Google has very clear instructions on what it considers unnatural links. They are, links that attempt to ‘manipulate’ page rank, links that are bought or sold (in cash or kind including offers of free products to get a review and a link), ‘excessive’ link exchanges or creating partner pages solely to cross link. Google also warns against ‘large scale’ guest post or article marketing anchor texts (keyword rich ones) and using automated methods to create links. Now, that is a pretty exhaustive list, and we understand what Google does not appreciate.
You could spend days debating upon how good Google really is at knowing if your high PR links are paid or not, but it is probably best to take the White Hat route instead. Please understand that ‘unnatural’ refers to links that are either created by you, or ones that are irrelevant to your niche. A small percentage is perfectly alright – an SEO expert could very well be a fitness freak and may be excused for leaving their link in a sports blog, but too much of that would be unnatural.
Here’s the lowdown on what to avoid if you wish to never hear the words ‘unnatural link penalty’ in your lifetime. Okay, this is not foolproof, and a lot of webmasters have cried foul when their sites disappeared overnight because of no fault of their own (or so they claim). However, you have the option of approaching Google for reconsideration if you feel that you have been penalized unfairly.
1. Buying Links
Never pay for links. Forget about those .edu and .org site/blog lists you used receive as weekend gifts from someone you had subscribed to. Think relevance, think audience. The only instance where you could be paying for links ought to be similar to the whole PPC scenario: a lot of people will be clicking your link to come to your site with genuine interest in your content. Mindlessly buying links by the dozen is to be avoided completely.
2. Having Excessive Profile Links
This would include author bio in case of guest posts, forum signatures, social media and social bookmarking links created through software or websites specializing in such services, blog comments and no-followed Press Release links.
Apart from the last one which Google insists should be made no follow, you can have all the other links but in moderation. This is very simple, really. Of course you can a link to your site or social media profile in your author bio, as long as the anchor text is not too keyword-optimized. There’s nothing unnatural about that. What is unnatural is for you to have too many such links in your link profile. It would mean most of your links are created by you, and so, all such links are not really endorsements for your site which natural backlinks are supposed to be.
As for this impacting your social media activities, it should not. Just create accounts in major platforms and limit the number of such platforms based on your capacity to get social on them on a regular basis. Create real audience from your social following so that you get equally real endorsement (in the form of natural backlinks) and a whole lot of interested visitors referred by your friends and followers.
3. Going Private
Private blog networks – where multiple blogs are created with different hosting but forming a network and creating apparently unrelated backlinks, used to work, but not any longer. Google knows about this ‘apparently unrelated’ appearance and comes down heavily upon them. Avoid any offer on getting enhanced ranking by link creation through any kind of ‘network’.
4. Footer Links
These are common with WordPress themes – especially the free ones. You have a link in the page footer which must be retained. Or, with plug-ins that create similar links (sometimes even with image ads that say something like ‘Created With …’). These are passe too. If you succeeded previously in ranking through such endeavors, good for you. However, you might want to rethink your strategy. What if you are a web-designer and wish to leave your mark on your client website? Simple; no-follow the ones that are not in your niche, and retain only some of the links that are on sites closely related to your niche. In any case, try to use variations on your anchor text.
When in doubt, just remember these two things. First, make sure you are linked to a relevant niche. Secondly, judge links that you create – perhaps even by paying – by the number of people likely to click on them because of a genuine interest in your content.
Bernard Naylor is an Online Manager for CJ Pony Parts – one of the Top Mustang parts and accessories retailers in the world. He also likes blogging about online strategies that are related to SEO, Content, PPC & Lead generation.