Shortcuts. Such a negative term, isn’t it? Perhaps we should call it “seeking efficiencies”? But you, it won’t matter what you call it, it’s a bad path to follow when seeking support for your SEO and social activities.
Every day, webmasters are surprised to learn that some tactics they thought were safe because some so-called expert told them it would work, are actually harming their chances of ranking well and driving traffic.
Yup, links still matter. They are still a trust signal that can help ranking. But before you go crazy building links, you need to understand the relative value. None of this should be news.
Direct, one-way links are best. You know, the kind where your site impressed someone enough that they blogged about it, or shared it socially. These are called organic, but you can also think of them as spontaneous as you are not actively working on building them – they simply appear. These are best as they allow the engines the strongest confidence that the link is trustworthy.
I am constantly amazed at the businesses who claim these are the types of links they build. If they truly were building this way, it would be highly cost ineffective for them. Instead, they operate on the network principle, telling you their network is so large it’s safe. Not so, as by their very nature, search engines see and scan the entire internet, so seeing a pattern is pretty easy – even if the pattern is spread across thousands of sites.
Reciprocal links still have value. Shocked? Don’t be, as the value may not be what you’re thinking. They don’t hold a lot of value in terms of lifting rankings, but they are capable of driving traffic to your site, so a recip link can be useful for new sites in terms of direct traffic (assuming the source has traffic of its own, and the link is well placed), and these links (as with almost any other link) can help us find your content I the first place. Trusting them is much more difficult as its still way easy to engineer recip links between sites.
Typically, they won’t harm rankings, so having them in your link profile is not something to fear. As with apples, potato chips, steak and bourbon, moderation is the key.
Advertising links are fine for directly traffic, but stifle the passing of value to a site. Since those networks selling you packages of links noted above are, in fact, selling links plain and simple, when we see these, we don’t pass value.
So if you’re still buying ads – in whatever slick sales format they come in today – at best you’re wasting your company’s money. At worst you’re setting yourself up to damage the domain in a bigger way. Anything resembling a link farm should be avoided, as they are obvious to us, easily seen through, and frankly, we’re less likely to trust your domain when we see it playing on a link farm.
We all want ‘em, and therein lies the problem. Because likes are sought after, people try to sell them. Another dead end, as schemes to drive value by inflating likes artificially are so basically obvious to us, it’s laughable. Similar to how a link farm operates, like farms exist, promising to supply hundreds or thousands of likes in a short period. Yeah, yeah, they claim to be “all natural, totally organic”, etc., etc. Simply put, they are not and are easily seen.
Again, in the vast majority of cases, we simply ignore the effort and signals generated.
Now, naturally generated likes can actually help, as it’s a form of trust signal we understand and want to listen to. After all, if your new widget is setting the world alight, and everyone is liking it, that’s a strong signal to us it’s popular. And since our job is to show the best content to our searchers, it’s the perfect fit of consumers telling us what’s important and the engine responding by ranking that item higher.
Just keep in mind that social signals are only a few of the signals processed, so focusing on them to the exclusion of other signals gives us a lopsided view. Again, balance works best.
Tweets and Retweets
Similar to likes, these have become a commodity. Similar to likes, you should avoid buying them. If the pattern emerges that appears to be engineered, we’ll ignore it – no matter how much it’s costing you. Again, you spend money and get zero return in search.
But what about promoted tweets? Well, it’s been paid for, so we simply look past it in terms of transferring value. We understand the revenue models of the company and we understand the goal of such tweets is not to engineer anything with our rankings, so no drama there. As with so many things, it comes down to intent.
The flip side to many of these tactics is that as a business, it’s perfectly within your rights to sell links on your site and buy advertising on Facebook and Twitter. We have no issue with these points, but help us understand. The buying ads and promotion on Facebook and Twitter are easy to understand. But if you’re selling ads embedded in the middle of your content, meant to look like a normal, one-way link, that’s tougher to explain. And were likely to not believe you simply because, well, you know, so many spammers try this and it’s a really abused tactic. Stick the links off to the side, label them and maybe wrap <nofollow> tags around them. Then you’re signaling a clear intent to us.
Just keep in mind that for every tactic, some will push the limits. We see this and take actions as we think needed. Most are subtle and involve simply not passing the value. In a few instances, though, the actions involve lowering rankings or deindexing content or domains.
Do yourself a favor and avoid shortcuts, or whatever they’re being sold as these days.
Roll your sleeves up and create an experience so compelling that visitors feel the need to share it. You do that and you’ll ride the front seat of the e-ticket ride for a long time to come.
Sr. Product Manager
Bing Webmaster Tools