Google Engineer Diogo Botelho recently made a blog post on the Portuguese Webmaster Central Blog advising that you should never ask for links in what was seen as a significant change to existing advice.
Previous advice was more refined, and considerably more detailed than this blanket statement, and you will find a summary of the Google Link Scheme Guidelines later in this article, as well as what Google's John Mueller had to say about link procurement.
We thank Aaron Wall for bringing this to the community's attention.
The offending part of the article is set out below, and was quickly picked up by many SEOs as being a considerable tightening of the rules relating to obtaining backlinks:
Which translates to:
Finally, let some simple advice to ensure that you are not violating Google's guidelines: do not buy, sell, exchange or ask for links. If you follow this advice, the vast majority of links that Google considers problematic not come to be created.
The Existing Advice relating to Link Schemes
Before the new advice contained in the Portuguese blog post, the best reference for getting links was in the Google Quality Guidelines Link Schemes page. This provides the following guidance:
Link Schemes that may negatively impact ranking
This includes any links intended to manipulate PageRank or the website's ranking the search results. You can be in violation of the Google Guidelines for both giving the links, and receiving them. Here are some examples:
- Buying or Selling links that pass PageRank (i.e. Dofollow links) — This could be exchanging links for money, goods or services.
- Link Exchanges — This is where two webmasters agree to link to each other or partner pages \ websites for the sole purpose of cross-linking.
- Large-scale article marketing \ guest posting campaigns — Reference is made to keyword-rich anchor texts, so we presume this refers to the Google Penguin penalty.
- Automated backlink building — There are services and programs that will create 1000s of automated links to articles and web 2.0 style websites. These should be avoided.
Unnatural links that may violate Google Guidelines
Unnatural links are ones that were not editorially placed, or placed by the website owner themselves. Here are some examples:
- Text advertisement that
passPageRank — It is recommended that all advert links use rel="nofollow" to prevent PageRank passing.
- Paid advertorial or native advertising — Google does not allow payment for any links
- Links with optimized anchor text — Google does not like optimized anchor texts in articles or press releases on other websites.
- Low-Quality directory or bookmark website links — These are frequently taken advantage of by spammers automating large numbers of backlinks
- Widget links — Especially if they are keyword rich, hidden or low-quality.
- Footer Links — You should ensure all footer links or other links repeated in the template (i.e. sidebars, headers, etc.) are NoFollow.
- Forum Links — This includes keyword optimized links both the comment section and the signature.
As you can see from the guidelines, there is considerable scope for links that are not overly optimized or indeed links that are not widely distributed. This differs considerably from the "do not ask for any links" advice given in the Portuguese Webmaster Central blog post.
Other SEO's picked up on the change of advice Google has given with "raised eyebrows". As a result, Google has qualified the statement in their blog post by reference to the Link Scheme Guidelines (as highlighted above):
Finally, let some simple advice to ensure that you are not violating Google's guidelines: do not buy, sell, exchange or ask that violate links Our webmaster guidelines about links Schemes
One thing is for sure, though, in general, it is good practice never to ask for links, especially if you are new to SEO. The general feeling by many white hat SEO's is that if you create great quality content, then the links will come over time. This is certainly an approach we stand by ourselves.
Indeed, John Mueller in a recent Webmaster Central Hangout back in February had this to say:
So that you are really sure that your content kind of stands on its own and make it possible for other people of course to link to your content. Make it easy, maybe, put a little widget on your page, if you like this, this is how you can link to it. Make sure that the URLs on your website are easy to copy and paste. All of those things make it a little bit easier.
We do use links as part of our algorithm but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your website that actually helps.