Footer Links Targeted By Google?

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June 3  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

I recently got into a discussion with a crew of marketers and “SEO” folks I meet with for beers and the topic of footer links was something that kind of had me stumped. With all the confusion and weirdness surrounding links now thanks to Google and whatnot, it’s hard to have the right opinion on without knowing the right facts.

What we do know is that Google isn’t a big fan of of them and I suspect for the most part they will be devalued, especially if site wide. Taking a look at Google’s link schemes guide it clearly states they have distaste for them, but as usual there is little said which leaves a lot to the imagination.

footer links google penalty
Flash back to 5-10 years ago and site-wide footer and sidebar links were the equivalent of gold in the online marketing landscape. They worked so well that Google had to crack down hard although they seemed to put a lot of webmasters off of it, blackhatters were and are still buying them up like crack rock. Hell, I’ve even jumped on board with a client and saw their marketing teams doing this without even an inkling that it was against Google’s TOS.

So back to my beer meeting. One of us who wishes to remain anonymous asked us if he should be nofollowing his web design credit links on client sites. I know this is a topic that has been talked about before(here, here, here and here), but I still wasn’t too sure especially after reading those links.

For the most part I think Google will just simply devalue those links. On the other hand, if you’re gaming anchor text then I fully believe trouble will come. I also think there could be a problem(although there’s no way to tell) if you give a client a discount in exchange for that credit link. That alone is enough to get me worried so I thought this topic could be touched on yet again as well leave it open for others to comment on as time goes by.

Matt Cutts On Footer Links

While that video is a little old it gives us a little more insight despite Matt being vague as f%$! as per usual. I understand he has to word it like that as things change over time and who knows what Google’s algorithm will be doing in a year from now. My personal opinion is that if most of your links from from the footer area as a credit link, you may want to reconsider your linking efforts asap.

Two Real Examples Of Footer Link Problems

Looking in the past year I wanted to mention a couple case studies that surrounded the footer link issue. Since they’re quite recent, I hope to push the discussion further. I especially get confused with links from web design companies that usually put a “designed by” credit link in client footers.

The WPMU Case:

This is an interesting case study of sorts thanks to Ross Hudgens who took the time to analyze and report on how it played out. I specifically was glued to this case because the links effecting WPMU certainly were, for the most part, in their control. The other aspect I found quite interesting was the majority of the links were not focused on a “money” anchor text.

I always like to think that Penguin or whatever algorithm update will also harshly look at how many of x type links a website has. With WPMU getting the bulk of their links from their themes and plugins with credit links we can also assume the link placements are the same. Since the Penguin update is a computer and not a human, you still have to be careful even if you’re a big brand producing great work.


Personally, based on how quick their penalty was lifted, I suspect this was revoked manually by someone at Google. It is rare to get your case made public in the media and I would have done some damage control if I were working for the big G. WPMU also had a lot of the footer links in their control as you can see from the post. The point I want to hammer out is of course the problem with their “footer” links.

The Jit Bit Case:

This was a very recent discussion which involved Matt Cutts himself piping in quite a bit to their issue. Jit Bit creates really awesome software which does have “powered by” credit links on the sites running their gear. Here’s the bit that caught my attention in their thread over at Hacker News.

Our site WAS affected by Penguin indeed, even by the first version of Penguin a year ago. Because we sell web-forum software and ticket-software – that both have a “powered by” link at the bottom, our SEO agency advised to add that…
And we’re still trying to recover… I’m contacting our clients one-by-one and we’re changing those links to “nofollow”.

Sadly another great company gets inept advice from a “SEO” company and they’re left cleaning up the mess on their own dime. It is extremely important to vet your SEO company before taking them on, and yes this even goes to our clients.

Further down in the comments is this other tid bit from the Jit Bit team.

Which ones? The ones above? I’m not sure. Will have to contact them and get back.
I think, the links we’re being penalised for – are mostly the links that come from our software widget. Check out this page, the very-very top of it:…
We have HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS links like this (I’mm looking at my WMT right now). I guess this is the main reason. Our site is hit by Penguin…

So if you’re implementing a strategy like this I’d be very careful as it could really effect your business. Footer links can get out of control and make for a stressful removal process some time down the road.

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Penguin 2.0 And Beyond In 2013

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May 14  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

Here’s the latest video from Matt Cutts talking about what to expect in regards to how Google will treat links in the coming months. The war on link spammers rages on and Google at this point in time is still heavily gamed and the results for any money making keyword is full of junk.

Pay close attention to what he says as this is an unusually long video for this series and it is full of insight. He covers not only Penguin 2.0, but all the other link changes coming to the table including;

  • What Penguin 2.0 will go after
  • How Google will handle hacked sites
  • How Google will go after tiered link building
  • How Google will better choose authorities in a niche..AuthorRank anyone?

I’m not too worried about these updates as we never target anchor text, nor do we actually build links for clients apposed to earning them. It’s a different world but if you’re wanting to run a real brand, you cannot be out there chasing junk links just to pick off those coveted keywords.

Here’s a transcript of the video for those who cannot watch it:

Opening and Disclaimers

Hey everybody, today’s webmaster video is answering the question: “What should we expect in the next few months in terms of SEO for Google?” Okay, so, first off, we’re taping this video in early May of 2013, so I’ll give you a little bit of an idea about what to expect as far as what Google’s working on in terms of the webspam team. In terms of what you should be working on, we try to make sure that is pretty constant and uniform. Try to make sure you make a great site that users love, that they’ll want to tell their friends about, bookmark, come back to, visit over and over again, ya know, all the things that make a site compelling. We try to make sure that if that’s your goal, we’re aligned with that goal, and therefore, as long as you’re working hard for users, we’re working hard to try to show your high quality content to users as well. But at the same time, people are always curious about, OK, what should we expect coming down the pipe in terms of what kinds of things Google’s working on. One of the reasons that we don’t usually talk that much about the kinds of things we’re working on is that the plans can change. Ya know, the timing can change, when we launch things can change. So take this with a grain of salt. This is, as of today, the things that look like they’ve gotten some approval or they look pretty promising. Okay, with all those kinds of disclaimers, let’s talk a little bit about the sort of stuff that we’re working on.

Intro to Penguin 2.0

We’re relatively close to deploying the next generation of Penguin. Internally, we call it “Penguin 2.0″. And again, Penguin is a webspam change that’s dedicated to try to find blackhat webspam and try to target and address that. So this one is a little more comprehensive than Penguin 1.0 and we expect it to go a little bit deeper and have a little bit more of an impact than the original version of Penguin.

Paid Ads/Coverage/Links

We’ve also been looking at advertorials that is sort of native advertising and those sorts of things that violate our quality guidelines. So again, if someone pays for coverage or pays for an ad or something like that, those ads should not flow PageRank. We’ve seen a few sites in the US and around the world that take money and then do link to websites and pass PageRank. So we’ll be looking at some efforts to be a little bit stronger on our enforcement as far as advertorials that violate our quality guidelines. Now there’s nothing wrong inherently with advertorials or native advertising, but they should not flow PageRank and there should be clear and conspicuous disclosure so that users realize that something is paid, not organic or editorial.

Examples of Specific Niches to Be Targeted

It’s kind of interesting. We get a lot of great feedback from outside of Google. For example, there were people complaining about searches like “payday loans” on So we have two different changes that try to tackle those kinds of queries in a couple different ways. We can’t get into too much detail about exactly how they work, but I’m kind of excited that we’re going from having just general queries be a little more cleaned to going to some of these areas that have traditionally been a little more spammy including, for example, some more pornographic queries. And some of these changes might have a little bit more of an impact in those kinds of areas that are a little more contested by various spammers and that sort of thing.

Going Upstream and More Sophisticated Link Analysis

We’re also looking at some ways to go upstream to deny the value to link spammers–some people who spam links in various ways. We’ve got some nice ideas on trying to make sure that that becomes less effective and so we expect that that will roll out over the next few months as well. And in fact, we’re working on a completely different system that does more sophisticated link analysis. We’re still in the early days for that, but it’s pretty exciting. We’ve got some data now that we’re ready to start munging and see how good it looks and we’ll see whether that bears fruit or not.

Hacked Sites

We also continue to work on hacked sites in a couple different ways, number one trying to detect them better, we hope in the next few months to roll out a next generation of hacked sites detection that is even more comprehensive, and also try to communicate better to webmasters, because sometimes they/we see confusion between hacked sites and sites that serve up malware, and ideally you have a one stop shop where once someone realizes that they have been hacked, they can go to webmaster tools and have some single spot they can go where they get a lot more info to sort of point them in the right way to hopefully clean up those hacked sites.

Shout out to the Spam Lords

So if you’re doing high quality content whenever you’re doing SEO this shouldn’t be some big surprise you shouldn’t have to worry about a lot of different changes. If you’ve been hanging out on a lot black hat forums and trading different types of spamming package tips and that sort of stuff then it might be a more eventful summer for you.

Authority Sites

But we have also been working on a lot of ways to help regular webmasters. We’re doing a better job of detecting when someone is sort of an authority in a specific space, could be medical or could be travel or whatever, and trying to make sure that those rank a little more highly if you’re some sort of authority or a site that according to the algorithms we think might be a little more appropriate for users.

“Borderline Quality” Sites… Possibly Good for Sites that Were Pandalized

We’ve also been looking at Panda and seeing if we can find some additional signals and we think we’ve got some to help refine things for the sites that are kinda in the borderzone/in the grey area a little bit. So if we can soften the effect a little bit for those sites that we believe have some additional signals of quality that will help sites that might have previously been effected to some degree by Panda.

Ranking Multiple Pages of Same Domain for the Same Query

We’ve also heard a lot of feedback from some people about that if I go down three pages deep I’ll see a cluster of several results all from one domain. We’ve actually made things better that you’re less likely to see that on the first page and more likely to see that on the following pages. And we’re looking at a change which might deploy which would basically say that once you’ve seen a cluster of results from one site then you’d be less likely to see more results from that site as you go deeper into the next pages of Google search results. And that has been good feedback that people have been sending us. We continue to refine host clustering and host crowding and all those sorts of the things. But we’ll continue to listen to feedback and see what we can do even better.

Back to Hacked Sites

And then we’re going to keep try figuring out how to get more information to webmasters. I mentioned more information for sites that are hacked and ways they might be able to do things, we’re also going to be looking for ways we can provide more concrete details, more example URLs that webmasters can use to figure out where to go diagnose their site.


That’s just a rough snapshot of how things look right now, things can absolutely change and be in flux we might see new attacks, we might need to move our resources around, but that’s a little about bit of what to expect
over the next few months in the summer of 2013.
I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really excited about a lot of these changes
because we do see really good improvements in terms of people who are link spamming or doing various black hat spam would be less likely to show up I think by the end of the summer. And at the same time we’ve got a lot of nice changes queued up that hopefully will help small/medium businesses and regular webmasters as well. So that’s just a very quick idea about what to expect in terms of SEO for the next few months as far as Google.

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Google Penguin Recovery Case Study

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September 12  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

Lucky for us, we’ve never targeted anchor text or sought out links from questionable sources for our clients. Since the Google Penguin updates started we’ve had an *insane* amount of new clients seeking our help and since we only take on a dozen clients at a time, we were not able to take a lot of the extra work. We did, however, have one  brand, very well known in its vertical, pursue me quite aggressively for help until I finally caved. The majority of other sites coming to us for help were more of a headache to try and sort out, and this well known brand had one important thing going for them – they didn’t need to be building the types of links they had!

So how did this brand go from killing it in sales to literally 1-4 sales per week? Well about two years ago as the company was scaling and the owners decided to push the online marketing angle a lot more. They did what most businesses do and headed to Google to search for a reputable SEO company. They did make a choice from the various firms that were ranking well in the SERPs at the time and signed a year contract with this firm. Sadly this was their first mistake as they let this reputable company take their SEO efforts, both on and off site, into 6th gear for almost two years. While they got reports back with what was done, almost nobody in their marketing department had any idea that what they were getting was piles of spam.

Penguin hit them like a ton of bricks, and while you shouldn’t rely solely on free Google traffic for your business, we know that it’s a hard thing to get away from. As you can see from the anchor text levels above, they had a major focus on the big keyword in their vertical and not much else. In fact, they only had 3 site/brand styled links in their entire portfolio. We all know that link spam still works just fine and they were in sales heaven for a long time so they never questioned their SEO’s methods.

When I dived into their link profile I was thrilled with the fact that only about 400 links were pure garbage. A lot of the other troubled companies emailing had thousands upon thousands – not a mess easily cleaned. What I found was the usual stuff: forum profile spam, low quality blog comments on random blogs already spammed to death, crap article marketing, low quality directories and, of course, blog network posts. To say the least, this “SEO” company has ruined their business  and deserves a kicking in the bollocks!

Penguin Symptoms

This brand was knocked down to floating within the 5th-7th page region for their top 3 main keywords, which resulted in 5000 UV’s a day being reduced to just 50-80. That’s a huge drop that no one wants to experience! We ruled out Panda, as they’re an ecommerce site with all unique descriptions, tons of reviews on product pages, a lot of social votes and all around sound on-page SEO.

They were still ranking fine for the long tail, sadly this is what was trickling in the small amount of traffic. They started seeing a lot of shuffling in their SERPs on the 25th of May and by the morning of the 27th, it was clear that the weekend was a bad one. The date, combined with how their top keywords were thrown past the fifth results page, confirmed for me that this was definitely a Penguin hit. I should also mention that they received no manual penalty at all via their Google webmaster tools.

Removing the junk!

The main reason we never offered a link removal service was mainly that we don’t have any clients getting into “link trouble”. Secondly, it’s extremely time consuming. We only take on a max of a dozen clients at a time and we don’t outsource anything so our time is limited. Thankfully, there are services out there for nothing but link removal. I know a lot of my colleagues in the industry scoffed at the idea but I sure as hell won’t be emailing people to take down links! Here are a few that I’ve heard do a good job:

I recommended this service first as they have partnerships with a lot of directories and you can tackle a bunch of low hanging fruit quite easily. As you can see, for our client we didn’t have a whole lot to remove but that’s 3 emails we didn’t have to send!

This service we didn’t use but it has a really great interface in addition to a reasonable pricing structure. If we decide to help out another client in this area, I will definitely give them a try. If you’ve used their service, please let us know how it went in the comments below and I’ll add them to the post here.

This is another tool we didn’t try but I know it’s being used quite a bit lately. It’s a tool that allows your to import a .csv list of links and Rmoov will pull the contact data in for you. They also have customized email templates for harassing these webmasters! You can also email from their system and Rmoov will send reminders to them automatically – that’s pretty slick. To top it off, they’ll keep that spreadsheet up to date and provide reports on how things are going. Here’s the pricing:

This is perhaps the most well known service of the group and it’s who we hired to handle the tedious link removal work. Remove Em has two options: You can either do the self-serve method and get to work, or there is the full service option, which we opted for. It costs anywhere from $10-20 per link removal and that depends on how many links you have to remove. I imagine it’s on the cheaper side if you have a lot of links to remove. There is also a $1000 setup fee as they’ll have to sort your links and your campaign which takes a good amount of time.

A lot of these services say once the bad links are gone your rankings will return to normal. This is, in my opinion, no where close to the truth. Once the links you had propping you up are gone, expect to not rank as well. Makes sense, no?

Path To Penguin Recovery

While there hasn’t be a Penguin 1.2 launch yet, we did start to see movement breakout beyond the fifth page for two of the most important keywords. I told our client to wait until the next run of the algo to see if we managed to shed the junk and create some real authority. The Linkbuildr approach to building links is to do as much natural attraction as possible, although not every link is going to be “editorial”. For example, if our client should be listed at, we’re going to make that happen.

Stop worrying about anchor text!

This is the one mantra we’ve employed here at Linkbuildr since we started consulting 5 years ago. Your website, and I mean every different page, should be easily read by both the search engines and your users and be clear on what exactly is going on. If it’s confusing, over optimized or junky looking then why should either bother? With that being said, if that part is spot on then you shouldn’t need mass amounts of targeted anchor text to rank for your desired keywords.

While it’s still just as easy (post Penguin) to spam the junkiest links for a couple anchors and rank within a few weeks, don’t bother. If you want your business to stick around for years to come, do it right the first time and enjoy the long term benefits.

For those that do a lot of link analysis like I do, you’ll have noticed that sites who’ve ranked for years have one thing in common link wise, a link profile that looks like this:

  3. brandname
  4. brand name

By now you should be getting the fact that I think Penguin had mainly to do with anchor text ratios. It has been the most common factor, in my experience. It’s also a pretty simple algorithm to determine for Google and a strong indicator of manually built links. I have seen spammy sites ranking well with junk links but their anchor text levels mirrored to what you see above. I don’t think this will last, as I imagine Google is testing ways to determine what’s a junk link and what isn’t.

“Really Ryan?”

Sure, why not?! How hard would it be for Google’s algorithm to determine that your link profile consists of 300 forum user profile pages, 150 blog comments and 400 directories. Cut those numbers by 2/3’s and you still have a crazy bad link profile that’s nowhere near natural.

What it all comes down to? Set your brand/company apart from the rest by doing the things that make you stand out. This never fails and lets you have fun being creative. Take a look at your competition, make a big list of the things they’re doing and then set out to do them better. No one is going to notice or care about another identical company coming into the vertical, not really offering much else. I am, by no means, referring to just link building. Think beyond the link and offer amazing customer service, mind blowing content, digital media and highly engaging social media that shows your customers who you really are.

Stop Building Links And Start Attracting Them

This, this and this! If you’re link profile consists of the junk I’ve mentioned and no editorial/earned/natural links what-so-ever, then I’d be afraid. For the client we’re helping out in this case, they had less than 5 links that were given naturally so they wanted to know what we could offer.

Starting in June, we kicked off a content creation machine that would be taken over by their team beginning January 1st. This gave us a lot of time to create, try and test what worked for them in their niche. For this we chose to “think beyond the link” and tackled marketing efforts that would also bring in social followers and build brand awareness. To do this we put them on a steady diet of:

  • high quality blog content on a bi-weekly basis
  • one piece of link bait on their blog every 2 weeks pushed hard through their social channels
  • iPhone and Android shopping apps with tons of unique features
  • an iPad app for shopping as well as a built-in magazine with their own unique content
  • press releases from all the major services over time for whenever they launched something
  • Facebook contests/give-aways, which brought in hundreds of links and thousands of social followers
  • interviews in a couple podcasts from within their niche
  • guest blogging on high quality sites from within their vertical
  • two really stunning and useful infographics
  • crowd sourced interviews on their blog with industry leaders (got them links and social followers)
  • sniffed out broken links on authoritative and old pages and built content to offer a good, laser targeted replacement
  • got authoritative bloggers in their niche to review their products in an unbiased manor, and then give the product away to one of their followers
  • awesome video marketing
  • showcased customer pictures and videos and offered coupons for sending the media in

This is not for everyone, as you can imagine the budget for this client was tens of thousands of dollars for a 6 month time period. Not everyone has that, but for those that do and don’t market heavily in a competitive space, they are going to fall far behind. I think it’s safe to say “slow and steady wins the race” when it comes to building a natural link profile, but it takes doing the unique things to get there.

Client Results

While they haven’t had a full recovery, we’ve managed to bring them up to the 2nd and 3rd pages for all their keywords. I don’t think we’ll see a full recovery until the Penguin algo rolls out again here any week now. Traffic levels are back up quite high thanks to the constant content marketing and social media traffic – by this time next year they won’t depend heavily on “free Google” traffic for their business. This is key!

Building up a huge social follower base is also ultra important. The client has over 20,000 Facebook Page fans as well as nearly 8000 Twitter followers and about 100 new ones per day. They’re engaging customers and addressing issues such as delivery inquiries and bad experiences right out in the public eye. The best part of having that many followers? The next time they have a contest, publish some link bait or add a new product they have a huge reach.

Now let me ask our readers this; How many of you have heard, seen or experienced a “Penguin” based infraction? Lets hear about it in our comments below.

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Pay Me To Remove Your Unnatural Link

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July 17  |  Black Hat, Link Cleanup  |   Ryan Clark

I just came across a Google Webmaster Central thread where an SEO firm doing a link cleanup kept coming across webmasters requesting a monetary fee to have the “illicit” link removed. The Linkbuildr team talked about something like this happening a few weeks ago during a company retreat and now we see something in the wild. We don’t do link takedown requests on behalf of clients for two reasons:

  1. We help people attract links, not build sh#@ links.
  2. We don’t build sh#@ links. If a major brand has a trillabazillion naughty links, the cleanup mess is going to be a bloody nightmare.

How have you been handling requests for processing fees in response to your link removal requests?

Some webmasters are now requesting processing fees from $20 to $500 to remove links from their web sites.

I don’t like paying those fees, as I did not ask them to place the links in the first place. On the other hand, they see it as a reasonable fee for the time and effort required to remove links. Nobody likes to work for free.

The web site I am currently working on has over half a million inbound links and the link removal processing fees are starting to add up to quite considerable numbers.

How do you handle such requests?

EastwoodThere is a great possibility this person is trolling, but this scenario is definitely not far fetched at all. I imagine a lot of companies will do anything to get out of Penguin’s grip and pass that manual review. I’m probably not helping the situation by blogging about this as other nefarious webmasters are likely to start doing this to other companies trying to clean up a link mess. Regardless of the negatives, what do you folks think? Would you pay a webmaster or track them down and go Eastwood on their behinds?

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Link Spam In The Wild – Post Penguin

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July 10  |  Link Building  |   Ryan Clark

Penguin has been in play for a while now and everyone is afraid to build links, well, except for the people who have dipped their toes in the post-penguin water and know what still works. It all depends whether you’re wanting your business to last in the SERPs for a while or just a short stint. The link spammers out there who target the usual big money keywords are still at it and are ranking in the top 10 faster than I’ve ever seen before. I’m not here to out anyone, nor would I, but we’ll take a look at real link graphs and keywords they’ve managed to dominate within a month…. yes in only a month!

There has not been much of an actual clean up of the SERPs in my opinion, so feel free to add a rebuttal or troll me for saying that in the comments below. In the 7 years we’ve been “building” and “attracting” links for clients, the one thing I can say is that slow and steady wins the race. The people hacking the SERPs are not doing it with any secret sauce of links, either; It’s full on junk links from junk sites and it’s quite embarrassing in my eyes for Google. I will give them some credit if the Penguin algorithm should eventually snap them out of the undeserved rankings within the next month. Within that time though, they most likely have a second and third site in the works and they’ll be right back to laughing all the way to the bank. The other spammers have noticed this as well and it’s still an all out payday for people with “turn and burn” websites.

Without specifically outing anyone, we’ll take a look at a few heavily spammed keywords just to showcase what’s still going on and what to avoid. Are posts like these productive? Maybe. Are posts like these cheap link bait for us? Maybe. Either way, I like to know what’s going on out there from all types of hats and stay informed. Keep in mind that the SERPs for each keyword are going to look a little different for everyone, but from what I’ve checked, multiple sources can confirm everyone I looked at was ranking top 5 for the term at hand. All of our backlink data was happily acquired through

Search Term: Viagra

This first site shot up past for a while in my checking of the SERPS, which was pretty shocking. I won’t tell you if they’re still ranking or not but one thing is certain, they made it VERY high up for this search term quickly and easily. I’m keeping my eye on how long it last(s)(ed) and I suggest you folks do as well for the link spammers in your vertical.

Search Term: Bad Credit Loans

One of the other notorious keywords out there that’s heavy with competition and always an interesting peek into other types of link spam. The one thing I’ve noticed here is that the link volume seems to be a lot less, implying that Google is still giving a lot of weight to keywords in the domain name.

Search Term: Payday Loans

Just about every link spammer has a hard on for this keyword term as it brings in serious coin for affiliates. It’s always a hot bed of spamtivity and here, as well, I’m seeing the same time frame for quick ranking. Again, there aren’t as many links blasted as the Viagra term, but here we had another keyword domain in play so there’s that pattern again…

It’s a pretty fascinating world these “turn and burners” live in and while it’s not for me, it provides the other side with interesting details and facts. It seems the Google algorithm still has a long way to go and I don’t think we should be so quick to say “links are dead”. I’m still a big fan of doing the amazing things that make you stand out in your niche, which brings in everything you want as well as “natural” and quality links from sites that are relevant. If you’re one who does a lot of backlink research you’ll have no doubt noticed that the sites that have seen no drops and steady rankings have those great links and their anchor text levels are far from gamed.

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