Google’s Recent Webmaster Guideline Changes: What You Need to Know

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Google-Webmaster-Tools-LogoThe brains at Google are always working to make the web a place where users produce content for each other, not just for web crawlers. They recently changed their Link Schemes section to include advertorials, large scale article and guest blog campaigns, and optimized anchor text in articles and press releases. This is hardly surprising, since the changes coincide with Google’s ongoing aim to discourage the manipulation of their search algorithms.

Large Scale Article and Blog Campaigns

What is considered a “large scale” blog or article campaign? As Matt Cutts said when he addressed this issue last year, the question is actually in what your intention is behind your guest blogging. If you intend to build lots of back links with your guest blogging, then you probably intend to do a lot of guest blogging for that purpose. If your intent is to establish credibility or add value to another person’s blog, then you’re probably not aiming for volume.


Cutts also addressed advertorials in a video earlier this year. An advertorial, also known as native advertising, is a piece of editorial content that a company pays to have published. This content usually contains back links to the company’s website. In essence, this is paying for back links, a practice that search engines have never been fond of. Earlier in the year Google penalized UK flower company Interflora for the use of advertorials to artificially boost their search rankings. Advertorials can be misleading to the reader, who is reading the content with the idea that the site owner is promoting the company for reasons other than monetary. Cutts advises that webmasters “clearly and conspicuously” disclose when a piece of content is an advertorial by using the words “advertisement” or “sponsored” to describe it.


Optimized Anchor Text

Optimizing anchor text is when you use target keywords as anchor text for a link back to your website. Google uses the following example:

There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.

Using keyword optimized anchor text is still a common practice in the SEO world, but here’s the thing: When Google’s web crawlers see this link leading back to your site, they assume that someone aside from you is in effect recommending your website by associating it with the keyword and a backlink. Since that isn’t the case, Google considers this to be a manipulative tactic.

How To Handle These Links

It’s still okay to publish content online that contains links back to your website. Google recommends that you use the “rel=nofollow” attribute to prevent these links from passing PageRank. You can also redirect the link to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines using a robots.txt file.

The Case for Organic SEO

These updates to the Link Scheme document are meant to encourage people to use links for the original reason they were intended: To get people to click on them. Once upon a time, in the early days of the web, a webmaster would create a website and submit the URL to a search engine for indexing. The search engine would dispatch a web crawler to the URL, which would crawl the website for relevant links and keywords. The crawler would then send this information back to the search engine, which would give the website a place in the search results based on how relevant it judge the website to be.

It wasn’t long before people began to see the advantage in having a website rank higher than the next guy’s for relevance. There were no measures in place at the time to prevent people from taking advantage of search engines, so it wasn’t long before webmasters and internet marketers began to freely exploit weaknesses in search algorithms for their own gain. If you remember the internet of just three or four years ago, you remember that spammy websites and irrelevant search results abounded. Developers began creating more sophisticated search algorithms to bring order to the chaos. Over time, they made updates to the algorithms to make them even more bullet proof (think Panda and Penguin). Years of experience and accumulated technical savvy have made Google a much smarter search engine than it once was.

What Does It Mean For You?

You don’t have to nofollow every link in your offpage content. If it’s a link that you’ve added with the intention of link building, then it’s best to drop that aspiration and nofollow it. If it’s a link that you’d include naturally whether the search engines would see it or not, then leave it as is. If you have links in past guest posts that you haven’t nofollowed, then it’s probably too late to change those. Just keep Google’s new link scheme policy in mind for future reference.

How To Use Time You Would’ve Spent Link-Building

Instead of focusing on building links, get on social media, into forums, and in blog comments to build awareness for your site. This doesn’t mean that you should start spamming people. Rather, demonstrate that you have something of value to offer. Find fresh and worthwhile ways to attract a readership, and keep offering content that’s worth reading. In other words, let others build back links for you. Natural shares and other social signals do more good for your website than links you’ve created yourself.

You can also use this time to further optimize your website. Add meta tags, update files names, transcribe video, and do all of the other SEO stuff you’ve been putting off.

While there’s nothing wrong with using online content as a promotional tool, you want to be promoting to humans, not web crawlers. After all, it’s humans who indicate to search engines which websites are most relevant. As it has been said many times before, building links purely for the sake of SEO could get your website penalized. Links were always meant for driving organic traffic, and if the reader likes what he sees, he will likely want to share it. According to Google, this is just the way things ought to be.

Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel has over 12 years of digital marketing experience and has helped hundreds of clients increase web traffic, boost user acquisition, and grow their... Read Full Bio
Sujan Patel
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  • Ravi Jain

    Thanks a lot Sujan for this wonderful article. Though I’m not a webmaster, your guidelines are truly insightful.

  • Prem Nath

    Nicely described stuffs !

  • Jake

    Google would like us to do a lot of things. I will never no-follow a link that passes equity. Since when is the goal of guest blogging to be “large scale” with it? You’re after a handful of high-quality links on relevant sites, not a truckload of crappy ones on blog networks. If Google doesn’t like it then maybe links and anchor text shouldn’t be such a huge part of the algorithm. One day I’m sure we’ll see that update, but in the meantime, off-page SEO doesn’t exist if you do everything they ask. They’re basically saying “We have no process for catching you. So if you could go ahead and no-follow all your links and just not do SEO, that’d be great. Spend your money on AdWords instead. Please. Please spend money on ads.”

    • marcogoldin

      That’s it. I was thinking the same after reading the post, then i saw you comment. Your point is damm right, i hope we’ll see that update, but i’m not so sure…

  • sammy

    Confused over the optimized anchor text. Should it be no follow from others blog, your website blog or a page of your site eg “about us” pointing out the scope of the site?

  • Rajni Sudera

    Hey Sujan,
    Nice and thanks for sharing these new Google’s new link scheme policy, but i am confused about the paragraph of “How to handle links” and taking the nofollow links in the Guest post. Do we take nofollow links in the all guest post?

  • Rafael Montilla

    I like this one !!
    “After all, it’s humans who indicate to search engines which websites are most relevant.”

  • JulesM

    It’s the most idiotic thing I’ve heard in a long, long, long long time. On one hand, Google doesn’t give you any love if you don’t have links back to your site that contain effective anchor text. On the other hand, Google penalizes you if you have links back to your site with effective anchor text.

    It’s time the world wakes up to Google’s scheme here. A few years down the line, you won’t be able to index a site unless you can compete with big corporate marketing budgets. Google is moving towards a model where there will be ZERO stability in the SERPS and that’s going to force your hand into either buying the crap, overpriced ads, or dropping out of the chase completely.

    What they want is for you to buy their ads of course, but you’ll be competing with every corporate site out there that has no qualms about spending $250 000 a month on Google Adwords.

    It’s all bullshit.

  • Kathryn

    “It’s still okay to publish content online that contains links back to your website. Google recommends that you use the “rel=nofollow” attribute to prevent these links from passing PageRank.”

    Seriously? You are suggesting that all links that are posted on other websites be nofollow?

    Please elaborate on this.

  • Bharath Ram

    Yes, I don’t understand what you mean. Should there be only one link back instead of many as in the example?

  • Paul

    A good article and very helpful. I look forward to the day though when Google is no longer so dominant.

  • Jerry Stevens

    “When Google’s web crawlers see this link leading back to your site, they assume that someone aside from you is in effect recommending your website by associating it with the keyword and a backlink. Since that isn’t the case, Google considers this to be a manipulative tactic.”

    The entire exercise of linkbuilding for SEO is an attempt to manipulate search results. Sometimes when I read complaints, I get the feeling SEOs think that Google exists for the benefit of the business of SEO.

  • Greg

    I, too, am confused by the article.

    I think the crucial thing is: how does Google tell the difference between someone else linking to your site (which is ‘good’) and content that you yourself post online that contains links back to your website (which is ‘bad’)?

    Surely it’s up to Google to decide whether a site is a legit site with worthy links to other sites or just a host for spammy links, and judge the links accordingly.

    A big problem is that there are crappy sites up there hogging the top spots for certain very general keywords. Even if your site has relevant content, you won’t get to dislodge them unless you can get a people to link to you. And you won’t get people to link to you without a decent ranking on Google. Chicken and egg.

    Relying on the wise judgement of Google to get relevant content into top rankings is pretty futile. Google just assumes that what’s up there already is great stuff, and any other content that shows evidence of attempts to get links to itself is ‘spam’.

  • Bee Primrose

    It’s a very good article, don’t shoot the messenger! & yes, Google doubtless has a commercial goal of power and mega-bucks driving it but we all helped Google to become the dominator it is today.

  • Lakhyajyoti

    Thanks for the great post. Google has made lots of changes in SERPS for last few years. Surely I’ll follow the new guidelines to make my blog a better one.