At this point, the word “change” is pretty much passé in the SEO community. Every year, we proclaim that SEO is changing. Some of those changes don’t play out. Others take us by surprise. Sometimes those changes are overstated. Other times, we find agencies burying their heads in the sand.
We’d like to use this time to take an honest look back, and forward, at the state of SEO. How has this industry really changed? Where is it headed? What can we expect from the twin kings of link building and content marketing?
Let’s dive in.
What is Really and Truly Dead?
It usually takes about five minutes between the time Matt Cutts or somebody from Google says something, and the time a blog post pops up somewhere on the web saying that a particular SEO tactic is “dead.”
In this section of the post, I’m not interested in what is risky or against Google’s terms of service: I’m interested in tactics that are dead as a doornail. By this I mean that in all but a few extreme and short-lived cases, the tactic just doesn’t work in any meaningful way.
This one is completely dead, folks.
For those too young to the industry to remember, article spinning was the process of automatically generating “rewritten” versions of an article and submitting them to as many low quality article directories as possible. It actually worked surprisingly well before Panda, and even for a while after that when done “correctly.”
But as far as I can tell, this one just doesn’t work at all anymore.
After doing a Google image search for “article spinning” and looking at results over the past year, I found exactly one site (SubmitProWith.Us, not giving them a link) that posted any evidence of improved rankings with article spinning. And all of their proof was dated to 2012.
Exact Match Anchor Text
Once again, I failed to find a single site that advocated building exact match anchor text that posted any evidence of it working. All I could find were examples of websites that had been hit by Penguin or a manual penalty, most likely because of the exact match anchor text, at least in part.
What Can Still Work, But isn’t Worth it for Brands?
The whole Interflora fiasco is both proof that buying links can still inflate your rankings, and proof that it isn’t worth if for brands to take the risk.
The fact of the matter is Google’s algorithms just aren’t smart enough to identify link buying in every single circumstance. How could it be? Not even humans are that smart.
The real reason this isn’t worth it for brands is because it’s actually more costly to buy links than to attract them naturally. There are a few reasons for this:
- Link sellers are, understandably, very likely to sell links to others who may not be as discrete as you are.
- The content has to be just as good as if you were doing it completely above-board, or over time it will become obvious that you are buying the links.
- It is more cost-effective to use the money to pay an influencer to write something on your blog than to pay a link dealer, likely with less influence, to host a link on their site.
It’s sad that I have to put this in this category, but unfortunately it is true that sites can still rank by hacking sites and placing links. In July last year, Majestic shared a case study, examining a site that managed to rank, even with zero content, simply by pumping up its link velocity with hacked links.
Needless to say, brands shouldn’t get involved in things like this, and not just because they’re, well, illegal. From this and other case studies, it’s immediately obvious that the results don’t last very long.
Still, I think it’s important to point out studies like this to get a sense for where Google’s algorithm really is in terms of spotting things. It’s certainly gotten smarter about spotting low quality content and links, but pages can slip through the cracks if some of their other ranking factors are out of control.
Private Link Networks
A cleverly designed private link network, made up of several sites you bought up to link to yourself, is more or less invisible to Google at the moment. Black hats seem to love this tactic. Assuming the quality level of the sites is high enough, this is likely to go unnoticed.
However, once again, it simply isn’t worth the effort for brands. The cost of either buying sites with high quality content or creating high quality content to put on cheap sites simply isn’t worth it. This, of course, is why the black hats simply skip this part, and expose themselves to risks that inevitably get them caught.