Google's link analysis has become increasingly complex and sophisticated. What passed as standard operating procedure, let's say 18 months ago has since become outdated. More importantly, a distinction is being drawn between what we are calling natural and unnatural links.
Google considers a natural link to be the expected end result of all the SEO and digital marketing that websites engage in, such as blogging and social media marketing. If a customer finds you through great content you have created, that is due to natural links. A link in your blog directing the reader to more information on the subject is called an editorial link, and is a perfect example of a natural link. However, unnatural links have been more loosely defined.
Generally, unnatural links are artificial links which purposely manipulate a page's ranking. These can include purchased links, or links which spammers surreptitiously attach to your site. Lately, though, a lot of other types of links have attracted the wrong kind of attention from Google, including some which were long presumed to be innocent. This is because Google, in their Webmaster Tools document, is a little vague in setting their standards.
'Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.'
The document goes on to list examples of unnatural link building, but leaves the door open to some interpretation. Understandably, Google is more interested in building the positives '- create great content that people will want to share over listing negatives that apply mostly to people trying to game the system.
One common practice which many web developers, including CommonPlaces, have employed for years, is posting links to their website on the footers of the sites they have designed. It is such a widely held custom that web designers and developers became very alarmed when informed that these links may be considered 'unnatural' links and therefore may actually hurt their rankings. Some would say that this is the equivalent of an artist adding his signature to a painting. Others would liken this practice to a roofer permanently posting his sign outside the home of a client.
Whichever view you take, if your site has this posted to the footer, it is highly suggested that you:
- Add a rel='nofollow' attribute to the tag.
- Redirect links to a page that is blocked from search engines using a robots.txt file.
The "nofollow" code attribute provides webmasters with a method to command search engines not to follow a specific link. The robots.txt file tells web spiders to ignore any link found here. Employing both methods will ensure your compliance in Google's link analysis, and save your site from search engine penalties.
Have you taken steps lately to follow Google's policies? Are there some which you still don't understand, or agree with? We'd like to hear your opinions.