Link building: Past, Present and Future
Link building used to be an easier task in the past. It was the sole way of getting better position at organic search results and captured more target audience. With passing time, it is becoming more challenging due to increasingly high impact of modern entries to the list of Google technologies.
This blog post shows you the complete picture of link building, telling what was, what is and what ought to be.
Links have been a ranking factor and will always remain one. However, there have been shifts in the way Google determines rank of a page in organic search, but the importance of link building cannot be ignored. So is the case with the strategies. Google is digging deep into the process of identifying which website performs better or how pages should be ranked. There are lots of indicators which tell Google about performance of a page and give suggestions for ranks such as the Penguin update. Google is becoming more aware of the new methods and is refining its result which is increasing relevancy of search results for the users.
Growing competition in the future and well defined metrics by Google will result in very high quality links to land on the first page. This would demand a high performing product and an amazing marketing plan which is efficiently implemented and managed.
We as marketers and web masters must be aware of all changes Google is adopting and must carve out a way for our product to shine amongst all those standing in the queue. Understanding each and every update will help us to use the whole system to gain a lot for our product. It will also tell us about the weak areas which need to be worked on.
The core problem with Google as a search engine was lack of understanding about the links. A lot of key factors were ignored and unimportant things were given attention. A summary of problems from the past can be listed in the form of following questions:
- Is the link relevant?
- Is the link trustworthy?
- What is the scope of the link?
- How much the link is worth to Google? (Paid or unpaid)
- What is quality of the link?
- To what extent is the link good enough?
All these questions were not been answered and there were no true metrics to test the effectiveness of a page. There was a large audience to select from and refining process was slow. Google realized the problems it was facing and started working on it. It was necessary to find the right people from the crowd who deserved to be on the top. Solution to these problems was the “Penguin technology” which in a way revolutionized the whole system. It was able to distinguish between good and bad signals. Good signals remained untouched. However bad signals were pointed out and pages were ranked accordingly. The change in action plan made marketers realize the issues with their product and they started to work on them. It has changed things but a lot needs to be fixed still.
Looking at the present we can say that things have changed. Google has learnt a lot and is applying new methods to improve its ranking system. The system has improved and Google is now able to address to a variety of questions efficiently. Google has learnt the original intent of a user behind performing a search. It may not be what the words seem like. Google uses search history and preferences of a user in determining the search results and paid advertisements. Thus, a customer is more likely to get relevant answers to the questions asked.
Hummingbird, being the start was very successful. All query related problems are resolving slowly and lots of improvements are still to come. The answering system of Google has improved and users are getting query related answers.
An example below shows a complex question not directly indicating what is required. Google however was able to identify it and gave the first page result related to the query I asked.
Ray Kurzweil, the man behind this drastic change, was appointed by Google in 2012. His role in machine learning and language processing cannot be ignored. With his appointment he spoke the following words:
There have been lots of advancements in the system now as the guy in lead is focusing on strengthening the answering system of Google. There are now answers available to confusing queries as well like the one shown in example.
Googlers are now better understood by the search engine management. To build up the network and to give better results Google is trying to collect as much information about the user as possible. Keywords now play an important role in determining the organic and paid search results. Google also understands that the keywords may not actually denote the intention of the searcher and thus context of the query is considered while considering other factors. Thus factors affecting rank of a page are increasing and the position of links is differing from the previous one.
With so much improvement in the system Google has no plans to stop. It is constantly working to improve the quality of service being offered to customers. Some predictions can be made about the future of world’s biggest search engine which are as follows:
- Lesser impact of Deep linking:
The page rank algorithm says that links within a website are connected and deep links are affected by performance of the main page. It was thought to be the most important step of link building. But it is a complex mechanism creating great confusion in few cases which can be demonstrated through following example:
An E-Commerce site is selling cellphones from different companies. It contains a page of description for each type of product. Cell phones can be categorized in a variety of ways including parent company, features and price range etc. This would create a number of deep links on the website. There will be many other sites as well which sell the same products from the very same companies and operate their website in a similar way. Thus, determining the page rank through just deep linking would not be a good choice. They do not inform us about success of a particular page. Thus there should be more filtering options available to Google except for deep linking.
Then intention of a searcher may not be obvious from his keywords. A user may search for example “Smart phone reviews” which mean that he is interested in purchase but is confused about the exact model. Searching for reviews of a particular company’s smartphones would mean that a choice needs to be made from their variety of products. A comparison question between two competitors will mean that the person wants suggestion for the better performing more efficient one.
With the change in queries the result of search should also vary. Google now considers some factors and uses them to determine what the user might actually be interested in. It considers the Location to see where the user might be present and what action is he interested in for example sale or reading reviews only. Search history is useful as it tells about what the user has been looking for in past and what action is he likely to take after performing a search at Google. Thirdly, Device used for making the search is also considered. Usually a person searching from a cellphone makes fewer sales as compared to that of other devices. Security of the payment page of the site which is likely to appear as a search result is also important. Google also considers user statistics and reviews while ordering pages in natural search result. To take for example, Wikipedia pages perform much better than those of other similar websites. It is because Wikipedia is considered as an authority in information and is a large site which is considered trustworthy by the users. Thus Wikipedia pages usually appear in the top five search results.
- Decrease in importance of Anchor text:
Anchor text was thought to be an important factor in determining position of a page. Previously Google paid gave a lot of importance to this tool and depended on it to give results for a search query. This is however not going to work in the future. Google has a very large number of users amongst whom those using exact match phrases are really less. Thus understanding the context of the query is the feature which helps in determining search result and not the anchor text. Anchor text’s importance has not yet diminished and it will slowly take the back seat. However, having commercial anchor text can have a negative impact on positioning of a person’s profile. The content of page and context of the query will be the determining factors in a page’s position in natural search result and anchor text will least matter.
- Growth opportunity for smaller organizations:
Search Engine Optimization started off as a field where choice of correct technology could give much better position to a page rather than the big name of the parent company. Things however have changed. Today, organizations need a heavy budget and an excellent product to rank amongst the top search result.
Future is expected to bring good things back and change the current position. Moving to the old style, SEO will again be a platform where the quality of web pages and other online material determine the rank of a page rather than quantity of money involved. I do not support it because I want to see bigger companies having lower positions; I intend to do it because sometimes posts from smaller names are more relevant to a person’s query and should thus be ranked above others.
Measure to be taken in future
There are a number of things that webmasters, marketers, SEO and SEM will need to do with the changing technology of Google. All these actions are extremely important for their survival in the highly competitive industry. Some of them are mentioned below:
- Be informed:
In the ever changing modern world it is need of the day to remain informed of the latest innovations in the field. Choice of users, their expectations and the style in which industry operates are all variables. Businesses of today cannot survive without adaptation. “Survival of the fittest” is the statement which best describes current scenario.
Google is working really hard and is determined to bring advancements in its technology as fast as possible. A good knowledge of all such systems is required to make effective strategies and run a campaign successfully.
- Change your marketing strategy:
A business today can run properly only if they opt for a customer centered approach. Making an outstanding business move that attracts people at once may not be easy for everyone. But it is surely possible to adopt strategies that are customer friendly and deliver products that they demand. A heavy budget campaign is not the only way out. One has to identify the points that matter the most to all potential customers and pitch them accordingly. The approach of marketers should be towards hat is mostly loved by the users. It is good to do experiments with the style of marketing and testing what suits best the needs of the customers while highlighting the product features.
- Question yourself:
Questioning is one of the ways of knowing what we want to deliver or what are the key goals. They tell us about the strong selling points of our products and inform about the weak underperforming zones. A marketer can ask questions from himself and the company to be sure about what is that they are advertising and is their product worth spending time and money on.
Few questions to be asked within the team are as follows:
Q: Why should we get a top link?
Q: What distinguishes our product from other?
Q: What makes us stand out from the crowd?
Q: Why am I using Google to earn brand name?
Q: What is the value of our customers?
Q: What is the latest trend in the industry?
Q: Am I well informed about every new technique?
There are a few questions that can be asked from potential customers through surveys or direct communication. These questions are very helpful in planning a strategy and implementing it. Some examples of questions to be asked are given below:
Q: What do you like the most about the product?
Q: What would you like to change about the product?
Q: How do you rate our product?
Q: Would you recommend us to your friends and family?
Q: What is your vision of a website for such a product?
Q: Are we delivering according to your expectations?
All these questions start a thinking process. This approach always develops positivity in the team and they are thus able to identify their weaknesses. It gives them an opportunity to work on such areas and bring improvements.
- Avoid scalable link building tactics:
Scalable link building tactics could be one of the worst decisions a company could take and can contribute to heavy loss suffered by the organization. Google with its technology is able to identify any such tactic being used by websites and its automatic system blocks the content from displaying on search results. Outreach of a content should not be the worked upon by using such tactics. A great piece of work followed by small scale promotion could even work for us. Millions of dollars do not need to be spent every time.
Summary of my findings
A review of past and present of Link building and study of Google’s growing technology has opened new doors for us. In past traditional methods determined the position of a web page. This made it easier to use SEO for personal benefit and better positions were gained by experts. However, with the passage of time Google realized that it needed to modify its method of determining positions of a page and include measurable effective factors. It realized the importance of understanding content of the page and context of a user to understand search query and give relevant results. Language processing ability of the system was improved with a lot of hard work. All these attempts finally paid off and Google was able to read mind of its customers while looking into various details. Today complex and confusing queries also produce relevant results. The future is yet to bring many exciting twists in the story. It is a need of time for all users as well as marketers to remain informed about the advancements in Google’s technology. Companies van only gain better position in search results without spending millions of dollars by understanding the tactics that would make them successful. This is very important for the progress and success of the businesses that are competing in the industry.