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After the New York Times unearthed J.C Penney’s unethical link building practices and Google responded by manually penalising the companies search engine rankings last week, black hat SEO has been thrown into the spotlight once again.

What kind of knock on effect could this really have for SEO in 2011? Could 2011 be the year white hat prevails over black hat link buying?

As many companies and SEO agencies continue to tread the fine grey line between ‘black hat’ and ‘white hat’, this recent debacle will have many questioning their current link building techniques and SEO strategy.

Last week SEO professionals around the globe will have had some difficult questions coming in from their clients on if their link building practices could eventually lead to penalisation.

Whilst traditional techniques such as cloaking and doorway pages have always been a clear black hat zone for SEO, link building has become an increasingly grey hat area, with paid linking becoming common practice in highly competitive industries.

However, Google cracking down on big brands in the competitive SERPs manually and publically clearly sends a message out: use black hat link building and it will catch up on you eventually.

But with Google’s algorithm still placing importance on the links coming into a website, many companies may be asking themselves what alternative they have to using paid links.

In 2011, companies wishing to build links to their site are well advised to avoid the risk of link buying and go back to basics: create great content that people will want to link to naturally. While creating good content is just one part of the SEO puzzle, so is catching the interest of social networkers.

Over the past 12 months, Confused.com has been working hard on developing an engaging social media presence for both improved branding and greater customer engagement.

Being able to blend above the line with social has also helped to ensure a greater reach with traditionally ‘offline’ content and marketing activities. This is becoming increasingly important, considering that social signals have been seen to directly influence search rankings. All of which highlights the importance of developing content that will do well both socially and with the usual linkerati crowd.

As the web becomes increasingly social and starts to play some importance in SEO, there may be big wins from social media engagement and community building – both of which have the knock of effect of increased natural linking from a diverse range of websites in your niche.

In light of this event, 2011 might not only be the year that link buying is cracked down on, but also the year of ‘naming and shaming’ companies with suspicious links.

The threat of being exposed to the industry may be warning enough for many companies to steer clear of paid linking and clean up their link building strategies.

With this in mind, we should expect to see 2011 as the year for budgets being directed towards clever, shareable content rather than under-the-table link buying schemes.

Thomas Beverley

Published 25 February, 2011 by Thomas Beverley

Tom Beverley is Digital Marketing Director at Confused.com and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

1 more post from this author

Comments (7)

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James MacAonghus

A timely article given Google's announcement yesterday about Demand Media.

over 5 years ago


Gary Moyle

I think many SEO agencies will welcome Google rewarding white hat link building strategies however I think that we are in danger of developing a 'naming and shaming culture' which could see many legitimate websites being penalised due to pressure from the media.

Will Google simply be responding to media pressure or actually carefully analysing these websites for actual violations of their quality guidelines?

By the way, did Google actually specifically mention Demand Media?

over 5 years ago


internet marketing in uk

Demand Media what is this do you think there much to be said using twitter linked to facebook linked to linkin?

over 5 years ago

Thomas Beverley

Thomas Beverley, Marketing at onefinestay

Google didn't mention Demand Media specifically. Plus, they haven't been negatively effected by the algorithm change. Check out: http://www.sistrix.com/blog/985-google-farmer-update-quest-for-quality.html

over 5 years ago


Dave Jenkins

It will be interesting to see how this Google update pans out over the next couple of months and how SEO agencies and consultants alter their link building strategies.

My worry with this update is that a lot of genuine white hat sites will be penalised as well. It's pretty much impossible for an algorithm to get things right all of the time.

over 5 years ago



Thanks for sharing the tut with me. It was beautifully described. Well done. Looking forward for more tuts from you!

about 5 years ago


Ryan @ Linkbuildr

Well it's nearly half over in 2011 and low quality and black hat links still dominate the playing field..so perhaps near the end of 2011 going into 2012 once Panda has been run a dozen times.

Someone from the web spam team has stated on hacker news that a dramatic change to the way they view links is coming. Sadly that's all that was said, but it seems like anchor text is getting the dial down....makes sense!

Whenever we pay for a link though, it's so sneaky that Google will never ever be able to tell. No footer/blogroll links, no links in content where you're the only one, no obvious anchor text and no unrelated sites. Stick to that and you're still going to dominate the SERPs. Just mix up your link building and get to the point where your link bait does the rest!

almost 5 years ago

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