Broken Link Building Promises

September 06, 2014

By Jack Stevens

My last blog post was about how to get your website listed on Google, feel free to have a read of this if you want. This is a beginners guide to the various steps required to get your website listed in Google, even if it is just for your brand terms.

I made a point in this post about link building, and specifically agencies or SEO consultants or “experts” who I see regularly promise volumes of links to their clients. I touched on this point very lightly and thought that there was a lot more to it than what I wrote, so I have decided to dedicate a post warning people about these kind of agencies and consultants. It’s not a dig at any specific person or people, however there is so much incorrect information out in the public domain that if listened to could really harm your website. I want to share some friendly advice about what are the real things to be aware of when choosing an SEO expert to help you with your website or project.

We are a link building agency

I’d always be sceptical of an agency or consultant who claims to solely focus on link building. This would say to me that they are link builders, with not much other thought or care to how this impacts all other areas of the online marketing mix. I’d imagine this would mean that they farm out your website to a number of generic, non industry specific websites that they have “great relationships” with to just try and get some link volume pointing to your site. The best links you can get are topical, relevant links to your website that drive traffic. The content being linked to should add value to the website that is linking to it. That is the whole point, it is more about providing value rather than just getting a link.

I’d be cautious over anyone who just link building as a sole practice without taking into consideration the entire picture.


Promising volume: We can get you *INSERT NUMBER* of links per month for just *INSERT PRICE HERE*

This is probably one of the biggest red flags that you could probably see when searching for someone to help you grow your organic traffic for a number of reasons.

  • For starters, buying links is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you are being promised that £1,000 will get you 50 links, then this will almost definitely mean they are going to go and buy links and there are almost going to be from low quality websites that are not industry related or geographically relevant.
  • Getting a guarantee on the number of links that can be acquired every month is clearly a spammy way of obtaining links. If you are, for use of an overused cliché, “doing great content,” and have a really strong outreach programme that is performing well you will achieve links. However you can never be exactly sure about the number of links that you are going to obtain.
  • Anyone that is focussing on link volume would seem to be focussing on the wrong kind of link attribution strategy. They are more focussed on saying to you “you had 100 unique linking domains to your website when we started, now you have got 150.” Growth is good, but unnatural growth is not so good. I’d be more keen to have 10 links from really authoritative websites with good readership, a strong domain authority and that are in a relevant industry to your business.

Just read the title of this section again, it just screams spam to me and it should do you to, so don’t get led down the wrong path and start worrying about hitting volume every month. Another cliché, but quality over quantity. All – Day – Long.


The mention of the word ‘directory’ at any time

Directory link building. Very 2005. There are a few directories that are still OK to have links from, but the majority of them are just a waste of time now. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google now has flagged every website that has the word “directory” in the URL or page titles anywhere. If you have links from hundreds of directories, then there is no way around it, this is going to get noticed by Google’s search quality team eventually. Maybe not tomorrow, but it will do, trust me.

It was just announced that the Yahoo Directory, once the “Google” of it’s time, has just closed so Yahoo can focus on improving it’s other products. One of the market leading directories that was used as a massive source of information on the web is now closed. This should show you that directories are a dying breed.

A piece of free advice: check your backlink profile and download the list from your tool into Microsoft Excel so you can then filter all the options including name which makes it easier to discover any directory entries. Contact these websites and ask them to remove the link or add the beloved nofollow attribute to the link

Anyone saying that directory link building will form any part of any link building strategy, big or small, is someone you should avoid like the plague!


Over emphasis on the Google Page Rank of the links

It is not uncommon to hear that an SEO or agency will only target page rank 4 websites and above and in many ways this is fine, however there is a lot more to consider when determining the quality of a link.

First of all, it seems that Google has taken a step back in how often they are updating page rank. Below are the most recent updates.

  • 6 December 2013
  • 4 February 2013
  • 7 November 2012
  • 2 August 2012
  • 2 May 2012
  • 7 February 2012

So at the time of writing this post, it hasn’t been updated in 9 months since an update and another 9 months before that. So it’s only been updated once in 18 months which shows how it has fallen down the priority list when you compare this to 2012. A lot can change in the world of online marketing in a year, and to focus too much on a metric that is arguably becoming extinct seems like the wrong way to go.

From a link building point of view, I would say there are many other factors that could be considered more important than page rank; domain authority for example. Although these tend to mirror each-other slightly, domain authority is one you can always measure frequently and accurately using Open Site Explorer.

Topical relevancy is another big one that I would look at as increasingly important. Google is becoming smarter at detecting if the site linking to and fro are related to each-other. If the website you are getting the link from is relevant to your industry, then surely this is going to be a “better” link rather than one with a marginally higher page rank, but that is based in Kazakhstan? (country chosen deliberately as an excuse to use Borat image)


Ignoring Velocity

Talking of a “natural” backlink profile, is it normal for a website to go from getting about 10 links per month to 100 links per month? No is the answer.

It is common that people are told that you “need links” because your backlink profile is not strong enough and you do not have enough links. Quality over quantity is an obvious fact I have mentioned before, but I think link velocity is a key factor that is often forgotten. Think about the number of links you are getting to your site and why? Where have they come from? Are they natural? It is easy to go and achieve volumes of links, but getting to many at once is only going to ring alarm bells at Google HQ.






Anchor text

It is true that historically, having keyword rich anchor text on your links used to help with search rankings. There are certain elements of this that are still true, however there must be a good mix of brand, generic, and keyword rich anchor text. Having too many keyword rich anchor text links can in fact can be detrimental to search rankings.

Quote from Matt Cutts “The objective is not to make your links appear natural. The objective is that your links ARE natural.” Well said Matthew. Is his name actually Matthew? I’m not sure, I’ve only every seen him referred to as Matt. Has anyone got a copy of his birth certificate? If you have, that’s a bit weird, but send it over anyway. I digress. The point is that if you are going to link to a website, how often would use keyword rich anchor text to do it? Would you put the link on the term “car insurance provider” or “shoe polish” or would you just stick the full URL in and press publish as this is easier and a lot less fiddly? A lot of people do the latter and therefore it would appear unnatural for an extremely high percentage of the links pointing to your site to all be on the key phrases that you are targeting.

Google can “read” and understand, for use of a better expression, what the link is about so that this is far less important these days. It doesn’t just crawl the link and the anchor text and alt text and take this as gospel. Google is getting much better at understanding the context of the link, the surrounding words and paragraph, rather than just the anchor text.

I focus much less on the anchor text of the links and more about the quality of the pages the link is coming from, and the target page on the website I am working on. Deep, contextual links are great for your website, and can provide great SEO benefit as opposed to an extremely high percentage of links just pointing to your home page.

If an SEO is focussing too much on link anchor text these days, I would be wary of them doing damage to your link profile.


Ranking guarantees

A good SEO can work with you to develop realistic ranking targets based on the competitiveness of the keyword, along with what volume of search traffic there is for it and what kind of work might need to be done to achieve certain uplifts based on where you are currently ranking. It is feasible that there can be an assumption of a minimum uplift based on experience, knowledge and similar results with other clients in the same industry.

However, as we know, SEO changes every single day and guaranteeing a top ranking position for any keyword with meaningful volume is misleading at best. Should you forecast? Yes, definitely, but don’t put your hopes and money into a promise that cannot 100% be kept.

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @ShineSearch