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The Unnatural Links List

Google’s recent shake-up targeting the “unnatural link” has created palpable tension across the SEO world. Many small business owners have been impacted by the situation, and are still wondering what exactly it is that has happened.

As a social media management firm, part of our job is to keep readers informed on anything that may affect their social media marketing strategy. While SEO and links may not fall quite under the domain of social media marketing, we are going to help readers face Google’s shake-up head on. That’s why we have provided a list of items that the world’s leading search engine has deemed an “unnatural link,” along with a short explanation.

Internal vs. External Links
The first thing Google looks at when trying to filter out an unnatural link is whether the link is internal (i.e., lives on the host site) or external (like an off-site link arising from a blog, newsletter or un-related website).

For example, a small business owner specializing in fitness and health with their own website may sell exercise equipment. Now, as we know, exercise equipment comes in many different shapes and sizes. Therefore, it should be expected that the website will have many links that link directly to each different product.

Google will generally expect this, and that is why it is not an issue in their eyes. However, to get traffic coming to their website, that same business may have advertised its website on several outside websites that they do not own, so there may be numerous external links pointing to the website products because of this.

Now in the past this was encouraged, as backlinks were one of the defining factors in increasing a website’s SEO. But now, under the latest update from Google, it may or may not be a problem; depending upon the reliability, relationship and other criteria stipulated by the external site. The following is how Google is using additional information to rate unnatural links.

1. Lacking a Clear Connection. In the above example, our exercise equipment supplier will not incur the wrath of Google when advertising on sites that relate to exercise equipment. However, what about ancillary products or services, or outright non-relationships? For example, a website for weight supplements that carries links to the fitness products would likely be fine. On the other hand, if a website trying to sell music instruments were linking to our fitness website, Google could question the validity of the links, and with good reason. Why would a music website link to a fitness website unless it was trying to farm backlinks? Make sure there is a clear and consistent connection to avoid the dreaded unnatural link message. This may sound difficult, but a tenuous connection is better than no connection at all.

2. Excessive unique top-level domain (TLD) backlinks containing directory, file name or exchange links. This used to be one of the most popular methods of acquiring a quick backlinks. However, Google has come down hard on this strategy in recent times. Watch the number of inbound links you receive and check their origins. If you have any doubts at all, go and check it out.

3. Amount of links vs. link diversity. It may impress you if have a lot of links coming back to your site, but if they are coming from a small number of locations, Google won’t be so impressed. It is always worth taking the time to get links from a variety of sources, and try to limit the amount coming from one single location.

4. Content Farms. One of the biggest hits to SEO companies in recent times is the blacklisting of a number of content farms. While some content farms can produce high quality work, a lot of content farms were producing content of less-than-impressive quality, hence the reason they were blacklisted. Legitimate submissions to informational, professional and other authoritative sites will still carry a great deal of weight but make sure you are avoiding the blacklisted ones.

5. Formulistic Blog Entries. Although a lot of small businesses or start-up businesses have yet to realize it, there are people out there who specialize in producing great content, and there are those who specialize in creating computer ready content. However, the best of the best do both. One of the challenges that businesses face is that there are those who are less skilled in producing great content. This will eventually reflect on the business as Google penalizes their SEO, and it will come back to haunt the business and SEO strategy for months, or even possibly years. The saying goes that content is king. Well good content is evergreen; it’s original, creative and provides long-lasting results to a business’s SEO strategy.

A black hat technique that was prevalent in some SEO strategies was the use of spinning software. This short-term content focused on achieving quick results, but was damaging for a long-term strategy. Spinning software is a program that takes another user’s originally created authentic content, and replaces a certain number of words with synonyms to give the impression that it is a “rewrite” and therefore unique. In theory it sounds great but in reality Google isn’t stupid, and punishes severely for this technique. It doesn’t take a lot to recognize the poor grammar and horrid syntax derived from inferior spinning software.

6. Overuse of PR and Ezine articles. While getting publicity is great for any business, it pays to think twice before posting every single solitary event on PRWeb, Business Wire or PR Newswire. The same also goes for other article directories and repositories. You should always make sure that these backlinks only provide support to your other backlinks, and are a small and meaningful source rather than the dominating source.

7. Unstable sites. Make sure any websites that link back to you are legitimate. This includes contact information, author name, the “About” section or other identifying information that will help legitimize the link. The same goes for sites that tend to go up and down a lot or that change out links on a regular basis in order to redirect to a new site. Each of these is basically a big target that Google aims for, and hits each and every time.

The bottom line for search engine optimization and the unnatural links issue is very, very simple; make sure you are using original, unique content, keep it updated at an easy to manage pace, and make sure you’re verifying the authenticity of your backlinks. Remember, social media is a growing component of every good SEO program, but a poor SEO strategy can still reflect negatively on all marketing methods.

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