Links, FUD, and Webmaster Guidelines

The confusion and misinformation surrounding link-building is truly breathtaking. It’s really no surprise, thanks to Google and the FUD they’ve spread. I was recently reminded about just how deep the misunderstanding runs, when I visited Google’s Webmaster Central Help Forum dedicated to crawling, indexing, and ranking.

As you might imagine, the discussions on this forum are primarily focused on organic rankings, or the lack thereof. In one discussion, the subject of link-building came up, and a site owner shared this thought:

“… I can try to build links on my own.”

The reply, from a “top contributor” – “Please doesn’t do this, unless you plan on no-following all of them. Building followed links is against guidelines.”

Doh! (aka untrue)

To put this fully in perspective, this comment appears in the official Google product forum. The forum is the designated place for users to go, in hopes of getting an answer to their Google crawling, ranking, and indexing questions. Occasionally, a Googler might jump in, but most of the “service” is provided by volunteers.

This presents a serious flaw in the system. Volunteers, despite their best intentions, don’t always get it right. In the case of the thread where I dropped in, they got it dead wrong. This is unacceptable and Google has an obligation to moderate these forums and correct misstatements pertaining to their guidelines.

Getting back to the forum, I asked the contributor to “Please cite your source for ‘Building followed links is against guidelines.'”

Instead of getting a response from the original contributor, a different contributor decided to jump in, with this response:

If someone is building links, that normally means that they have a hand in generating those links. The rule of thumb is to gain links through having a great website, content, advertising (which drives people to the site and they may link to you) etc. But building links normally refers to link buying, guest posting for link, low quality directory submissions, etc. You can build links if the site drives traffic to you but then you need to use the nofollow tag which safeguards you against Google’s penalties.”

Unbelievable. Now my interest was really piqued, with two different contributors spreading the FUD. In the interest of getting people in sync with the actual guidelines, I responded with this:

Nowhere in the guidelines is it stated “You can build links if the site drives traffic to you but then you need to use the nofollow tag”

When someone is organically linking to useful content…neither the author nor website can control if the link is followed or not.

I’ve performed over 200 link audits and have assisted scores of clients in getting penalties revoked. I have a pretty good handle on link building and the guidelines. Just trying to cut down on the FUD being spread here.”

After that exchange, the first contributor felt it was the right time to chime back in with this useful comment:

“I always feel left out in a pissing match.”

As Jimmy Fallon might say…Thank you, “Top Contributor.”

With the hornets’ nest, fully stirred, contributor two jumped back in the conversation:

“That FUD as you refer to it is a game we play called ‘Best Case Scenario.’ If we say X, most of the readers will try X*42. X1 or X2 might be acceptable and X3 might even be tolerated, but there is no way X42 is going to avoid the penalty… we don’t mention X.”

So…we don’t mention X – really? Followed up by contributor three:

“Maybe not.” (Challenging the assertion that I know what I’m talking about. :))

“You are still trying to build, less aggressive than others, but it is still building. Instead of building, why don’t you suggest improve what you already have won? So why don’t any of the people advocating the building of links ever mention fixing the low-hanging fruit?”

I’m not sure why the two would be considered mutually exclusive, but with the ball back in my court, I responded:

“It has NOTHING to do with best case scenario – it’s all about understanding the guidelines and following them.

FUD = all link-building is bad and scary ’cause It might cause a link penalty

Reality = Backlinks = Rankings, Rankings = Traffic – Deal With It!

I’m not looking for an argument – just stating the facts.

The Key Takeaway

There’s a lot of bad information floating around the Web pertaining to link-building. Even on the official Google webmaster forums. You owe it to yourself to read and understand the link scheme section of the webmaster guidelines. While it’s true that spammy links can cause a penalty, it is equally true that good backlinks are still the most powerful, off-page, ranking factor.

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