By the numbers: The black and white of Google’s Penguin

SEO experts often overemphasise the importance of incoming links to your website, particularly since Google introduced Penguin earlier this year. Telstra provides an interesting case in point.
Written by Phil Dobbie, Contributor

Every SEO specialist will tell you that the number of people linking into your website will influence how well you perform in search engine rankings. To an extent, they are right, although many are probably overstating the case and oversimplifying the concept.

It's the quality of the link that counts. That means, coming from a frequented site, with links that people actually click on and that those people go on to consume the content that they have arrived at.

That's why you should ignore SEO companies that offer to get you linked on hundreds (or thousands) of sites, often using link trading — you link to someone's site, they'll link to yours. As if search engine algorithms wouldn't spot such a thing and consider it a phoney way to raise your profile.

Yet, many big companies follow a similar approach. Let's take Telstra as an example. A Google search for "link:http://telstra.com" shows that there were 1,140 links created over the last month — dwarfing the link profile of most other major Australian companies. Looking down the list of sites that link-on, and you'll soon see how a rolling program of sponsorships and events have helped, particularly in relation to sport.

Sadly for Telstra, though, sticking their logo on lots of other sites isn't helping their organic search ranking. Even though they dominate the telecommunications sector and have one of the most linked-into websites in Australia, type "mobile phone plans" into Google, and you'll see that they come in fifth in the search results (on various computers available to ZDNet, the result fluctuated between third and fifth) . On Bing, they come in 17th place, relegated to the second page for most people; even Crazy Johns ranks higher.

Search results for "mobile phone plans."

This clearly shows what little impact lots of unused inbound links have in the secret herbs and spices that determine your Google ranking.

Google calls ways that cheat the system "link schemes". Some techniques, such as link exchanging, do not work, are a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, and will negatively impact your ranking. Google Penguin was an algorithm released earlier this year to stamp out such behaviour — the third iteration was released earlier this month. All the more reason to ignore the SEO company that is promising to build oodles of links for you.

It would be a bit extreme to consider a linkable Telstra logo on a myriad of sponsored websites as a violation of Google's guidelines (and a victim of Penguin), but it is a wasted opportunity. Imagine the impact if Telstra pointed readers to a blog, with an entry related to the page they clicked on, or at least on a topical subject pertaining to that audience.

In a nutshell, links work, but only if they offer an interesting destination that lives up to its promise. All thanks to Penguin, a clever bird — with beautiful plumage.

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