It used to be common practice not that long ago to see lots of fake backlinks. Links that directed traffic back to your website have been one of the most important SEO factors for quite some time. They meant that you were credible website with important information. So important that other sites were referencing you.
How backlinks cheated the system in the past
Of course, people very quickly started to create their own backlinks. Websites appeared all over the web that offered nothing but backlinks. If you sought them out, all you saw was pages upon pages of links with no valuable content. Google’s guidelines for link schemes forbid it, but with no way of detecting them it was a quick way to boost your ranking.
But like the lawlessness of the wild west, eventually the sheriff hunts you down and you end up with a noose around your neck. Google developed new algorithms that could detect the quality of these links and their sources. Many companies were blacklisted by Google and lost all ranking. The companies that sold these services still walked free with a wallet full of cash.
Who was in the wrong?
The companies that bought these SEO services all claimed innocence, while the SEO companies all claimed that they were just playing within the law. It was a bit like punching someone on the football field: sure, it’s a vicious crime in society, but on the field, it’s just a free kick and a week’s suspension.
The question has to be though, were they so innocent? No one could possibly be so stupid as to not check on the credentials of their accountant, lawyer or the digital marketing firm that represents their company. Every conversation I have ever heard of after the event has involved someone telling the client that they can assure them of number 1 ranking on Google via their manipulation of the system.
So how do you create good backlinks now?
Firstly, the best backlinks are often not created by you or anyone else you could coerce. The best backlinks come from genuine websites which might have similar interests. If you create great content, people will share it. It might take time and you may have a lot of content that doesn’t hit the mark but that is allays what is going to serve you best. This is what the user is looking for and Google wants to give people good search result so they are looking for this too.
On the next level, we have quality links that may be in the same field as the website in question or a genuine directory. A medical practitioner may have a link from a government listing or a certified association, for example. A local business may have a link from their local traders’ association or their local council’s business network.
So, Google has learnt to only follow quality links. It uses machine learning to match data from all over the web and cleverly denies any link juice to websites it considers unworthy.
How are companies still beating Google?
Detect the websites that offer links that Google follows and hit them hard. There are many legitimate websites that just don’t have the resources to check every new listing. Some of them are important websites such as newspapers which have so much credible information that Google would never want to blacklist them. Users can add multiple backlinks disguised in many different ways to gain many links.
To explain it best I should give you a case study.
The dentist who bent the truth (just a little bit).
Richmond Family Dental employed Platinum Marketing to do some SEO work for them. Rather than go the path that Google outlines in its Quality Guidelines they decided to try beat the system, and it worked. They sought out credible sites to add their links to and went to town.
One such site was the Noosa News. As part of News Corp, Google can ill afford not to index them. But the Noosa News website offers free business listings to local businesses. This allowed Richmond Family Dental to create 20 different business listing under 20 different business names each with multiple links back to different areas of their website.
For example, a business listing ‘Invisalign Melbourne’ links back to their Invisalign page while one titled ‘Dental Implants Richmond’ links to their implant page. The intent of the site of course was to allow businesses in and around Noosa to create a single listing and link it to their site. I am 100% sure that they never foresaw a business 2,000km away listing themselves 20 times there.
This helped some of their key pages climb dramatically. For one key phrase which would cost over A$14 a click in AdWords they managed to achieve an organic ranking of 9 on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). This is an impressive result but at what cost.
Surely the integrity of Richmond Family Dental hangs in the balance. They haven’t outright told a lie, but they or a company who represent them definitely have tried fool Google. As the user is inclined to see these rankings as being genuine evidence to the quality or popularity of a business or their service, they have inadvertently manipulated the public. This type of action robs other genuine business of their income and as it stands against the morals of any medical practitioner I have done business with, forges an unfair playing field.
What do we expect Google to do about fake backlinks?
For a start, Google is quite clear that this is against their policy. They have resources to allow reporting and an actual human being will look into it. Unfortunately, their reporting form doesn’t quite match the issue at hand. The closest form they have is hidden in some fine print at the bottom of a page on Link Schemes.
If you see a site that is participating in link schemes intended to manipulate PageRank, let us know. We’ll use your information to improve our algorithmic detection of such links.
I’ve reported similar activity before and see a whole website disappear from Google and we can only hope they take similar action. This, however, will not stop the SEO company who is most likely the culprit from continuing this type of behavior. And as they haven’t broken any laws it may be hard for the dentist to find compensation. But as with any deal that sounds too good to be true, I expect there was some little voice in the back of their brain that said, “Maybe this isn’t right? Maybe we shouldn’t do this?”