SEO in the nofollow age

The SEO industry has taken a serious battering over the past year or so. Google’s algorithm updates have put a huge dent in the traditional quick win tactics employed by many SEO professionals and agencies.

Google has done a really good job of making it very difficult to game their system by specifically targeting the areas the SEO community had come to rely on to get quick results. In fact a lot of sites are increasingly becoming reluctant to link out to other websites fearing they may be seen as spamming the system.

Obviosuly this makes like  a lot harder, and a lot of SEO blogs and forums are asking the question “Where is the quick fix now?” with no one stepping forward with an answer. A few tactics are currently being bled dry (e.g. guest writing) but that just makes it a matter of time before the Google slap descends on those as well.

So where does that leave website owners who want to build links naturally to rank well in Google, but don’t want to fall foul of Google’s itchy penalty trigger finger?

Before we get in to what you should be doing, let’s start with the areas Google has been looking to penalise.

What has been hit?

With their Penguin update, Google went after what it perceived to be unnatural and manipulative link profiles.

These were links that came from low quality websites, sites not relevant to your niche, paid links, and over optimised anchor text using exact match keywords.

This means SEOs are now scrambling to distance themselves from tactics such as (or at least they should be):

  • Buying hundreds of links using the same anchor text
  • Links from hundreds of  low quality directory sites
  • Blog commenting purely for SEO
  • Over optimised internal linking (anchor text keywords and too many links)

Google is also clearly looking for where the herd is moving and recently made noises that guest post writing – a current tactic du jour – should use the nofollow attribute in any guest author bio link at the bottom or in the main body.

So where does that leave you?

In terms of link building, the key elements you are looking for are links on relevant, high quality sites that are acquired over time and feature diverse anchor text.

Sounds easy! I’d argue the era of the SEO quick wins is dead. Short term thinking has to give way to long term investment in time and money. This is why there is so much buzz around content marketing right now, it i being seen as the saviour of the SEO industry. And to be frank, it probably is. Read my 6 tips for creating successful content marketing.

In my opinion, the key components of modern SEO are blurring with digital PR and include onsite content, links (the right kind) and social.

On-site content: Your website is still a vital component Google analyses to determine your rankings. And it is one fully under your control which means there are no excuses not to get it right.

I’d recommend reading’s Beginner’s guide to SEO for some great advice around this area. In summary, your website content should be based around keyword research and intelligent use of those keywords in your meta data, site navigation and web copy.

Remember, Google has a real downer on over optimised pages so don’t use your keywords to the point it looks unnatural.

The right type of links: This is where it starts getting tricky. The focus for modern SEO has to be on high quality and relevant links. 500+ directories just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Here are some ideas for you to build links and authority in your niche:

  • Create and distribute an infographic – a very popular tactic right now, but effective
  • Share original research findings
  • Give away something free that is typically paid for in your industry (simple and blunt, but it always works)
  • Sponsor local events
  • Written or video guides
  • Good quality and industry specific directories
  • Volunteer an interview for your industry’s news outlets
  • Read more ideas for creating link bait

Social signals: The importance of social signals is a relatively new ingredient to the mix, but an increasingly important one nonetheless.

Social signals are the metrics Google analyses from social networks such as their own Google+, Twitter and Facebook. The theory is, the more shared and discussed some form of content is (likes, shares, +1 etc.) the more relevant it must be.

Unfortunately it is not a simple number s game where one like = one vote. In fact the extent to which Google uses social signals is largely unknown and despite some experimentation and testing, there is no definitive answer within the community. What we do know is Google has used social signals to identify new links quickly and new trends.

We also know they are reducing the number of link signals they use to rank websites (as discussed above), plus they are heavily invested in making Google+ at the centre of a lot of what they do.

In terms of practical advice on what to do, as well as having an ongoing presence on these key social networks engaging with people and encouraging them to share, make your content as easy to share as possible with social sharing buttons available on every page.

The sooner you start, the quicker you’ll see results

It’s easy to take one look at Google’s search results page, this advice and decide to go back to bed. I would say to look at all this as a marathon rather than a sprint.

Great content will take time to produce and so will building a social following, but they are worthy investments.

Additionally, you can get cracking with your website right now and you’ll see the impact of that within days.

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