Business technology

SEO and backlinks: A question of risk management

- September 12, 2012 3 MIN READ

Business owners need to be more vigilant about SEO and building backlinks to improve their website’s ranking now that Google has changed its search engine formula.

A ‘backlink’ is a link from another website that connects the visitor through to your website. Examples include other people recommending your website on blogs, forums and social media.

Google considers backlinks to be very important in determining where to rank your site in its listings. Because of this, in the past it has been common for website owners and search engine optimisation (SEO) providers to actively seek out backlinks to elevate sites in Google’s rankings.

Google has never really liked people doing it, but up until relatively recently it wasn’t doing a whole lot about it.

However, Google’s latest algorithm updates have gone a long way towards changing this. Google is getting smarter and smarter at figuring out which sites are valuable for users (those that have established a legitimate and natural backlink profile) and which websites have been given a helping hand.

In short, the somewhat ‘grey hat’ (artificial) backlink-building techniques that used to be very effective now carry more risks, such as the site devaluing or dropping from the index.

One implication of this is business owners must be more cautious when outsourcing their SEO. In the past you could leave it up to the ‘experts’ with no questions. These days, it’s important to understand exactly how SEO providers plan on boosting your rankings so that you can assess the risks.

A lot of advice out there suggests to stop backlinking altogether. The truth is: most forms of active link building are going to carry some sort of risk. To me, it’s really just a case of how much risk you want to take on.

Want more articles like this? Check out the SEO techniques section.

Here are three approaches to SEO and acquiring backlinks that illustrate my point about risk.

1. Create great content

This is what Google wants you to do and is very low, if not zero risk. But one look at the front page of Google for most keywords will tell you that often the top performers have done something other than create great content to achieve a high ranking. Creating great content is a long-term strategy, but it’s unlikely to get you ranking ahead of fierce competitors in the short term.

2. Do some active ‘natural’ link building

Some people refer to this as ‘white hat’ link building. It refers to links built by commenting on other relevant blogs, inserting them in your forum signature, guest posting, adding your site to relevant and high-authority industry directories, and reaching out to site owners with broken links to replace them with links to your site.

This sort of work is still considered ‘link building’ but is fairly low risk, so long as you ensure the links are all on high quality, relevant sites; that you don’t go overboard with the amount of links; and that you don’t use too many exact keywords as your link text (Google sees hyperlinked keywords as artificial, and hyperlinked terms such as “read more” or “click here” as more natural).

3.  ‘Grey hat’ link building

This could cover article spinning (rewriting and posting relevant content), bulk directory submission (adding your backlink to numerous online directories), automated blog commenting and paid links. These practices are on Google’s radar and are the types of back linking that now carry a decent amount of risk.

Does that mean it doesn’t work? No, not necessarily. I know SEO experts who have websites solely built using these techniques that are still ranking well.

Does it mean you will get banned if you do it? Again, not necessarily; but it definitely increases the risk of your site being devalued.

So what should you do?

Rather than tell you what you should do, my advice would be to educate yourself on the options. If you are outsourcing SEO, find out exactly what your SEO company is doing and decide for yourself which level of risk is acceptable to you.

Will you focus on creating quality content and not worry about backlinks to improve your SEO? Or will you actively look for more backlinks?