Authenticity and artifice: The battle for the best links continues

Digital Humans, Search, Social / March 2016

The Organic Team

The Organic Team

Updates from the Organic team about marketing, technology, and agency life.

As the biggest and most powerful search engine, what Google says goes. So when Google changes something like its Blogger Guidelines users feel the impact of that move very quickly. Their most recent change centres on how brands and agencies engage with influencers. If you are a blogger, media owner, brand-marketing manager, digital agency employee, then you need to know what has changed and how it could affect your SEO ranking.

Link Wars

Google has been waging a war on link building for some time and has already unleashed a number of weapons to combat ‘unnatural linking’. These weapons have taken many forms over the past 5-6 years, including manual action penalties and the Penguin updates, so Google can clamp down on any paid for, unnatural, link building.

Now Google criteria for what constitutes an unnatural link has altered further to include even more than the vetoing of an exchange of money for a link. Guidelines now state that the following can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results. The Guidelines forbid, ‘Buying or selling links that pass PageRank’.  This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link. Therefore brands and agencies that look to approach bloggers or media owners with a gift, service or a product to review will be in breach of Google guidelines unless the post is flagged-up as sponsored and any links within the content is ‘nofollowed’.

No follow tags need to be used where appropriate including in reviews where bloggers are ‘paid’ with products. This includes links to social media accounts and app store as well as their websites. Disclosure is now even more important and bloggers are encouraged to clearly state they are getting a product free or are being paid for a review.

What This Means For Bloggers

Bloggers will be most affected by this change. For years brands and agencies have reached out to bloggers with gadgets and goodies to compel the blogger to review the product on their site with the idea that the blogger would respond by linking to the product or brand, which would assist in SEO performance. This transaction supported both parties: not only would it supply the blogger with content and free stuff, they would supply the brand with links that were potential leads or customers.

Now, if you are a blogger who is approached by a brand or agency with a product, you can review it but you must:

  • State in the copy that the post is supported/sponsored/in collaboration with the brand in question
  • Nofollow any link to the brand
  • Make sure that your content is unique and not copied from the brochure

As Google will most likely add this change in guidelines to their algorithm and not just their manual review process, bloggers should review old posts and all supported content should be disclosed to avoid incurring Google’s wrath.

Head of Social at Organic, Marisa Thomas, said, ‘Really Google’s blogger guidelines serve to support standards that are already in place. The US advertising watchdog recently rebuked a fashion firm for their Instagram influencers not sufficiently signposting their reviews as commercially motivated. There’s a very real possibility of brands flouting advertising rules if they don’t comply with Google’s guidelines, which is never good for business.’

What This Means for Webmasters/Owners/Agencies

The effect this change will have on business will depend on what you’re looking to get from your engagement with bloggers. If you seek to increase traffic, brand awareness and general coverage for a product or service, then contacting influential bloggers is still going to be a great way to achieve your KPIs, but there are some elements you’ll need to make sure your influencer includes:

  • Disclosure of your relationship with the blogger
  • Nofollow any links to you/your client

If you have been using ‘free’ products as a way of building SEO links for your brand or client, then this new change is much more of an issue. If you are to follow Google’s guidelines, then the tactic of giving a product for a link/post is no longer one that can be used for SEO. With the blogger having to Nofollow the link, there will no longer be any authority flowed through to your site to help authenticate your SEO.

So how can brands generate authentic links?

Outreach is changing and your strategy needs to change too. Instant results are hard to achieve, so investing in social media and blogger outreach to get your content seen by more people may be the next best ethical way to try and earns links.

While this approach works in theory your content has to be worthwhile to encourage ‘natural’ links and garner the right exposure. Quality trumps quantity but also raises the greater issue around measurement and time frames in which you can expect to see results, which remains the ongoing SEO/social challenge.

The question, then, is how else can brands reach influencers authentically? David Tapp, Head of SEO at Organic, says, ‘Undoubtedly this development will force brands to consider content first to gain natural links to their sites rather than depending upon techniques to compel links. Strategies for accessing targeted influencers might include using social ads to lead them ‘organically’ to your product for review’.

How Organic approaches outreach

At Organic we take a user-first approach to all outreach. We provide analysis of our clients’ audience by accurately identifying the types of content they engage with and share. This allows us to build links naturally by creating high-quality content, interactive widgets, videos and more, that the user will genuinely want to share. Content takes the shape of anything that will resonate with and emotionally engage targeted users. We can evidence great results across a rich variety of clients through content such as quizzes, competitions and other interactive content.

It is inspiring, imaginative, creative and evergreen ideas that are richly supported by PR and social media that compels influencers to authentically engage with products. We are confident that with authentic and captivating content there is very little requirement for artifice and in this way we continue to respond with agility to whatever Google sends our way.

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