How do you predict which link-building or SEO technique will get axed next by Google? Based on my observations from the past ten years, I have developed some precognitive sense. I can feel it even before I can explain it. Sounds ludicrous but is pretty rational indeed, given the atmosphere of fear Google spreads.
A decade of SEO history
This year, I celebrate a decade of offering SEO services. I’d been building websites for five years prior to that and had been publishing online for even two years longer. So I remember the times when there was no Google or the early years when it was something new and shiny: I remember the days when Google introduced nofollow to combat comment spam or when they acquired Urchin and later started offering a free web statistics tool called Google Analytics based on it.
I also remember the days before Google officially announced that “paid links” were evil.
In fact, it took two years from the first blog post by Matt Cutts on his private cat blog that text link ads (with the exception of Google ads, of course) were frowned upon by Google to the official change of the Webmaster Guidelines stating that “paid links” are outside of them.
Yesterday’s white hat is today’s black hat.
The pace of change has accelerated ever since. It sometimes takes only a few months from the first unofficial hint to the actual ban of a widely used SEO technique. Perfectly legit and recommended tactics get banned by now, so even so-called white hat SEO has become an increasingly risky business. By now, people get scared! Not only linking out scares them, but even writing about SEO. After all, they could endorse or mention something that is still OK but won’t be anymore a few weeks or months from now.
I also recognize patterns by now. You can see the writing on the wall when a widely used SEO technique will get axed months before it actually happens or even quite a while before Matt’s cat knows it. Based on past developments, I already see a somewhat clear lifecycle of a great link-building technique until it gets banned by Google. I say link building specifically because there is nothing new anymore in on-page SEO for a few years. There are no revolutionary developments unless you refer to proprietary Google measures like Google+ integration.
The path to hell
There are basically five steps before each overtly successful link-building methodology gets banned. It happened with
- press releases
- social bookmarks
- “content farms”
- guest articles
you name it. What are the steps a link-building technique takes leading to a ban by Google?
A technique gets discovered and described by someone. It may be a case study on an SEO blog or something spread on a forum. Usually, it gets a name and stays recognizable ever since. It can be a business model discovered by some start-ups and then hailed by the mainstream press, which is happening with “content farms.” It’s successful, and you can copy and implement it on your site as well. So the wave starts. Success is contagious.
So, the technique has a name now, and good SEO blogs are starting to spread the word about it. They explain how to achieve success with it and how to do it right. The stories are in-depth, and the bloggers are genuine.
Now, average bloggers join the bandwagon. The same blogs that tirelessly repeat every mantra, be it “content is king” or “SEO is dead,” advise you to use the technique. They do not explain why or how but repeat in a “he say she say” manner what they have heard elsewhere. To this day, you will read how important it is to use “social bookmarking for SEO.” They tell everybody that it works and you need to do it.
Good SEO bloggers publish lists with “the 30 best [insert popular link building technique here] tools”. Average bloggers advise using it. Nameless programmers write scripts that automate the technique completely and offer them as the ultimate “get rich quick” secret. Matt Cutts gets asked by someone at a conference whether the processes conform with Google.
By now, everybody knows the technique, even the largely clueless Blogspot blogger who offers “best SEO services USA” and recommends it to those who are new to the Interwebs. You get SPAM emails starting with “Dear Sirs!” offering you 1,000 [insert automated link building technique here] for $19.
Matt Cutts publishes a video where he answers a question by another Google employee (who doesn’t disclose his affiliation with Google) and explains how this technique might hurt your organic ranking or isn’t really supported by Google. Or he advises only to use the quality version of it, not the one solely made for SEO.
Good SEO blogs now advise you to be cautious when using the technique. Average bloggers and clueless Blogspot bloggers still repeat the mantra.
The actual ban is sometimes silently implemented, sometimes as a huge publicity stunt (like with guest blogging). Google will often change the Webmaster Guidelines, and some SEO bloggers monitoring them may notice the change. In case you live in the US, you may as well hear Matt Cutts speak at one of the many search conferences there. He might make a semi-official announcement, too.
Sometimes, the ban is official even when Matt Cutts announces it only on his private cat blog.
This way, Google tries to rule out that they get sued by someone whose business they destroy. In any case, the ban will be enforced one way or the other, and you will sooner or later find out, sometimes the hard way, because your site drops on Google search results, and you can’t pay the bills anymore.
How to avoid the ban before it becomes a reality
To make your SEO future, you n, you eed to look out for signs of this lifecycle in the early stages. Do you get spammy emails offering you a specific link-building technique? Then, hands off it. Do low-quality bloggers advocate a link-building approach without properly explaining it? OK, you might already want to be cautious. A high-profile blogger has just introduced the method? Jackpot!
By assessing the stage a link-building technique is currently in, you can predict whether and when it will get banned. Remember that even legit link-building methods get cracked down upon by Google in case they work too well. Guest blogging for SEO was by no means SPAM, and most legit search marketing publications recommended it at some point. Whenever a link-building technique is overhyped, its end has already approached, so don’t believe the hype in the first place.
Of course, there are link-building techniques that are timeless. Such link-building strategies effectively result in “natural” links, as Google likes to call them, so they can’t get penalized. I will follow up on those, so follow me to get the inside scoop.