SEO Basics: Relevant versus Irrelevant Links

Dario Zadro
by Dario Zadro 03 Sep, 2013



The Internet, as its name suggests, is an interrelated network of information. The driving force that makes that network manageable is link building. SEOs and webmasters rely on link building strategies to optimize their online content for better search engine visibility, in an effort to reach more clients and customers. But all links are not created equal.


Quality links make the Internet function smoothly, providing users with relevant search results for their online queries. Unfortunately, some webmasters and SEO firms try to game the system, stuffing websites with low-quality links that have no topical relevance to the original website. All in an effort to increase a site's page ranking. In the past, this technique has brought results. Though to be honest, the results are typically short lived. However, in the wake of the latest Penguin updates, gaming the system with low-quality, irrelevant links, has become much more difficult. And the penalties are going to become much more severe.


Relevant, Irrelevant...What's the Big Deal?


The goal of every search engine is to provide the end user with relevant, topical and useful results to a query. To do this, they must separate the wheat from the chaff. Links are one of the factors that search engines use to determine the authority and quality of a site. In the past, black hat SEOs have been able to stuff websites with an overabundance of low-quality, irrelevant, links in attempt to fool the search engine into giving the site a higher page ranking. Google's latest updates are taking a closer look at links, evaluating their worth, and weighing the topical relevancy of the documents or websites to which those links connect. In an effort to provide the end user with the most effective and rewarding online experience, Google has aggressively downgraded sites with an abundance of irrelevant links via their most current Penguin 2.0 algorithm installment.


The Problem With Irrelevant Links


The main problem with irrelevant links is that they offer no real value, and actively deceive both Internet users and search engines. If we look at links as signposts along the information highway, irrelevant links are tantamount to changing the traffic signs along the road. The traveler gets tricked into taking a wrong turn, and misses their destination entirely. In the same way, an irrelevant link can lead an Internet user who is searching for information on feline leukemia to a site that specializes in off-market "Hello Kitty" backpacks.


Some examples of irrelevant links and link building strategies include:


1. Building thousands of links to business directories across a number of industries with no topical connection to the host site, in attempt to game a higher SERP (search engine results page).


2. Publishing low-quality content on a topically unrelated site for the sole purpose of acquiring a link.


3. Using deceptive anchor text in a link that connects to a topically unrelated site. For example, a link that promises "Low Calorie Recipes" but links to a car dealership.


These types of irrelevant links cause the end-user to have an inefficient and unproductive online experience. Consequently, Google, and other search engines, are working to penalize sites with an over abundance of these types of links.


Relevant Link Building


Using legitimate link building strategies is now more important than ever. As Google continues to reduce spam websites, and concentrates on providing the best possible user experience for its clients, relevant link building strategies will be rewarded in the long run. Relevant links should increase a website's visibility organically, connecting the site to authoritative documents and web pages that offer real value to the online user.


Examples of relevant link building strategies include:


1. Publishing, and linking to, authoritative guides that are topically in line with your website.


2. Linking to topically themed infographics.


3. Guest posting on related and highly trusted industry blogs.


4. Refusing off topic link requests, and disavowing any links with deceptive anchor text.


In an interview with Matt Cutts of Google, he makes is very clear that "links are still the best way we've found to discover [how relevant or important somebody is to someone else]". We can only assume that this same principle applies across the Web with products and services as well.


Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there will always be black hat SEOs trying to game the system. But in the wake of the Penguin updates, Google will be coming down particularly hard on sites and webmasters using irrelevant link building strategies to increase their SERPs.


Now is the time to take a hard look at your websites, to remove or disavow any low quality or irrelevant links, and to recommit to legitimate link building techniques.