Google has issued a fairly stern reminder about links in large-scale article campaigns via their Google Webmaster Central blog. Specifically, they’ve noticed a significant increase in sites utilizing spammy links in large-scale article campaigns as a means to build links back to their site, which is a direct violation of their quality guidelines on link schemes.
An excerpt from their post:
[su_quote]Lately we’ve seen an increase in spammy links contained in articles referred to as contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts, or syndicated posts. These articles are generally written by or in the name of one website, and published on a different one.
Google does not discourage these types of articles in the cases when they inform users, educate another site’s audience or bring awareness to your cause or company. However, what does violate Google’s guidelines on link schemes is when the main intent is to build links in a large-scale way back to the author’s site.[/su_quote]
What types of things are they focused on?
They are primarily referencing four types of content strategies or actions:
[su_quote]Below are factors that, when taken to an extreme, can indicate when an article is in violation of these guidelines:
- Stuffing keyword-rich links to your site in your articles
- Having the articles published across many different sites; alternatively, having a large number of articles on a few large, different sites
- Using or hiring article writers that aren’t knowledgeable about the topics they’re writing on
- Using the same or similar content across these articles; alternatively, duplicating the full content of articles found on your own site (in which case use of rel=”canonical”, in addition to rel=”nofollow”, is advised)
They go on to say the following about sites that are using these types of strategies to get inbound links:
[su_quote]For websites creating articles made for links, Google takes action on this behavior because it’s bad for the Web as a whole. When link building comes first, the quality of the articles can suffer and create a bad experience for users. Also, webmasters generally prefer not to receive aggressive or repeated “Post my article!” requests, and we encourage such cases to be reported to our spam report form. And lastly, if a link is a form of endorsement, and you’re the one creating most of the endorsements for your own site, is this putting forth the best impression of your site? Our best advice in relation to link building is to focus on improving your site’s content and everything–including links–will follow (no pun intended).[/su_quote]
Is it just about where the link is headed?
Nope, it’s also about the publishers that choose to house the questionable content as well:
[su_quote]When Google detects that a website is publishing articles that contain spammy links, this may change Google’s perception of the quality of the site and could affect its ranking. Sites accepting and publishing such articles should carefully vet them, asking questions like: Do I know this person? Does this person’s message fit with my site’s audience? Does the article contain useful content? If there are links of questionable intent in the article, has the author used rel=”nofollow” on them?[/su_quote]
Is there a grey area? Are you at risk?
In this case, I think there is a significant grey area in terms of what is allowed and where is the line when it comes to content and links.
On one side, judging by the sheer volume of guest post and link requests I get on almost a daily basis, I’d say that the old practice of low-quality guest blogging is alive and well. I’m certain there are tons of sites still using and abusing this strategy.
These sites are probably either already being discounted by Penguin 4.0 or are putting themselves at risk for a manual penalty at some point.
That said, I also think there are a lot of content producers and publishers looking for opportunities either to syndicate their content out in order to capture a larger network, or sites that need to supplement their own content efforts by syndicating in authoritative content on their own site.
In both cases, the focus is likely to be less on links (if it’s even a consideration at all) and more on either growing the audience or keeping it happy.
This is where the grey area comes into play if you consider that:
- Many sites-publishers aren’t always aware of the SEO implications of their actions
- Additionally, many of these site owners simply aren’t tech savvy enough to know what canonical or rel=”nofollow” tags are – let alone how to implement them
- Many publications likely aren’t as thorough in their author and content vetting process as they should be
- Many authors and publications believe that the content they are providing is valuable to the audience
So, if Google decides to bring the hammer down so to speak, there will likely be a good deal of publishers getting dinged who are completely unaware that they are in violation of quality guidelines.
That said, the key things to remember are:
- Scale – Google clearly calls out doing the above things at scale. You’re likely not at risk unless you’re doing these types of things at great scale – or enough to warrant some attention over at Google.
- Intent – If your intent is primarily to build links, because of the nature of that beast, it will likely be clearly evident in the quality of the content you’re delivering, as well as the places in which you allow that content to be placed. If it’s not about links, then you’re likely to be a bit more selective with the audience(s) for your content.
- Value – Similar to intent, if your content strategy is primarily focused on building links, then the value of the content you’re delivering will likely suffer and thus look more spammy. Conversely, if you’re content is highly valuable and you’re choosing the audience very selectively – then links are more of a secondary benefit and the scale likely isn’t going to be in question.
When is the hammer going to come down?
I’d anticipate that at some point in the next 3-6 months we will see a major action taken against offending sites.
UPDATE(5/30/17): Google has come out and said that this is just a friendly reminder, and that no major rounds of penalties are forthcoming as of now.
No, this is just a general reminder
— Gary Illyes ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ (@methode) May 29, 2017
How can you get your house in order?
If you’re worried you might be at risk – or even if you just want to clean things up, here are some things you might want to consider. Keep in mind, you may not have to do anything at all if you aren’t doing things that are clear violations of Google’s quality guidelines…
As a publisher:
- Be very selective in your vetting of potential content authors on your site. Only allow authors who either have high Subject Matter Expertise or who would be extremely valuable for your audience. If possible, authors should be both.
- When syndicating content, credit content wisely – both with syndication in and out. If you’re taking and producing content at great scale, take Google’s suggestion and canonicalize all 3rd-party articles to their source, as well as insist that sites using your content canonicalize back to your domain.
- Also when syndicating, be sure that sites that you provide content to or that provide you with content are not questionable in terms of quality or link practices. Might be good to vet them with a tool such as Open Site Explorer first.
- Heavily vet all content that comes in, and use the rel=”nofollow attribute on any outbound links that you deem questionable or that have a very clear focus on non-branded anchor-text.
- Ensure that you monitor sites that you’re syndicating with either in or out to ensure that they stay in line with your values and don’t put you at future SEO risk. If they do fall out of line and you’re unable to get your content or links removed, you can disavow any links later – but the key is knowing which will put you at risk.
- Move towards an environment where all of your content is 100% unique, not syndicated in, and if possible use only internal authors (rather than guest authors). This is probably the single best way to ensure that there are no weird issues with these types of Google actions.
As a content producer:
- Similar to the above, vet your content sources carefully. Don’t guest post or syndicate your original content unless you feel the site aligns with your audience and qualitative values.
- Similar to the above, insist that any 3rd-party site using your content canonicalizes back to your domain.
- If you’re worried about being perceived as a link-builder, use the rel=”nofollow” attribute on your links – especially those going back to your site.
- Whether you use rel=”nofollow” or not, try to keep any links going back to your site heavily branded – as opposed to non-branded. This should ensure that they skew to a non-SEO intent over time in the eyes of Google.
- Ensure that you monitor sites that you’re syndicating with either in or out to ensure that they stay in line with your values and don’t put you at future SEO risk.
Also worth a read:
- Search Engine Land: Google warns against misusing links in syndication & large-scale article campaigns
What are your thoughts? Are you using links in large-scale article campaigns? If so, are you scurrying for an SEO fix?