In this industry, I see a ton of bad advice out there. Unfortunately, this is the nature of search marketing. No matter how many experiments we run or how much experience we have, we never know 100% what works with Google. Only Google knows for sure – we just have to use what data we have and our experience to make our best guess.
I’ve heard a lot of statements about backlinks and backlink profiles over my career. Here are my most common misconceptions:
“Rel=nofollow” Links Do Not Help
“Rel=nofollow” is a tag that tells Google “do not crawl this link” and “do not pass PageRank,” per Google’s Webmaster Tools. However, the big debate in the search marketing community is: do these really help for SEO?
My answer – yes and no. They do not help as standalone pieces, in my experience. Meaning, if we start a website and pump it full of good PR “nofollow” links, we wouldn’t see a big bump in traffic, rankings, etc. I think that Google does a good job of understanding “nofollow” links in that regard.
However, there are a few key areas where I have seen “nofollow” links have a really good impact and provide a lift in rankings and overall website domain authority:
- Over-optimized websites
- Few “nofollow” links in the backlink profile
- Anchor text is over-optimized
All three of these above examples have “wacky” backlink profiles. These could be from a number of different things. I have seen some profiles that have a ton of affiliate links, some of which had bad, “spammy” backlinks from 2011 and worse. Generally, this stems from SEOs trying to game the system back in 2008-2012, or just from affiliate partners not using best practices.
What I can say for certain is over the past one or two years, we have used a tactic where we tried to gain good quality “nofollow” links from quality websites in the form of blog comments, forum links, editorial placements (bio line), and more similar links (more on this later).
Once we achieved these links, we were generally able to see an instant impact in overall keyword rankings over the next 2-3 months. Here is a snapshot from SEMRush for one example. The links indexed are from around June and July, and we saw more than a 100% increase in keyword rankings.
As much as some people want to say that “rel=nofollow” links do not help SEO, I just don’t buy it. I have seen them work too often, mainly for balancing out ratios of over-optimized links, and Google shows them in their Webmaster tools.
The Quantity Doesn’t Matter
If you had asked me in 2014 which was better — quality or quantity — I would have looked at you funny. Today, not so much. Reason being, I am seeing a ton of websites outpacing other websites even though they have fewer “quality” links and just have more referring pages linking to them.
For example, if I have one website (DA 80) linking to me with 20 links, but a competitor has a website (DA 60) link to it with 10,000 links, the competitor would have the edge over me. I am not sure if it is Penguin 4.0 which allows more weight for quantity of links, but I have seen a large correlation with the number of links, not just the quality of them, affecting the top players in the top positions.
Although this is just a small data sample, having a lot of links from the same domain can help you, and Google does favor it. At the very least, it sure isn’t hurting. The Google Ranking Factors guide also showed that the total number of external backlinks helps and that it is a large correlating ranking factor.
This is also called “link velocity,” for those out there who may use that terminology.
You Only Need High-Quality Links
This one is generally thought of by people reading the “Quality over Quantity” statement made by the community. The truth is, you cannot build a quality backlink profile on just 10-15 good quality links.
Google prefers a good, healthy backlink profile filled with lots of links – everything from high-quality links and blog comments to forum links, etc. They want a natural link profile. If you only have super high-quality links, it looks rather sketchy, right? Almost like a private blog network, which is a popular black hat tactic, right?
Remember, Google isn’t necessarily a smart algorithm. It cannot see what websites look like or know how you acquired the links. It just looks at the finished product. If you try to look too squeaky clean, it can look bad.
A big mistake that we used to see was people disavowing links too much. If the links weren’t 100% quality, they would disavow them, which was actually hurting them. Once we took out the disavow file, we could see improvement over the next 3-6 months.
Old Sites/Links Do Not Help
Just because a site has a “bad” design does not make it a bad site or not an authority site. For instance, here is Matt Cutts’ website:
Yup, he made a blog in the past five months and it has 190 comments!
Google doesn’t care about how your website looks. It just cares about how it performs in its search engine. Just because someone has a bad-looking site or the content is old does not mean Google will not value it or value it less. In fact, they also value web pages and sites that have long histories and will place them in the search results over unproven web pages.
Therefore, do not worry about the look or the age of the potential link. A good source of information is a good source of information. Just focus on the metrics behind the link.
Bio Links Do Not Help
Biography links in guest posts or editorial submissions are “rel=nofollow” links just like any other link. They will help if your link profile needs them. They are a cornerstone for great content creation and promotion using another website’s viewer base.
Even if you get the same biography links from the same site but from a different article, it should still help because you are adding more links and getting more link velocity. These links are similar to blog comments.
Like I said, Google isn’t necessarily smart. If it were, it would eradicate affiliate links and paid links. But it can’t understand the difference – how could it? So, at the end of the day, don’t overthink Google. A good quality link is a good quality link, but don’t go out paying for links or affiliate links. Reason being:
Affiliate & Paid Links Do Help – But Are Dangerous
Being in e-commerce, I say that some affiliate programs make their links “dofollow” and can positively impact their client’s link profiles. They will also tell these clients that these links “will not help” their SEO efforts, which is a lie or they do not know better. Affiliate links do help sometimes, in SEO, because it is a link, at the end of the day, and how does Google know it is an affiliate?
There are tons of affiliate companies and general companies that sell links promising they are “Google friendly,” but they are not. Make sure all of your affiliate and paid links have the “rel=nofollow” tag for a couple of reasons:
- It is dangerous.
- It can inflate your rankings.
First, it is dangerous because you never know what Google is going to do. Will it buy some company in Silicon Valley who figured out how to find and eviscerate every affiliate program known to man? Maybe…maybe not…who knows? But a good rule of thumb is to stay as far away from the Google “ban hammer” as you can. Otherwise, you are risking your site suffering from Google’s wrath.
The second reason is that these links can inflate your rankings and, if you leave the affiliate program, it will drop you for those phrases. From my experience, it happens a lot, so if you have an affiliate program without the “nofollow” tag, you need to implement it immediately.
There are also some cases where the affiliate links were removed, and the site dropped even though the links used the “rel=nofollow” tag. However, these were rare cases, as normally those affiliate links were not even close to anything resembling high-quality links.
Blog Comments Are Spam Links
Blog commenting, guest posting, and forum links have a really bad rap. Back in the day, SEOs would use and abuse these tactics to no end. However, these are still websites that give quality information to consumers. Why would you not want to be in front of them?
Blog comments, forum posts, and guest posts are still fine. Just don’t do them for the links. Do them to create good content, answer questions, and provide value. If you do that, the links will come. If you get mad that 70% of your content marketing efforts don’t provide links, then you don’t have the right attitude.
At the end of the day, Content Marketing > SEO.
Links to Your Page Only Help That Page
This is not true. If you get a link to one page on your site, then hopefully that page links to other pages, from your navigation bar, footer, inner links, etc. That authority will pass throughout the different pages it links to, and Google will value the site more.
In my e-commerce world, we try to increase the overall value of the domain, which in turn increases the products and categories rankings in Google and makes our clients more sales.
In fact, Brian Deans’ Google Ranking Factors Guide debunks this theory here:
Site-Wide Links Are Dead
Site-wide links still work and using them is a prevalent tactic in SEO. However, in my opinion, it is a sketchy tactic and you should always add a “rel=nofollow” tag in footer or site-wide links. You never know when Google will release the Google ban hammer on this. While I don’t think that you should be using this to gain authority, I have seen them work and increase ranking even with the “rel=nofollow” tag, unfortunately.
Over-Optimizing Anchor Text
Back in 2013, we were getting huge results for clients who had problems with Penguin. We would disavow or dilute their anchor text with “rel=nofollow” links, and they would magically skyrocket for rankings. In 2016, this is pretty much dead because of Penguin 4.0. In fact, I would say that anchor text is rather overpowered right now.
I would 100% not try to game anchor text, but there should be zero fear about using anchor text and over-optimizing yourself anymore, especially if you are not worried about it and are focused on good content.
Mentions Without a Link Count
This may be one of the most ridiculous statements that I have heard. If an article mentions your name but doesn’t link to you, it still somewhat counts positively. The thought behind this notion is that if you are mentioned throughout the internet, Google will count that positively.
I don’t want to go into this too much because – who knows? Maybe Google can use this as a ranking factor, but I have never seen one shred of evidence of this or, in my experience, seen this to be a benefit. Google is a crawler, and when it comes down to it, it crawls links. If there are no links, then it doesn’t count, at least in my experience/experiments.
Overall, there are some common misconceptions of a backlink profile, mainly due to the amount of information out there and how you interpret it. No one really knows what Google uses, but we can make good assumptions.
For all of the examples I used above, I either have data that shows there is a good chance it works or I used my own personal data set of real world experience. You should always take anything that you read with a grain of salt and learn for yourself.
Featured Image: Pixabay
Screenshots by Ronald Dod. Taken December 2016.