Give the Folks at Google What They Want

Recent developments on the Google front have web marketers and SEO specialists talking even more than usual. What they're talking about is the changing Search Engine Optimization landscape. Some of the traditional assumptions about what gets good Google ranking have been challenged by things Google has said over the last few months -- especially by the filing of their most recent patent application.

A number of sensible suggestions have emerged about good SEO practice. Here is one of the most important:

Don't add links too quickly or all from one or two sources -- Google wants a "natural" linking pattern.

This is not a new suggestion, but Google seems to be prepared to penalize sites which engage in blatant link buying. Clearly this is targeted at services that sell links by the hundreds (or thousands). So one month a site has no links, and the next month it has 2,000 or 20,000 links from one or two "name" sites. Obviously these links have happened because of link buying.

Is Google trying to discourage all link buying? I don't think so. Links are just a form of advertising, and Google cannot discourage buying advertising without being blatantly inconsistent. Google itself is one of the primary sources of purchased web advertising, and it would be a blatant abuse of their dominant position to discriminate against smaller advertising networks who are offering a legitimate service to webmasters.

As I read the situation, what Google is trying to do is safeguard the integrity of their search results by ruling out massive overnight link purchases. We're talking thousands of links here. Without these safeguards, search results can be dramatically skewed by the practice of buying large chunks of links. There is clearly something wrong with a system that claims that link popularity is an indicator of site quality if a site suddenly has thousands of inbound links when just a week ago it had none.

This practice makes a mockery of the importance of links. Their only purpose is to exploit the system and make a dramatic impact on Page Rank and Search Engine positioning. Google wants Page Rank and search results to flow from website quality and relevance. And virtually all SEO experts have maintained that quality and relevance come fairly gradually as a site grows and its content develops. The "natural" development of links should happen more or less in lock step with the development of content.

This does not mean that the importance of links has been diminished. Just the opposite. Google is reconfirming their position that the number and quality of links pointing at specific web pages is the most significant indicator of the importance of that web page.

Nor does it mean that a webmaster should never buy links on legitimate websites. On the contrary, it means that links should be acquired and developed consistently and steadily over time, and that the quality of your link partners matters more than ever. This applies whether your links are the result of exchanges, purchases, blogging, article publishing, or any of the other established techniques for building traffic through linking.

When you are looking for link partners you should look at the quality of the sites linking back to you. Ask yourself how relevant is the content in the pages, what is the balance between content and links, how often are these pages updated, how much traffic do these pages get, do these pages link to "authority" sites like Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Microsoft.

All of these things matter more now than they ever have.

Rick Hendershot publishes the Linknet Advertising Network, a group of more than 35 websites and blogs offering web owners advertising and link promotion opportunities.

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