With recent changes to relevance algorithms done by large search engine companies like Google, most notably updates Google released in both June and September of 2012, many websites have been hit lower page rankings. While many webmasters participated in a practice called “link building,” Google has recently implemented changes to their algorithm which prevent “bunk” links to websites from affecting their page rank positively, and in fact can have a negative impact on their ranking. Google has recently created a “Disavow Link Tool” allowing webmasters to deny responsibility for links to their website that are irrelevant, that they have no control over removing. It would seem as though Google is getting sick of “link bombing” or “link building” (these are also the techniques that are responsible for the 2003 George Bush “miserable failure” prank — the one that made a search for “miserable failure” bring up George Bush’s page as the top result.) Other search engines are beginning to make similar changes to their algorithm, and this will bring in a new age of “link earning,” or posting legitimate links on websites relevant to your own.
Before search engines existed, it was more difficult to get your website out there. You were unable to simply “use the right keywords” and “post links on websites” to get search engines to find you. Instead, you would need to find websites relevant to your own, and find a way to connect the two. Perhaps a website which taught programming languages would link back to your website selling server hosting. Another good example might be a forum for pet owners linking to your website which gave information on training dogs, or birds. In a sense, these webmasters were “earning links” through having legitimate, relevant, and quality content, rather than just posting links with the hopes a search engine would find their site. As time went on, Google did start to make it a little more difficult: for example your link meant more if it was on a website which Google deemed “quality” (this was when PageRank was first introduced.) Then Google began to make sure that the content on your site was similar to the content of the site linking to you. “Link directories,” “blog carnivals,” and the like became much less useful around this time.
As time goes on, perhaps social links and the like will gain more weight. Reddit, Digg, and other link aggregators are a great source for getting websites out there. These sites also value quality over quantity, and this is again a part of the new “link earning” idea. This idea of having higher quality content being more important than being linked to by many other websites will continue to have a more prominent role over time. This isn’t to say that link building is completely useless: links to websites are still very much important, especially coming from highly rated sites. It’s just going to become even more important that they are relevant websites, and that the content matches the link.