Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s search quality engineering and the liaison with the SEO industry, showed up at the Search Engine Strategies Conference in San Fransisco held last week. Matt offered some insights into what Google has in store for web site owners who have used poor quality link building strategies.
The Google Panda updates have been penalizing web sites with poor quality content since February of 2011. Each Panda update dug deeper into issues with sites whose content has been copied from other web sites or is generally poor quality.
The newer Google Penguin updates started to hit sites in April of 2012. Penguin focuses on sites where the owners have used poor quality link building techniques, either through their own efforts or by using link building services that placed excessive numbers of links in poor quality directories and unrelated sites. How the links were created is not relevant. The fact that they exist is relevant and can have a devastating negative impact on rank positions and traffic.
In the past, Google has merely discounted or eliminated the value of links that they considered to be from poor quality sources. Penguin changed that by intentionally reducing the rank positions for web sites with too many poor quality backlinks pointing to the sites. In other words, web sites are now being penalized for violating Google’s link building rules.
Here is part of Matt’s statement:
That means that Google will likely drill down deeper into a site’s backlink profile to flag more sites with poor quality sources for links. There is likely some threshold number for the percentage of poor quality links that will trigger reduced rank penalties. The first round of Penguin updates already had a negative impact on rank positions for at least hundreds of thousands of web sites. According to Matt, the next round of updates will potentially do much more damage.
The good news is that Google has been posting notices in a site’s associated Google Webmaster Tools account when they identify unnatural linking patterns. If you have a Webmaster Tools account, that would give you some warning that Google is about to take action and they should remove as many poor quality links as they can. The bad news is that it is not always possible to identify bad links or to have them removed. This in turn has created a panic situation with some web site owners who are sending notices to almost every site that has linked to them. This is something that is not good for the web because the web itself is based upon natural linking patterns among related web sites.
What are poor quality links that can get your site Google-slapped?
- Poor quality directories like those used by link building services that offer to sell you thousands of links to your site. I have advised people to not use these services for more than five years and ever since Google started to discount the value of directory link. We are not talking about legitimate local business directories. Links from local business directories do add value and should be pursued.
- Stand-alone links from unrelated sites. These links are not embedded in an article and are typically found outside of the normal content in a page, such as a sidebar or page footer.
- Links from unrelated articles. A natural linking pattern would include embedded contextual links to your site from within articles that focus on the same topic as your site. A link from an article about cell phone ring tones would therefore not be a natural link for a veterinary services web site.