should in the future include a “no-follow” tag.

Is this a hint of some upcoming modifications? We think so. Google doesn’t invest effort like this unless it intends to institute some changes.

Links as “Votes:”
One of the mainstays of online marketing and Search Engine Optimization has been acquisition of links that direct readers back to one’s website. These links are viewed as ‘votes’ or endorsements by the search engines. The more votes or links, the more likely the website would be viewed by the search engines as the best result for a user searching for the information contained within that page. As search engines present their best results first on the search engine results pages, links are very important in attracting new website visitors and even in generating sales and revenue.

You Can No Longer Vote for Yourself:
On July 18, Google updated its Webmaster Guidelines by further defining what type of links now may violate Google’s guidelines. Included in the new definition of unfavorable links is:

 “Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.”

This implies that links to sponsored websites will not be valued as they were in the past and may even invite a Google penalty should Webmasters generate many of these types of links.

Google’s Mueller stated that any distributed content that contains links to one’s own site should be set with a “no-follow” attribute or tag. Other Website owners that choose on their own to write about your content or findings and set links to your Website do not need to set the “no-follow” tag.

According to Mueller, this allows you to promote your Website using links to invite readers, but you wouldn’t receive any ‘votes” or link credit from any content that you produce yourself. In other words, you can set links to your pages in content that you distribute, but you can’t vote for yourself.

By this definition, content distributed by guest blogging and press releases now should only contain links that are “no-followed” or set in a certain way so that the Google robots don’t follow these links back to your Website. Setting a no-follow attribute or tag on a link then prevents any search engine benefit from being given to the destination website.

What This Means:
Outreach via guest blogging is a great strategy to invite visitors, but it now appears that any long term SEO value from these efforts may be reduced. Press Release distribution can invite readers to the sponsor’s website, but by setting links to a “no-follow” state, the ability to improve search engine placement will be diminished. (Google has for some time indicated that links contained in press releases carry no SEO value, but research found that this was not always the case.)

Strategies to attract Website visitors as well as improve search engine placement now have to change.  Check back next week for the follow up post where we will discuss the Future of SEO and effective content strategies.

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