Whether it be to your website, blog, online profile, or other web property, acquiring quality links is critical to improving your search engine visibility. But your approach to building links can have serious consequences for your professional reputation, and of course, your reputation within search engines. This post will explore two major competing theories of link building.
The Google Position
In a nutshell, the Google position is that you should only acquire links “naturally”. Google provides several guidelines for helping Google find, index, and rank your site. Here are just a couple of Google’s quality guidelines:
Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.
Another great source for information on “The Google Position” is Google’s Official Webmaster Central Blog. Recently, Google has shared some pretty specific advice for building natural links:
Get involved in the community around your topic. Interact and contribute on forums and blogs. Just keep in mind to contribute in a positive way, rather than spamming or soliciting for your site. Just building a reputation can drive people to your site. And they will keep on visiting it and linking to it. If you offer long-lasting, unique and compelling content — something that lets your expertise shine — people will want to recommend it to others. Great content can serve this purpose as much as providing useful tools.
A Professional Link Builder’s Position
For “the other position” we turn to a case study performed by one of the foremost professional search marketers, Michael Gray. Here is a brief summary of his arguments (although I recommend you check out the full case study):
This is a post of why natural link building seems to be no longer working, despite Google not admitting that.
I don’t know how many times Google have said: “Produce great content and if users find it useful, they’ll recommend and link to you.” But Google, how do I get these people to even come through your engine? “Produce great content and they’ll (somehow) come. They’ll find your content and recommend you!”
Google mantra “Build great content and users will find you” isn’t valid anymore.
Building great content is just one piece of the puzzle (so I’m not saying building great content is bad, I’m just saying it’s one piece of the puzzle, not everything.)
A good question to ask someone from Google once they start saying ‘produce great content’ is: “Do you have any proof that the majority of sites got their SERPs on the basis of following your advice for ‘producing good content’ and that was all they did?” According to my experience, that is far from the truth and I have hard evidence for that. Do you have any hard evidence to back up your claim?
So What Is A Law Firm To Do?
Before I give you my take on this debate, there are two things that you should know. First, I help law firms increase there visibility online. And yes, when a client approves, in a manner that the client approves, I help increase the quantity and quality of links to their web properties. Second, your professional reputation is more valuable than any ranking, number of visitors, or number of leads that your web properties may produce. Anything that you do online must put your professional reputation first. That being said, each legal professional will have to decide “the how, what, and why” they engage in online reputation building.
The truth is that both sides of the debate have merit. Google is right, gaining natural links to your web properties through the strategies they endorse can produce excellent results. In fact, the links to Gray’s blog that I have provided here, come from natural linking. In the end, search engines control their algorithms, and are constantly tweaking them to reward natural link building and penalize artificial link building. However, the algorithms aren’t perfect.
Michael Gray is also right. Need proof? Just go to Google and search for some of your core target keywords. Who has the top spots for the organic results? I bet you a free half hour of my consulting time that each site in the top three positions is engaging in some form of “unnatural” or “artificial” link building.
The truth is, neither strategy is very effective by itself. You can’t simply pick a side with this stuff. You can’t say: this approach is far more important than the other. Both are necessary to improve your chances. … And yes, I do have trouble understanding why anyone would intentionally place limits on their efforts. It’s like playing an entire golf course with your driver. I’m not shooting under par with either approach, but I like my chances with a full bag.
Takeaways: Produce and distribute the best content you can. Do your best to stay within the guidelines. Don’t have unrealistic expectations about the results that “writing great content” alone will produce. Always think about what impact any strategy in which you engage will have on your professional reputation.