Want To Know How Link Building Will Change In 2016?

So, you’re looking for help and advice about which Link Building tactics you should be employing in 2016 to help improve your rankings and get a ton more traffic to your website. This time last year, I took a ahem… sarcastic look at the whole ‘Best Guide to Link Building’ type blog posts that spread throughout Google like a plague of acne on teenagers face every year.

Before I go ahead and tell you about what you should be doing in 2016, 2017, 2018… and beyond. Feel free to take a look at what I said in last year’s Link Building 2015 blog post.

For example: “Google updates in 2015 – Who knows what they have planned for us in 2015. I would expect nothing less than a few more tweaks of the Penguin and Panda algorithms. I’m sure before the year is out, there will also be some more tweaks to the layout of the search results. We’ve already seen Google incorporating answers to queries within the search results. I’m sure they’ll be pushing forwards with this a little more than they have already.”

I pretty much stated the obvious and like any good(?) clairvoyant SEO as I stared blankly into my crystal ball. I predicted a number of things, which I could have claimed to have second guessed, but let’s face it! I was more stating the obvious than predicting the unknown. Sure enough the updates have slowed down, almost come to a halt since 2012, but Google are still keeping us on our toes!

So what have we learned in the 3 years since 2012’s biggest shake up of the SERPs

37 Google updates in 2012

Source: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2012

Google were very busy in 2012 making a lot of changes designed to give a lot of people a very bad day/week/month/year [delete as appropriate].

17 Google updates in 2013

Source: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2013

After a hectic year of updates, Google slowed down with less than half the number of updates.

15 Google updates in 2014

Source: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2014

This was the year that Matt Cutts officially started his “gardening leave” and has since extended it through to 2016. Is it any coincidence that the number of algorithm updates has slowed? Probably not but it’s always fun to speculate!

5 Google updates in 2015 (up until November)

Source: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2015

More Matt Cutts news came out in 2015 with Google officially replacing Matt Cutts. As the Head of the Web Spam team, he would have probably been directly involved with the rolling out of a lot of these updates. It cannot have been an easy time for the poor guy, with many people directly blaming him for the changes, rather than Google.

When I wrote my blog post in November 2014, I had no way of knowing the number of updates would drop by two thirds from 15 to 5 (so far in 2015)! That’s almost a snail’s pace compared to what we’d seen in 2012! Who knew? Since hitting the Publish button on the blog post, we saw a number of changes tied into websites and the on-page changes.

Although Links clearly are and still will be very important for a number of years to come to improve authority and relevancy in Google, they have all but realised the game is up and they need to sit back and enjoy the ride! There is no single, one way to stop people gaming the system with links because if there was, they’d be doing it right now and all the blackhats and affiliate marketers would be shouting from the rooftops that their income streams had dried up quicker than a well in the Sahara Desert. Do I believe it will always be the case? Of course not! But it definitely will be for the foreseeable future…

Just count through the number of Penguin related updates according to Moz since 2012 for proof that Google is very much stabbing in the dark trying to find a solution for Link Spam – See Manual Actions [Penalties]. The problem Google has is that even many of the “made for SEO” websites look so good and convincing these days, they aren’t as easily spotted from first glance. CMS such as WordPress have made building a professional looking website easy! Of course there is more than just the look of the website to take into account when deciding whether a website is classed as authoritative or spammy;

Back in November 2014, I’d quite clearly ‘predicted’ Penguin updates and before the year was out, we had the “Penguin Everflux” on 10th December 2014 as reported by Moz: “A Google representative said that Penguin had shifted to continuous updates, moving away from infrequent, major updates. While the exact timeline was unclear, this claim seemed to fit on-going flux after Penguin 3.0 (including unconfirmed claims of a Penguin 3.1).”

The end of 2014 and the middle of 2015 saw three updates related directly to websites themselves, one of which was a Panda update as I quite clearly ‘predicted’ might I add (although it was pretty obvious Google would do something). “Panda 4.2 (#28)” saw the light of day on 17th July 2015 as reported by Moz: “Google announced what was most likely a Panda data refresh, saying that it could take months to fully roll out. The immediate impact was unclear, and there were no clear signs of a major algorithm update.”

The other two included the “Pigeon update which expanded to the UK, Canada and , Australia” on 2nd December 2014 as reported by Moz: “Google’s major local algorithm update, dubbed “Pigeon”, expanded to the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The original update hit the United States in July 2014. The update was confirmed on the 22nd but may have rolled out as early as the 19th.”

The third of these updates included what Moz termed “The Quality Update” on 3rd May 2015. As reported by Moz: “After many reports of large-scale ranking changes, originally dubbed “Phantom 2”, Google acknowledged a core algorithm change impacting “quality signals”. This update seems to have had a broad impact, but Google didn’t reveal any specifics about the nature of the signals involved.”

All three of these updates have done their best to improve the quality of websites in the search results. Probably not a bad thing because taking off my SEO hat, it does tend to get pretty annoying when I’m searching for something, just to find that the website being returned is outranking some much better search results. But I’d managed to waste 30 seconds of my day working that out after clicking through to the website.

I also don’t have an issue with the on-page and content updates, simply because these are the areas where we have 100% control over how Google and visitors view our websites. If we make better websites, provide the best user experience and spend a lot of time and effort (and often money) on the best possible content. Why shouldn’t we be rewarded?

Even after the Google announcement of the planned “Mobile Update aka ‘Mobilegeddon’” on 21st April 2015. There was still many websites which didn’t react to the warnings. Even today, I still come across some websites from time to time that haven’t converted their websites to be Mobile Friendly. As I said above, this is one of the few areas of the algorithm that we have some degree of control over. We are in essence the masters of our own destiny!

The other big update to happen in recent weeks was Google unleashing Skynet otherwise known as “RankBrain” which was announced on 26th October 2015 as reported by Moz: “Google made a major announcement, revealing that machine learning had been a part of the algorithm for months, contributing to the 3rd most influential ranking factor. *Note: This is an announcement date – we believe the actual launch was closer to spring 2015.”

Now you may be thinking Google has left Bing in the dust now with this new development, but you’d be very much wrong. As far back as February 2005, Microsoft had already introduced their own version which they “internally called ‘RankNet’” in a simple manner with no real fanfare. Far removed from the PR machine that has rolled out the RankBrain story to Bloomberg

So what now for Link Building and SEO in general in 2016

Well from looking at Google Trends, “Social Media” has overtaken “SEO” for the first time ever in September 2015. Of course I’m all for trying to find new ways of finding new audiences for your content and your business, but I’m not sold on Social Media being the magic formula. Of course those earning a living from social media marketing will disagree, but I don’t know many MOT Garages who have enjoyed success sharing the results of the latest MOT exhaust tests on Twitter, or showing off photos of bold tyres – maybe I just follow the wrong people?

So below we have;

Content Marketing
Link Building
Video Marketing
Social Media


SEO Google Trends 2016

From the look of the charts from 2004 until today, you’d be forgiven for thinking everything other than Social Media and SEO were actually being searched for.

So below I have removed Social Media and SEO to give us a much more visual view of what is happening with the other search terms in Google;

Content Marketing
Link Building
Video Marketing

Link Building Google Trends 2016

As you can see, from early 2012, Content Marketing began to see the beginnings of far more interest in this marketing method. Right around the time that Link Building took a bit of a beating thanks to the changes in Google back in April 2012 that we now think of as Google Penguin.

So as you can see, although “Content Marketing” and “Social Media” are two of the most talked about and searched for marketing terms. You shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that Link Building is dead in the water, not by a long shot!

Many people consider SEO and Link Building to be a very grey area, bending Google’s rules by acquiring links that were not editorially acquired on merit. So on that basis, I would argue that Content Marketing in itself is very much a grey area, since you’re creating ‘something’ which can be useful, informative or entertaining, but at the same time the ultimate aim is to acquire links.

So what should you be doing to improve your website visibility in 2016

I’m sure this year (2015/2016) will be no different in that there will be the almost annual flux of blog posts which appearing from people writing “Guru” type blog posts proclaiming to know what everyone should be doing link building wise, in the next 12 months.

Nothing has changed really since I wrote my original look at Link Building in 2015. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of inexperienced SEO’s and business owners will still be reading these tired and out-dated blog posts giving away bad advice which they will evidently end up acting upon. Many inexperienced SEO’s create their own websites and re-write what they have learnt from others which in turn helps to further expose others to more of this poor advice. The problem is, once there are enough sites all saying the same thing, right or wrong. Do you trust your own judgement or do you consider that all of these site owners must know what they’re talking about?

As I’ve tried to get across throughout this blog post, most of the link building tactics that worked in 2014 are still working today. Matt Cutts said in January 2014 “Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.”.

Well guess what! Guest Blogging is still up there as one of the most effective ways of building trust and authority into your website! Sure Google has introduced RankBrain and there’s bound to be a lot more scaremongering to come from this new development. In theory, it should be much more about improving its understanding of what is being typed into the search box, rather than trying to find and devalue low quality websites.

If I’m right about this, then this fits in well with what we’ve been seeing in 2015 (so far) with Google forcing an update on everyone with regards to the Mobile update to help increase the experience for visitors on Mobile devices. This is more understandable when you find out that as of May 2015, Google’s own internal data on mobile suggests that “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.”.

Also back in May 2015, Google updated it’s algorithm with a “Quality Update” which began changing the way they detected and interpreted “Quality Signals”. To any sane person, all of these small changes put into context either mean I’m taking 2+2 and coming up with 5, or I’m on to something here…

Scary Matt Cutts

Lets’ see, Matt Cutts had an almost personal vendetta against Link Building. Being the head of the Web Spam team was more than just a 9-5 job to this guy as he said in his final blog post before quitting Google;

When I joined Google, my wife and I agreed that I would work for 4-5 years, and then she’d get to see more of me. I talked about this as recently as last month and as early as 2006. And now, almost fifteen years later I’d like to be there for my wife more. I know she’d like me to be around more too, and not just physically present while my mind is still on work.”

Everything that he said back in 2014 when he announced his leave suggests that this was personal for Matt. He wasn’t clocking off, because leaving the office simply meant he stopped using Google WiFi and picked up again on his home WiFi when he got home.

You seriously have to wonder just what affect the 2012 roll out of Penguin and the subsequent updates had on Matt Cutts home life when within 12 months of this tweet asking people to report websites which Penguin had missed. He effectively quit Google!

So my guess is you’re going to read a bunch of blog posts about the types of link building that will work in 2016, but the truth is. You need to get your house, or rather your website in order first! 90% of what was working in 2014 will still be working in 2016. Clearly Google is running out of tricks with Penguin and as a consequence, they’re trying to improve how they evaluate websites and how they decipher a search query to better understand and match up the search results.

With all of this said, the only advice I can offer anybody who has made it this far is to play the game wisely, since backlinks are and always will be the main currency online to ensure you get traffic to your website from Google. No matter what Matt Cutts said before he left Google, or anybody else has said since. They realise that they’re not going to stop people link building, because links are fundamentally how you get somebody to leave one website and visit another.

Ignoring Google for a moment, that’s just the way the Internet works. So for Google to suddenly say that they want this practice to stop was just a crazy notion. Sure there were a lot of people taking some very bad short cuts. But ultimately Penguin has done just enough to cancel out the low quality and spammy link building methods such as link directories. But it will never do enough to cancel out things like guest posts, because it’s just far too difficult to tell which link is editorially given and which was a paid link.

For the benefit of complete transparency, Matt Cutts did not pay me to link to his website.

If you have any questions get in touch with the Marketing Signals team to see how we can boost your digital marketing efforts in 2016.

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