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Why Links You Place Yourself Aren't Really Links

July 31, 2013

Image Credit: CarbonNYCEvery day I hear from confused people trying to market their websites online who tell me how they've "gotten themselves" all sorts of links from all sorts of places, but their sites still can't be found in Google.

They're dumbfounded that those keyword-rich anchor text links they placed on those Blogspot blogs that they registered for free don't help their search engine rankings. After all, it's not as if they have the NoFollow tag (attribute) on them. Plus, they also did some "content marketing" and placed links to various pages of their sites on a bunch of blogs (that they created themselves). And they're always putting out media releases describing specific services or products they offer, AND they pay extra for the ability to add as many keyworded links as possible within them. There are even "do follow" links that get republished by all kinds of important sounding publications.

So what's the problem? Why can't they seem to get ahead in Google?

The answer is simple. They're using old-school pre-Panda/Penguin linking techniques that may have worked at one point (albeit probably not for the long haul), but which are highly unlikely to be given even a passing glance from Google nowadays.

Any link you can place by yourself is not a link as far as Google is concerned. Certainly not in the PageRank passing sense. Sure, they will crawl those links and they will most likely even show them as links to your site in your Google Webmaster Tools account. But they also show links that have the NoFollow attribute on them, and according to Google, those don't pass PageRank.

Google certainly wouldn't want your own strategically placed links to count as real (PageRank-passing) links to your site because they aren't. Just as Google doesn't consider paid links to be the type they want to provide you with link juice, links that you place yourself don't fall in line with the whole "links as a vote" ideal that helped Google become the leading search engine in the universe.

Forget About "SEO Link Building"

Remember that out of the hundreds of factors and signals that Google looks at to determine the relevancy of any page in their index, it all boils down to two major components:
  • What you say about yourself
  • What others say about you
The first one looks at your site and the content that is on it. That's yours to control completely. You can write whatever you want and it will all help Google to decide what sorts of keywords your pages should be found for.

But it's the second one -- what others say about you -- that is important for our purposes today. The very idea of using links as a signal came about as a way to learn what other people were saying about websites and businesses. Back links were the key way to judge this. Theoretically, if lots of people or websites were linking to particular pages of a website, they were saying, "Hey everyone, here's a great site / service / product / article. I totally recommend it."

Google (and everyone else) already knows that you recommend your own site. Of course you do. It's your baby that you've nurtured since birth. They know you love it and think it's the best site in the world and that it should be showing up in the number one spot for anything even remotely related to it. (You also think your kids are the best-behaved little geniuses in the world, but that doesn't make it true!)

But when it comes to links, Google doesn't care what you think. Because you can't be trusted!

They want to know what others think.

So if you're trying to rank your site higher in Google, forget about wasting your time trying to get links that you can place for yourself. They really don't care. At best they will ignore them. At worst, they'll slap you with an "unnatural links" penalty.

Instead, spend your time first having something worth linking to.

After you have that (and that's really the hard part), you need to let others know it exists -- others who are in a position to recommend it. In other words, market the heck out of it to your target audience!


Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of Jill Whalen High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Post Comment

 Finn Skovgaard said:
Using links as 'votes' for other sites is somehow a fundamentally flawed concept. One can only hope Google does away with it entirely.

Only a web editor or webmaster can add a link to a site if Google doesn't count forums and other places where anyone can post. So, to start with, only the tiny fraction of the total population, those who maintain a web site, can 'vote' with a link. Any other reader who finds a great site cannot 'vote' for it. Furthermore, no decent webmaster would add a link to a great site if it has no relation to his/her own site. Most great sites I know have nothing to do with my own sites, so I don't link to them. And finally, when the other site does have a relation, it may well be a competing company that one would obviously not link to.

Google's artificial use of links as votes has led to a vast number of link exchange requests floating around, webmasters proposing 'partnerships' meaning nothing else than link exchange, etc.

What Google needs is a way of measuring the 'votes' of all readers, not just the tiny fraction of them who are webmasters with a site around the same theme.

It's hard to understand how Google could ever consider links a fair way of ranking sites.
 Sprigley Allan said:
I think that although your article makes total sense what would you do in lieu of press releases to try and reach the major publications?
 Jill Whalen said:
Finn, like it or not, that's the way it is. Complaining about isn't going to change things. Also see my post about Google using social media signals in addition to links these days.

And Sprigley, you would still of course use press releases when you have something newsworthy that you want to reach the media with. But that has nothing to do with building links for SEO purposes.
 Finn Skovgaard said:
Jill, of course, that's the way it is - until it isn't anymore because Google has changed it. What I wrote should not be interpreted as 'complaining' but more of a philosophical wondering why Google keeps using links as 'votes', a seemlingly rather primitive measure. If you don't do 'link building' yourself, you simply don't get many links, even to a decent site, but Google wants the links to appear naturally.
 Terri Zwierzynski said:
So I guess that would mean that comments on relevant/related blogs don't help either? I'm pretty sure the answer is yes (if so no need to reply).
 John Meffen said:
Are you just saying this to try to get your competitors to stop building links? Or is this an attempt at linkbait?

This is bizarre silliness, penguin had nothing to do with discounting manually built links, it had to do with quality/type of manually built links. All good SEOs have prized good content as a way of getting natural links, but not at the expense of going out and getting links yourself.

But if you don't want to build links there are plenty of us out there who will do it for those who want links.

 Jill Whalen said:
@terri as you can easily place forum comment links, they'd fall into the same category, yes.

@john feel free to keep wasting your client's money on easy to place links that you get yourself. Eventually they'll figure out that they're not helping and come to me to help them figure out why.
 Sajjad said:

If what you have said is true, then what about those people who would use this old link building technique to bring down website of someone else.

I mean a VERY important question arises,

How does google understand that your website is not being brought down by your enemies or competitors by using this old link building techniques which were spotted and rejected by google ?
 Jill Whalen. said:
As long as your site has a healthy dose of high quality recommendations then the bad links have no effect. If you're really concerned you can always disavow the links.
 Norma said:
Hi Jill,

Nice article and i agree with you but not all companies can invest/create/produce/write something which is worth linking etc. Not all companies can invest in research and they don't offer something which is so unique that they can brag about it.

Because i have worked for many companies, they are just one among many and for them i had to go for those old link building methods. Their sites don't go beyond 10 - 15 web pages but they dream to rank.

I feel ranking is becoming tougher and only big sites and big guys can survive in this race.

 Jill Whalen said:
Norma if you're not trying to rank for competitive terms then you really don't need many links.
 James said:
I think it would be great if competitors stopped placing their own links!
 jmweb said:
I certainly think we are headed in that direction but am not convinced that these are facts today. I still find it easy to rank a site using links that I can make easily. Now of course, those rankings may not LAST long but if the Keyword Competition is low enough, then yes.. it will work and it will last.. at least until the kW comp increases!
 Jill Whalen said:
@jmweb, you can rank for noncompetitive terms without any links at all. I call it "guinea pig" SEO because even my daughter's old guinea pig could do that with its hands tied behind its back.
 Suzanne Delzio said:
Yay Jill! Quality content wins the day!

And thanks for all the extra info in the answers to comments! I think I'll read all your comment answers. Maybe it's book time, Jill, unless you've already been there. Suz
 Benjamin said:
So in essence, back linking is still important. Just not spammy, lazy back linking. Makes sense.

I'm always doing SEO for people and this back linking thing sometimes comes up. They say, "I thought back linking was dead?" but they just don't understand.

Until I explain of course.
 Kevin Pham said:
Hi Jill! Thanks for another post from you. Your suggestions seem to make sense. However, in my point of view, blog or blog 2.0 still be a place for SEO build their back links. the important thing that is you have to write unique content. don't you think so? yarh...Google may not prefer website owners promote their site. However, if website owners don't promote their site, who will do that? right?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Kevin, yes, of course you need to promote your site. Read the last paragraph of this article again, as that's what I said there.
 Toni said:
What about those back links webmasters place in articles? Does anyone think Google will rank these sites favorably?
 mera said:
What do you think the fallout would be if you had links to a site that was killed by G.?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Mera, probably not a good idea to link to a penalized site. Maybe add a nofollow on it if you really think it's a valuable one to show your visitors.