On a recent Q&A session, John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google, was asked an interesting question:
“If…we gave you like, 100 grand, and you weren’t working with Google, what would be the strategy that you would do?”
John replied, “Yeah, I don’t know, I think it’s always tricky to try to simplify it into one quick like…answer-type thing because then people try to take it out of context and say, ‘Oh, John said we should do this and therefore we’re going off and doing it en masse now.”
That was an interesting way to begin a response.
But he continued: “I think kind of the approach of creating good content and spreading the word about that content, finding people who who are maybe influential who are interested in that topic who might want to write about it.”
Okay. That’s solid, time-tested advice.
John continued: “I think all of that is fine. What is problematic is if you go off and, like, create those links yourself. So, if…you go off and just buy guest posts or you buy links directly on other people’s sites, from our point of view, that would be problematic…”
Okay, that’s pretty clear. We know that Google uses links as a ranking signal, and prefers that sites earn their links organically, rather than try to buy them in an effort to manipulate rank.
John went on to elaborate:
“Essentially, when it comes to webspam, if someone from the Webspam team looks at something and they look at a website and overall, it seems like, ‘Well there’s…a wide variety of…different kinds of links here,’ and some of them…you don’t really know if there’s…a weird story behind it where they might be kind of questionable, but there’s enough out there that’s also reasonable, then usually the Webspam team will say, ‘Well, we’ll let the algorithms take care of it.’”
What John is getting at here is something known in the SEO industry as a backlink profile. Presumably, Google can, of course, see a lot of the links that go to a particular website or web page (or, at least the ones that are helping to determine that site’s/page’s ranking).
Hmmm…does that mean that if someone does a little bit of ‘questionable’ backlinking, but also organically acquires (earns) natural backlinks and a human reviewer looks at their site’s backlink profile, that the reviewer will say, “We’ll let the algorithms take care of it”?
Not sure. I suppose it would depend on the guidelines the reviewer is using, but it is interesting that John said that, because it would imply that a mixture of ‘questionable’ and organic backlinking could work.
He continued: “…but if they look at it and they see…all of these links are essentially things that look quite a lot like guest posts, even though they’re not labeled like guest posts, then that might be something that they would take action on.”
So, if you pay for guest posts, even if the site that your post is on doesn’t look like a traditional guest posting site, a human reviewer at Google may be able to determine that this is, indeed, a guest post site.
(This would probably be the case if they see a pattern of such sites linking to you. An individual one may be a coincidence, but a number of them would form a pattern.)
I know: it’s a bit subjective. It may be hard to determine an authentic site from an artificial one that has the sole purpose of linking to other sites.
My advice: if you do want to do guest posting (whether paid or not), try to make sure that the sites get traffic and are ‘real’ sites, as opposed to empty link farms that get no real human visitors.
Good Content Alone (Probably) Isn’t Good Enough, But…
…you probably already knew that.
(Of course, that depends on the SEO competition of your industry, how competitive your keywords are, and how authoritative your site is.)
Depending on the SEO competition in your industry, you probably know that content is only part of the foundation of a medium- to long-term building process.
John went on to confirm that: “So essentially, when it comes to links, on the one hand…creating really good content is definitely the first step, but it’s also not the only thing.
“Like, just having good content is not going to make your site pop up in Google search; we do take things into account, like links, but lots of other factors as well.”
So, After Good Content, What Would John Do…?
John neared the end of his response by giving some good advice.
He said, “…but really, kind of spreading the word out and trying to get…contacts who are interested in the kind of content that you create, and encouraging them to…maybe link out [to your content] or at least check out your content as well and that can be all kinds of people. Like you could, for example, also just run a newsletter and just include the newest pages that you have. Things like that.”
So, in that last bit, I think John was alluding to 2 things: reaching out to others (who presumably have blogs or maybe content platforms where they can link to you, such as an influencer with a large social media following), and having a link in a newsletter.
Of course, an authentic mention from a real influencer is a more organic way of acquiring a link.
That’s a sharp contrast to buying a guest post on a site that gets no traffic, and has hundreds of other posts that link to hundreds of other sites.
And of course, a human reviewer from Google’s Webspam team can see that.
As for the newsletter suggestion, I have an idea as to how that might positively affect your SEO: I’d bet that Google tracks what people click on in their Gmail accounts, so if Google sees that a handful of its Gmail users click links going to your site, it may count as a positive ranking factor.
Granted, I haven’t verified this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case.
So, what would you do for your SEO plan if you were given $100K?