- Google Search - This is a software engine matching user queries for Internet documents references with Internet documents references already indexed by Google. Indexed documents are classified according to their PageRank, backlinks, Panda evaluation. Google perform a complete refresh of its index about every month to 6 weeks. However, parts of it are also updated much faster (hourly, daily, weekly).
- PageRank - It is a Google algorithm attributing a number representing the relative importance of a webpage within a set of webpages connected to each other via HTML links (references). A page connected to other pages with high PageRanks automatically benefit from this higher PageRank.
- SERP - It stands for Search Engine Results Page. This is what is returned by search engines when you make a query. The higher your website is on this page (SERP rank), the more user attention it will get. The higher the probability of getting user traffic to your page.
- Backlink - It is a link from another website to your website. It is also called an inbound link or link for short.
- Outbound link - It is a link from your website to another website. Other websites' outbound links to your site are backlinks to you.
- Internal link - It is a link from inside your website to another part of your website.
- Cross-linking - A pat on the back system where two or more website owners agree to put backlinks to each others' websites.
- Panda - It is Google's artificial intelligence system, constructed with real user feedback, to sort between valuable and non-valuable websites from a quality perspective.
- Penguin Update - It is a set of modification to Google's Search algorithm aiming at penalizing use of low quality backlinks. It has had a harsh impact on some websites' SERP ranking.
- Black Hat & White Hat Techniques - These refer respectively to manipulative/shady techniques to artificially generate traffic and links, as opposed to fair and acceptable techniques.
- Organic - This is a synonym of 'natural' when talking about user visit growth or number of backlinks growth. White hat techniques generating more links and traffic, generate organic (or natural) growth.
- Bounce rate - An indication that a user went to a website, but did not do anything on it (for example, clicking on a button) or left immediately.
- Document Indexing - Internet documents contain words. Google Search extracts words from these documents and maintains an inverse index from words to references to these documents. When a user performs a query, the corresponding words are extracted and used to search for document references in this index. Several computers are involved and return their own set of documents references in less than a second. The best ones are retained and displayed to the user.
- PageRank, Panda & Penguin Update - At the beginning, PageRank used to be the main method to estimate the value of a web page (document) for users. Not anymore. Panda and the Penguin Update are as important, if not more when computing a website's SERP rank. The role of PageRank has been heavily sedated. Other tweaks made by Google to their systems have been noticed by publishers too.
- Backlinks & SERP Rank - It is not enough to have backlinks to a website, you also need to have natural user traffic to that website in order to increase your SERP rank. The more they visit your website, the higher your SERP rank.
- Manipulations & Consequences - Over time, PageRank has been heavily manipulated by unscrupulous publishers by creating false backlinks from artificial websites or by redirecting artificial traffic to their websites. There is an ongoing effort at Google to detect and fight all black hat techniques. Their algorithms and systems are frequently updated and improved to detect websites using those techniques, sometimes with very harsh consequences on SERP rank and even exclusion from programs such as AdSense. This is also true for link farms in bad neighborhoods. Google can remove a website from its index, and will do so when it performs spamming.
- Mindsets - Panda aims at killing the SEO mindset in favor of a UIO mindset. If Panda deems that your website is of bad quality, a high number of quality backlinks to it won't save its SERP rank.
- Conversion - Many people confuse SERP ranking with conversion. A website with a high SERP rank will be exposed to more potential users, which will increase its conversion rate (i.e., click on the link). However, if users are unsatisfied with the content of the website, they will not come back to it. The bounce rate will be high and the conversion rate will drop, which ultimately will lead to a SERP Rank drop, which leads to less exposure, etc... It is a vicious circle. Google measures user activity and uses this information for its index ranking.
- User Content - It's valuable user content that generates high conversion rates, which in turn contributes to more visitors, and therefore higher SERP ranking. Google follows people. A good SEO implementation without good user content just doesn't work.
Do's & Don'tsWhen you are creating a new website, you need quality backlinks to get user attention, but user attention is required to get quality backlinks. It is a chicken and egg problem. You need to create a virtuous circle. It is called organic growth (by word of mouth). But, a set of bad backlinks will impact your SERP rank very negatively. You must dodge them at any price.
- Don't pay to get backlinks - Google knows who is selling this service and where the links are coming from. If it finds out that you use them, you will be penalized.
- Don't use software applications generating false links - Same remark, Google knows them and will penalize you if you use them.
- High increase of backlinks in a short period of time attracts scrutiny - If Google detects that these are bad quality or unnatural links, you will be harshly penalized. If these come from organic growth, you are safe. There is no such thing as too many organic links. No penalty for that.
- Never register your website URL to shady, suspicious or unknown repositories or search engines (even if it is free) - You take the risk of attracting traffic or links coming from bad neighborhoods (link farms for example). Google knows them and will penalize you if you use them.
- Don't participate into cross-linking schemes - These can be detected and you can be penalized for this. Such backlinks are often coming from bad neighborhoods.
- Avoid unrelated and irrelevant reciprocal links - If your site is about coffee, don't ask your friend to put a backlink on his 'most beautiful hair contest' website. Such links have very little to zero positive impact on your SERP rank. They usually don't generate valuable user traffic.
- Don't ask users to put a link to your site in return of a free service (such as 'Sponsored by...') - These are considered bad links with no real user value.
- Don't post backlinks with keyword-optimized anchor text everywhere, over and over - Although backlinks with relevant keywords in their anchor text help, putting them everywhere, all over the place, with the same anchor text, will be considered as spamming.
- Don't create an article with a couple of backlinks and post it everywhere, over and over - Google knows how to detect duplicate content or nearly duplicate content. Duplicate content is equivalent to spam. There is no added value for the user. You can use this tool to check for plagiarism.
- Don't create invisible or one pixel backlinks - Since user don't see them, they are not valuable to them. Google can detect such links.
- Don't create too many outbound links - If you create (say) 2000 outbound links from a webpage, there is a very low probability that this is really useful to your users. It may be considered as a black hat technique to generate backlinks and put your website in the bad neighborhood category.
- Avoid affiliate links - These are not considered valuable by Panda.
- Avoid using controversy to stir debates and attention - Ultimately, it is not about creating user value. It is about creating a buzz for your site.
- Don't spam forums and blogs with your URL - It is not about creating user value too. It creates bad quality links, especially when the blog or forum is not related to your site's content.
- Don't create artificial blogs or forums about your website - They will quickly be flagged as bad content, then bad neighborhood and will never get a high PageRank. On the long term, they become liabilities.
- Don't pay people to write dummy marketing articles with your URL - Sooner or later, it will be identified as bad user content, then bad neighborhood and will never get a high PageRank too. They become liabilities on the long term too.
- Don't buy shallow URLs with a permanent redirect to your website - This will almost always be considered as traffic manipulation. If you need to change your URL (domain name), do check the procedure to follow at each search engine.
- Don't start using the 'new' black hat technique that works! - This is a short-term approach with a hefty long term price. Google will find about it and will implement solutions to detect them and penalize websites using them. Just be patient!
- Do have backlinks from websites having a high PageRank - The higher the PageRank of websites having a backlink to yours, the better.
- More backlinks is better than no backlinks - Pages with more backlinks are updated more often.
- A few high quality backlinks trumps a set of bad quality backlinks - In fact, bad quality backlinks are a liability when computing SERP rank. This is not to be confused with low PR website backlinks, which are always useful, but less useful.
- Do have some keywords in your domain name URL - If your URL is not a brand name, having keywords related to the content helps (for example: www.victorian-furniture.com). It makes your backlinks a bit more valuable when computing SERP ranks.
- Do use keywords in the anchor text of your backlinks - It is a bit better to have keywords in the anchor text of your backlinks than not, but don't abuse this technique.
- Do try to get backlinks from valuable top level domains (TLD) such a .edu and .gov - These websites tend to have a higher PageRank.
- Do vary the source of your backlinks - Directories, blogs, articles, forum, social networks, social bookmarking, press release, web pages...
- Do register your URL in professional directories related to your user content - If such directories exist (and are not disguised farm links), it is a good source of traffic.
- Do include your URL in your signature - When sending emails in mail lists for example.
- Do create a few cross-links with other relevant pages - It is o.k. to generate a few backlinks with other quality websites having the same or a similar content to yours, but don't abuse this. Excessive cross-linking makes users run away.
- Do answer questions in blogs and forums - Add a link to your website if and only if it is useful for the user and if he/she will find a service or information related to his/her question or issue.
- Do create original work, how to's & tutorials - These tend to generate users visits and backlinks.
- Do create 'best of' lists or get into them - 'Best website for this or that'. It does generates traffic. People search for these.
- Do use social buttons - Google uses social network links and information (such a Facebook and Twitter) to compute SERP rankings.
- Do get Social Bookmarking networks backlinks - These are a good sources of backlinks and traffic, but their impact is believed to be reduced when computing SERP ranks.
- Great content trumps great backlinks - Great backlinks without great user content is useless.
- Remove duplicate internal links to same content - Google penalizes excessive duplicate links to same content.
- Low-tail websites don't need many backlinks to take-off - If you are targeting a niche or if your website content does not have much competition, you don't need many backlinks to take-off and get a nice SERP Rank.
- Find where your competition's backlink come from - ...and sort valuable ones from bad quality ones. It will give you ideas where to find extra quality backlinks.
- Relevant NO FOLLOW backlinks are your friends - They help creating organic traffic (see further).
- Learn how to use Google Alert to find locations to create backlinks - This is a great trick I saw in a YouTube video (but I don't have the reference anymore). Create Google Alerts using keywords related to your website content and just wait for notifications. There may be a lot of garbage, but sometimes, you will get a valuable link to a blog, forum or website where your participation can increase user value (by sharing your URL).
About NOFOLLOW LinksWhen you add the rel="nofollow" attribute to a HTML link, you are basically telling search engines to not take this link into account when computing backlinks to a website. This is a solution to link spamming on blogs and forums. Several years ago, the number of backlinks to a website had a much bigger impact than it does today. Webmaster had little control on this (allowing comments or not).
Today, webmasters can configure their websites to flag all links on comments (for example) with the NOFOLLOW attribute. This means that (well-behaving) search engines will stop at this link in their exploration of the website (or the Internet). Hence, this has reduced the incentive for link spamming. They don't count as backlinks anymore.
However, NOFOLLOW links are still valuable, because they can generate user traffic to your website. BUT if and only if this link is relevant to users passing by. They contribute to organic traffic growth.
SERP ranking is by no mean the only source for getting valuable traffic.
Getting Out Of Trouble & Prevention
If you have been trapped with links coming from bad neighborhoods, of if your source of backlinks suddenly turned into bad quality links, or if you have been penalized by the Penguin update or other Google updates, the number one objective is to dilute the number of bad links as much as possible into organic links, on top of reviewing the above do and don't check list.
- Keep monitoring the origin of your backlinks
- Delete as much bad quality links your created as you can
- Contact webmasters and request their backlinks to your site to be deleted (if you can't do it yourself)
- If they won't answer or follow-up, consider calling a Lawyer to scare or sue them, especially if you did not create those links
- Optimize your website content to attract users, be compelling. Ultimately, they will create additional organic backlinks
- Worse case scenario, move your website to a new domain name