The Ugly Side of Link Building

In Saturday’s New York Times, in a piece called The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, J.C. Penny — not a small firm — is outed for buying hundreds of links in an extensive black-hat SEO campaign – which succeeded. For a while. But we’ll come back to that.

In November they ran a frightening story of an online eyeglasses shop using nasty behavior to “earn” negative comments on review sites because these were seen by Google as any other links, and therefore increased his rankings in the search results!

To understand why these stories are important let’s review some SEO basics.

Successful SEO Depends on 3 Factors

In order to succeed at Search Engine Optimization, you need to account for 3 basic factors:

1)    Keyword Optimization

2)    Code Optimization

3)    Inbound links

We’ll delve into these in future posts but let’s just say that 1) you need to focus your content and navigation on keyword phrases that your customers and prospects are really using in their searches, 2) you must be sure your code facilitates crawling and understanding of your site by the search engines, and 3) you MUST have links from other relevant sites.

Increase Visibility and Authority with Inbound Links

Link popularity is probably the most important factor in ranking a website. Search engines measure the popularity of your site by the quality and quantity of sites that link to yours. If your site does not have competitive link popularity, most likely it will NOT achieve top rankings for your keywords. However, many people mistakenly look only at the quantity of links and not the quality.  And that’s where our stories come in.

JC Penny made that mistake. And so did Tony Russo of DecorMyEyes .com. So much so that he told one disgruntled customer “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” – and threatened to find her and well, it was scary. Just for the links.

Black Hat Works — For a While

So as I said at the beginning, these two techniques -link buying and worse, scaring customers for the bad review links – at first caused the result the two firms were looking for: high rankings in Google for their keywords, and therefore increased sales. But in both these cases, and in other similar but less public cases, when Google figures out what you are doing, the gig is up, and your rankings drop dramatically – or you are removed entirely from their index (in the most extreme cases).

Build Links Carefully and Thoughtfully

The conclusion? Why is this important to you? The mere fact that stories of link building and link buying now make the front page of the business section suggests their critical role in mainstream business marketing today. These were once topics relegated only to the cryptic conversations of back room techies.

But all that has changed. I will repeat what I said above: If your site does not have competitive link popularity, most likely it will NOT achieve top rankings for your keywords. And your site will not be visible. So build links. Get links from blogs, forums, and relevant directories. It is a slow, painful process but I can’t stress enough how important it is to your marketing strategy.

We’ll discuss this more in future posts as well. Meanwhile, are you building links? What kind? How do you get them? What’s your experience?

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