Website design get links has become a mammoth task for site owners and businesses as a whole. This is made more difficult by the fact that Google has grown more perceptive regarding the quality of links – whether natural or paid for. Essentially, links earned by offering incentives are simply ignored, though a site is at risk of getting penalties if such links are too common.
E-commerce clients present a bigger challenge for SEOs when it comes to link-building, especially because most of the common techniques applicable to normal sites are inadequate to produce the same effect in an e-commerce site.
A common method of earning backlinks has been to send products to renowned bloggers with a request for a written review and/or link. Unfortunately, this is in direct contravention of the Quality Guidelines offered by Google, and it places site owners at a risk of manual penalties.
Google Quality Guidelines on Link Schemes
According to Google guidelines, unacceptable link acquisition techniques include purchasing links. This is defined as receiving links or posts with links in exchange for money, ‘free’ goods or services, or even sending out a product to someone on condition that they write about the product and include a link to the merchant’s site.
In other words, Google categorizes most incentives offered in exchange for links as being unnatural. An SEO may imagine that product reviews earned in this manner are not unnatural/paid links because no money changes hands.
However, the grey area comes in the fact that Google is not yet able to distinguish which reviews with links were as a result of natural mentions and which were offered as incentives. So, even though you offered the product as a means of advertising or improving/increasing your exposure, you still run the risk of having your links qualified as unnatural.
A few examples of spammy product review links
Many businesses have received manual penalties by following this same scheme of link building. At this stage, the Penguin algorithm is not as advanced to identify unnatural mentions in product reviews, though this will not always be true.
Take this large e-commerce store X that received a manual penalty for unnatural linking. After the initial audit where obvious unnatural links were removed, the site applied for re-assessment, and their request was denied. Naturally, the site followed with a second, more detailed, audit, including personal blogs.
The audit revealed one blogger who used to write about normal life stuff. In the post to which a link to client X was mentioned, the blogger described how his family had had a problem finding easy to use syringes to administer insulin to their Type 1 diabetic son.
The blogger then proceeds to mention insulin syringes (a link) made and sold by company X (a link), stating that there was no pain during injection. He added that the company also provides glucometers (another link) at affordable rates for interested parties, and concluded by ‘highly recommending’ them.
It’s obvious now that such links are unnatural, but in the earlier days, this wasn’t so clear. Especially since the client maintained that they had never offered money in exchange for links, even after the failed reconsideration. Shortly after, the client remembered that a former SEO agency established a program years back, which offered bloggers $6 per mention/link for products from the client. Removing all similar links finally enabled the site to get the manual penalty lifted.
So, can product review links be natural?
There have been many resources from Google regarding link quality, even where actual money is not transferred. Google’s Matt Cutts reveals that Google adheres to the standards outlined in the Guidelines on Product Endorsements by FTC. Proper understanding of these guidelines can better reveal which endorsements are deemed as public and which are taken to be paid.
An important pointer might be product value. For instance, giving away a $5 item would hardly raise eyebrows with Google, but doing the same with a $500 item for a mention and link would obviously lead to the conclusion that the link was not naturally earned. Offering free trials may also be considered natural for the purpose of advertising, while giving gift cards is unnatural.
At the end of the day, even for product review links that are natural, if you do it on a large scale you’re inviting a penalty, because that becomes a ‘link scheme’. It is possible to earn natural links through product reviews, but utmost caution and careful adherence to Google guidelines must be exercised.