Before I go any further, these are my views and not the views of my employer.
Just to be clear, this is not going to be the typical “Guide to link building in [insert year]“. The Internet has been awash with these predictions on link building strategies for many years, mainly in the hope of high rankings and potential traffic. There have been a few hiccups with the predictions over the years, most notably in 2011 with 99.9% of the sites publishing their annual “lets’ update last years’ post and make it feel like fresh content for 2012’s predictions”, but hey! Who saw that one coming other than Matt Cutts and a handful of Google Engineers…
Nobody knows for sure what will happen in the future since Google’s Algorithm is changing so much on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis, that it’s difficult to accurately predict what they’ll throw at us next, so the only real long term strategy is to ensure you’re taking as much of the risk out of your SEO and Link Building as possible.
The only time you can actually consider taking more risks with your strategy is if you’re doing link building for affiliate sites, microsites for promotions, upcoming sales or to showcase small portions of your products or services. Then your options are vastly more open as you can afford to take a little more risk with what you’re doing. If the site gets caught in an algorithmic or manual penalty, you’ll be able to make a far easier judgement call on how you proceed knowing that this is not your main source of income.
If you’re link building for your main business website or the website where you earn your main income from. Then unfortunately, unless you’re one of life’s gamblers, the only option is a low risk link building strategy. What that means is you need to be far more cautious about what you’re doing and try and avoid any undue risks which may catch the attention of Google. Although we’d all like to rank first and be at the top of Google within hours, days or even weeks of starting out chasing all of the high search volume keywords within our niche. Those days of overnight rankings have long gone for high competition keywords, especially if you plan to be found in Google in the long term. The fact remains that the high risks that people are often willing to take to get faster rankings are often not as worthwhile as the perceived reward/value they will gain from this strategy.
As you can see from the chart below which has been knocking around for quite a few years, the largest amount of keywords bringing traffic to your website will most likely be longtail keywords with around 70% of these keywords being made up of search queries of around 3-4+ words. Now due to Google’s Penguin and Panda updates, over optimising your site and your links to rank for these high volume keywords has become a risky strategy, but that doesn’t have to mean you’re not going to get any traffic to your site at all. Thanks to longtail keyword rankings, these lower volume keyword searches all add up, together making a far larger sum of traffic together than on their own.
Of course there will always be those who consider a first place ranking for a high volume keyword to be the pinnacle of their SEO strategy. Those who look on with envy and jealousy at their competitors proudly sitting at the top of Google in first place for their preferred keywords should take note. Does that really mean that being in the first position of Google means they’re getting 100% of the traffic that the Google Keyword Planner tool would have us believe is searching for our keywords each month?
Well maybe not if this post from 2011 on Search Engine Watch about Google rankings is to be believed. In it, they have covered this exact same question pulling together a few different data sets from various sources which are all suggesting the same thing. They have a graph from Chitika’s own Google ranking research (which has been updated in 2013). As you can see, a top position on Google is only worth between 30%-40% of the overall search traffic. I would expect that a short tail search would likely produce much lower click-through rates for the top positions than a longtail search. The reasoning behind this is that a short tail search query usually throws up all manner of results. Some of which will be totally unrelated to what we’re searching for. Google isn’t a mind reader after all! So unlike a longtail search query where we’re giving Google more clues about what we’re really looking for. The likelihood that the first 3-5 results correctly answer our query are much slimmer and in turn will likely result in the low number of click-throughs shown by these studies.
If this hasn’t convinced you yet that you need to be far more careful these days about what you’re doing. Then you seriously need to consider what impact a Google Penalty would have on your business or your income.
Your site being de-indexed by Google would leave you with little option but to increase the amount of direct traffic to your website. Be it through Paid Marketing channels such as Google Adwords and Facebook Marketing, banner advertising on industry related niche websites and forums or through Social Media. If you take a look at your current visitor stats, I’m guessing that at least 51% organic visits (Search Engine Land) and 64% organic visits (Conductor) will be coming from Google. This would represent a huge amount of lost traffic for any website if Google was to de-index your website.
You see one of the biggest bug bears for me is the almost annual flux of blog posts which appear from people writing “Guru” type blog posts proclaiming to know what everyone should be doing link building wise, in the next 12 months which incidentally is where this blog post idea came from after stumbling across one such blog post. Half the time they’re either re-writing what is working currently and simply hoping to get their blog post ranking for a well searched keyword phrase, or they’re very misguided in what they’re saying and simply re-writing what they’ve scraped together from other websites in the hope of building a following on their blog.
The unfortunate thing is that a lot of inexperienced SEO’s and business owners will read bad advice and act upon it themselves. Where it gets worse is when these inexperienced SEO’s then go on to create their own websites and write what they have learnt from others helping to increase the amount of poor advice in circulation. The problem is, once there are enough sites all saying the same thing, right or wrong. Do you trust your own judgement or do you consider that all of these site owners must know what they’re talking about?
That’s not to say that this type of thing only happens in SEO! I’m sure there were many people in Finance and Banking in 1929 and of course much more recently in 2007 who thought everything was going great and never dreamed that it would all come crashing down around them. Nobody could have predicted what would happen to the World economy any more than people could predict what changes Google had in store for us in 2012. So who really knows what’s going to happen in the next 3, 6 or even 12 months?
The only advice I can offer is to play the game wisely, since backlinks are and always will be the main currency online to ensure you get traffic to your website from Google. No matter what Matt Cutts, or any of the other more outspoken Googlers have to say about SEO. They realise that we’re all having to do link building to some degree to be found by Google. But that doesn’t mean that you have to take stupid risks, so play safely in case Google (or a Police Dog) come up and bite you on the a**!
Lets’ look at the number of changes Moz have recorded in the past 3 years
37 Google updates in 2012
Can you believe that there were a total of 37 changes made in Google according to Moz.com, the biggest and well known being the Penguin update – Source: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2012
17 Google updates in 2013
Then in 2013 there were only 17 changes made in Google according to Moz.com, other than Penguin and Panda updates. Google introduced the Hummingbird update – Source: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2013
14 Google updates in 2014 (up until November)
It would appear Google has slowed down on the number of updates in 2014 with only 14 changes made in Google according to Moz.com, but don’t let that get you thinking that Google has been putting its feet up a bit in 2014! There were updates to Penguin and Panda which are a given! There were also the “Payday Loans” updates, the changes in Authorship in the SERPs, the Pigeon Local SEO update and of course the SSL update – Source: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2014
?? Google updates in 2015
Who knows what they have planned for us in 2015. I would expect nothing less than a few more tweaks of the Penguin and Panda algorithms. I’m sure before the year is out, there will also be some more tweaks to the layout of the search results. We’ve already seen Google incorporating answers to queries within the search results. I’m sure they’ll be pushing forwards with this a little more than they have already.
So as you can see if you’ve been involved in SEO for long enough, you won’t have failed to notice just how many updates Google rolls out year on year which affect the way we do SEO and Link Building. You cannot build an SEO strategy around what anyone suggests will work in the future.
So what are my Link Building predictions for 2015?
All we know for sure is what is working today! Any good SEO and online marketer should be prepared to change and adapt to what ever Google throws at us. As the saying goes, “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”. But as I’ve already explained within this blog post, you should be prepared with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C because lets’ face it, who knows what Google has planned for 2015!