SEO: Linking Up in 2014
Last year, saw a wave of major Google algorithm changes that all changed the way adult sites have to approach search engine marketing. Since the early days of our industry we have relied on a standard set of methods to rank our sites for popular keywords, specifically buying and trading links. These two methods have always gone against Google’s guidelines, they just didn’t have a reliable way to detect it until now. This means our approach to link building needs to evolve to be better aligned with Google’s ideals but without compromising the effectiveness needed to compete for valuable Top 10 ranks.
How Link Building Used to Work
Prior to Penguin, Google’s algorithm filter, designed to combat spam, launched on April 24, 2012, link building to adult sites was fairly easy. The easiest method of all was trading links with other adult sites. In the beginning we could simply trade homepage links with another site. This eventually evolved into more sophisticated methods of link trading which included A/B/C and A/B/C/D trades. An A/B trade basically means site A linking directly to site B. A/B/C trades means site A linking to site B but receiving a reciprocal link from site C. A/B/C/D means site A links to site B in return for a reciprocal link from site C to site D. Each of these methods of trading links were essentially designed to trick Google into thinking the links were given rather than traded. The most popular method to rank sites using link trades was to operate a network of sites solely intended for trading links that all eventually pointed back to one primary site intended for ranking.
Penguin effectively identified and devalued links involved in trading, taking down many adult sites in the process. Subsequent updates to Penguin on May 25 and Oct. 5 of 2012 and both updates on May 22 and Oct. 4 of 2013 corrected any shortcomings the original Penguin might have had.
Throughout 2013 the majority of every adult business who contacted us for SEO consulting had been negatively affected by Penguin.
And as if Penguin weren’t enough, on June 11 Google rolled out what they called the payday loan update which intentionally targeted notoriously spammy markets, specifically payday loans and porn.
All of these major algorithm changes essentially closed all of the link building loopholes we adult webmasters have come to rely on. However, in order to compete in search in 2014 your methods must evolve.
What Penguin Looks For
Penguin is a complex algorithm, but one that essentially only utilizes a small set of criteria to identify violating, or otherwise spammy, links. At its core Penguin looks for large numbers of links that share the same anchor text, point to the same page and that are on low value pages. This is essentially the description of a link trade. When a blog slaps your link in a side bar or a footer that link is immediately published across every page of that blog creating thousands of identical links on low value (internal) pages. Google of course understands that blogrolls exist and serve a legitimate purpose, but if the majority of your links match this footprint than you risk link devaluations and even penalties.
We use a standardized system we’ve developed over the year to quickly identify whether ranking problems were a result of a Penguin penalty. This system has become very useful, not only for our clients but for adult site operators who contact us for SEO help. We can see not only if a site has been hit by Penguin, but we can specifically see which links were likely responsible and should be removed. This is useful because ranking problems caused by Penguin have to be treated very differently from ranking problems caused by anything else. If you suspect a Penguin penalty and start removing or disavowing links you could do more harm than good.
How to Build Powerful Links in 2014
The key to building links in 2014 is to make sure all of your links appear as natural as possible. This is because Google gives more credit to links that other people give you than to links you give yourself. And they do this because links are at the center of their ranking algorithm. Links tell search engines how popular, reputable and trustworthy a site is which they use to determine where it should rank.
Think of a link as a vote. Every link you get is someone voting for your site to rank well. If you have more votes than the next site than your site should rank better. I say should rank better because as we all know, not all votes are equal. If you have 100 links (votes) but Google knows you had a role in getting 50 of them yourself (by trading links or by placing links on other sites you operate) than another site with 75 links can out-rank yours. The reputability behind the vote (or the authority of the page your link is on) matters as well. Assume you’re looking for a lawyer. You ask a dozen friends who all recommend a lawyer they saw an advertisement for.
You also ask a couple of people who themselves are lawyers and who recommend a colleague with experience in the kind of case you need help with. Chances are you will accept the recommendation of the few lawyers over the many friends. Search engines view links this same way. The more reputable and trustworthy a site linking to you is, the more valuable its vote will be.
To keep your link building looking natural you need to first get links from relevant trusted sites. If you run a pornstar site than this would mean getting links from other pornstar sites that already rank well in Google. One link from a top ten ranking site is worth more than one hundred links from sites that rank poorly. Attention also needs to be paid to how quickly you acquire new links. Consistency is key. If you get a lot of links at once and then stop it won’t look natural. This is a common pitfall for site owners who buy links. It’s easy to burn through your monthly link budget in one week, but when you do this you risk your links being devalued which is the last thing you want when you’re paying for them. You will see better results by getting 10 new links each day than by getting 300 new links during the first week of each month. Lastly, to keep your links looking natural you want to diversify your anchor text as well as the URLs your links point to. There is far more to it than this, but if you follow these basic guidelines you’ll have an advantage over the majority of adult webmasters.
Is Buying Links Black Hat?
Technically yes, buying links is black hat. However, ranking an adult site would be next to impossible if we were to follow every guideline. If all the big tubes are buying links than you’ll need to as well in order to compete. The goal is to be smart about your link buying, avoid becoming the low hanging fruit that gets wiped out after every algorithm update. And the key to accomplishing this is simply to follow the guidelines mentioned earlier to insure your links look very natural.
Another important consideration when buying links is to be certain the page you’re buying a link from is valuable enough to contribute to your ranking growth. And actual SEO value is very different from value you might be used to placing on a site which is often based on traffic or reputation. It’s imperative that you consider Page Authority (PA), current rankings, how many other links are on the page, the quality of URLs those links point to, the anchors used for those links along with a few other key metrics. This will show you the true SEO value of a page and you can use that to determine if it’s worth buying and if it’s worth what the site owner is asking.
Many adult site owners and webmasters have had a frustrating year due to severe ranking fluctuations caused by Google’s many algorithm updates. But it’s important to understand that Google isn’t doing this just to hurt our industry, it’s simply trying to close link building loopholes that have been open for years. In fact, every algorithm update they release works to enforce its webmaster guidelines which have been in place for several years. What we need to do is understand their goals and work alongside them as closely as possible but without jeopardizing effective linking methods that still work very well today and will continue to work long-term.
Adrian “Yo Adrian” DeGus is a 12-year adult industry veteran and founder of Adult SEO Partners, a professional adult SEO agency catering to large established adult sites. DeGus, who has provided advanced consulting services to many leading sites in the adult industry, also operates Adult SEO Training, a popular service that helps webmasters, program operators and affiliate managers to learn in-house SEO.