Jul 22, 2015

Natural vs. Unnatural Links – What Does Google Say

Google wants people to link to quality websites – after all, part of the algorithm they use to judge whether a site is valuable to searchers uses inbound links to determine its popularity within the Internet community.

So when Google talks about avoiding unnatural links, what do they mean? More specifically, what do they have to do with law firm search engine optimization?

What is a Natural Link in SEO?

When you find a webpage that’s useful to your readers and adds authority or believability to what you’re writing, you might choose to link to it. Law firms often link to statutes and other helpful pages, and when that happens, Google considers it a natural link.

A natural link is something that will help your readers delve deeper into a topic or clarify what you mean. (The links in the first two paragraphs of this post are natural links because they’re there to help you.)

When a reputable website naturally links to your site, Google sees that as a point in your favor.

What is an Unnatural Link in SEO?

An unnatural link is one that doesn’t belong there and doesn’t make sense – and it certainly doesn’t add value for searchers.

We’ve all been to websites that have odd-looking links that don’t belong there. Some examples of this are blog comment spam, which looks like this:

Natural vs. Unnatural Links – What Does Google Say

This comment was posted to create a backlink to this essay service, but the comment has nothing to do with the blog post, which was about creating invoices for freelance services. It’s clearly spam, and when Google sees unnatural links such as this one splattered all over numerous websites, they can tell – and that will most likely spell disaster for that essay service’s rankings.

The same type of unnatural linking is used as a black hat SEO technique on webpages, in blog posts, and in user-powered forums.

Should You Buy Links?

For the most part, Google has identified ways to zero in on websites that have the sole purpose of selling links. Many of these sites have been penalized, but there are still businesses out there that offer to sell links to webmasters who don’t know any better.

What happens when a webmaster pays for links?

It’s not pretty. Google’s algorithm will notice the sudden influx of links and determine the quality of sites they’re coming from – and if they’re not coming from sites that Google already trusts, your website could be penalized and be knocked out of the search engine results pages altogether.

In most of these cases, purchased links are placed on sites that Google already considers “spam,” so you’ll get hit twice: first, you wasted money on the links, and second, you damaged your site’s ranking in the process. This has happened to law firms all over the country because at one time, Google didn’t punish sites for purchasing links… but now they do.

What is a Link Scheme?

When links are designed to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results, they’re considered to violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Any linking scheme that doesn’t have searchers’ best interests in mind is a “no-go” as far as Google is concerned.

Link schemes include:

  • Buying or selling links
  • Using automated programs that create links
  • Linking to other websites only so they’ll link to you
  • Putting keyword-rich anchor text in mass-distributed press releases

The key is that you’re not adding links to your site to build in value; you’re doing it for the sole purpose of creating a link.

What Does Google Do About Unnatural Links?

When links to your website show up on disreputable pages, or when they’re splattered all over the Internet without any clear purpose, Google can tell that they’re spam. When they find that artificial, manipulative or deceptive links point to your site, they can apply what’s called a “manual spam action.”

A manual spam action will penalize your website in the search engine results pages by lowering its ranking. It makes sense if you look at it from Google’s standpoint; if your site was high quality, links would be natural rather than paid for.

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