Backlink Watch: Are Links Our Enemy?

Two years on from the release of Google’s Penguin search update, many website owners and SEOs are on a backlink watch, living in fear of links. Once the bread and butter of SEO, links have become our number one enemy – at least, this is the case if you believe everything you read.

Questionable Advice

Not a day goes by without somebody being told on the Google Webmaster Central Help Forum that the reason for a sudden drop in rankings is due to spammy links. In fact, the only advice you will ever read from Google’s top contributors is to not build links in any shape or form.

For example, in this discussion a website manager asks about recovering a possible Penguin penalty; the advice is that links gained from outreach and PR should have the “no follow” attribute attached.

This really makes no sense whatsoever. Before people started spamming Google with automated link building, hacking and mass directory submissions, the main way of acquiring a link was to simply contact a website and introduce yourself and ask for a link. Outreach and PR have been around for years, but now we are told that it is bad practice.

In the eyes of some Google forum members, the only good links are those that are made totally randomly. This really makes no sense at all, because the World Wide Web is supposed to be a network of websites that link to each other; the clue is in the name.

You Need Links

There are many types of links and most of those that you will build will not actually carry PageRank. Links on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest will all mostly be “no follow” and provide little or no SEO benefit. Likewise, links in some business directories will often also be no follow. These links are all perfectly safe.

However, to rank well in Google, you still need good quality links that pass PageRank, and one of the easiest and safest ways to increase the number of links pointing to your site is to ask other websites for a link.

Backlink Watch: Which Links are Good?

Google actually says in its article Steps to a Google-friendly site that you should “make sure that other sites link to yours”. The key is to accumulate “natural links”, and not “unnatural links”. Google clarifies what this means:

“Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors. Unnatural links to your site are placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines.”

Today, there is a great deal of confusion about what is natural, and as we have seen, many people consider links that result from a request to be unnatural.

We are not alone in disagreeing with this stance. Last month, Cory Collins wrote an article in Search Engine Watch. In it, Cory said that it’s high time we disregarded the notion that it’s a big “no no” to ask for links – and we could not agree more.

Link Building Practices

No business or website operates as an island – business networking is much older than Google. If you run a business and have 100 connections on LinkedIn, you may find that many of these people also run websites.

Your contacts will probably be a combination of customers, clients, business acquaintances, suppliers and service providers. Anybody who your business is already connected with could feasibility give you a natural link and vice-versa.

Most of you do not because you are all too busy running your businesses. So develop a habit to constantly be on backlink watch alert to take advantage of all natural linking opportunities when networking!

Another Link Building Myth Debunked

Another myth of link building, one that was prevalent before Penguin, is that reciprocal link building is bad. When it is done on a large scale, usually for the purpose of gaining links in a directory or on a “links page”, it is unnatural and prone to result in a penalty.

However, when done between business partners that work in the same industry, it makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t a roofer link to a building merchant, or an accountant link to an IT firm? They support each other and do business together. If you are networked in the real world, why not network in the virtual world?


So, do not fear Google Penguin and do not be afraid to ask for a link. Links are still the backbone of Google search; without them, your business will be less visible in search.

One final tip – before you ask for a link, why not create a link to a business partner first? If you demonstrate that you are an active part of the web and link out to other great sites, sites will be more likely to link back to you.

So after reading this, are you still on backlink watch, afraid that asking for them will get you penalized by Google?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section down below. 🙂

About the Author

Danny Hall is one of the Co-Directors for the well-known Search Engine Optimization agency, FSE Online. He has worked within the SEO sector for many years and is always keeping up-to-date with Google’s latest news.

Featured images:

Backlink Watch

Backlink Watch





Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.