Of the three pillars of SEO, netlinking is both the oldest and the most difficult to master. The question of the pace of link acquisition is an open debate.
In broad terms:
We have to go back to the early years of Google to understand the current issues. The Google search engine was crude in its rankings (in the positioning of pages in relation to a query). The main factor of its ranking algorithm was PageRank, a KPI depending on the number of links to a given site (and/or a given page).
Google could only crawl pages and sites, but without properly understanding their content. Through its exploration of the web, it could however measure for each site & page a number of links. The anchor of the links helped Google to understand the subject of the page, and therefore reinforced their relevance to the keyword used.
Google’s shortcomings gave birth to netlinking
Netlinking was therefore the most effective practice for increasing the ranking of a page. The practices that emerged were creative and varied, as well as being effective:
As Google has both technical resources and a requirement for quality with regard to Internet users, the search engine’s algorithm has benefited for more than 10 years from “updates” aimed at cancelling the effects of abusive practices. Netlinking in particular has been firmly targeted by the various versions of the Penguin update. The SEO profession has been enriched by a permanent feeling of distrust towards Google.
The following were targeted and are now contrary to the quality guidelines of the search engine:
The guideline is that a site should not have control over its own backlinks: they should be naturally created by third party sites, without intervention from the final site owner.
Google has evolved but netlinking still exists
Despite these advances by Google, netlinking remains in 2022 one of the three pillars of SEO, recommended and practiced by brands and agencies. But in a broader sense, it also covers the natural acquisition of links by a website, which by definition is not controlled. A website today is affected by four common situations:
Natural link acquisition
A site benefits from natural visibility in the literal sense, it can be found by several possible means (positioning, word of mouth, sharing). A particular page (product, reference article) is therefore likely to receive links at any time. A recommendation in a forum, a media selection on a top 10 of a product category, a media article that quotes its source. Links to the site therefore arrive sporadically, without any predictable rhythm.
When a new product is released, a brand event (a fashion show, a new artistic director). Media coverage is short-lived, with press coverage lasting only a few days in both print and online media. All the links created towards the site are published in a very short period of time by the media and blogs (and social networks).
Netlinking here is passive. Press releases sent out by the brand’s communications department sometimes include a link to the site, but the media are free to include it or not.
Example of the rate of acquisition of links to the Deezer site over 2022.
The brand publishes new content to generate attention, traffic and links (a study on its sector, an infographic). It is shared as much as possible to give it maximum visibility: the brand’s social networks & employees’ relays. Its exposure is very brief and intense, but the purpose is often the SEO positioning of the content, so its link acquisition is extended over time at a low rate.
Linkbuilding / netlinking
The brand actively works on its netlinking through sponsored articles published on media and blogs. It controls the source site, the semantic relevance of the page, the link anchor and the destination page to be promoted. This is the most effective strategy for enhancing specific pages and boosting traffic on a given query when the content is not sufficient. We also piggyback on the seasonality of the product. Here the pace is controlled.
Is the concept of natural rhythm relevant?
It is this last practice that leads to the question of the pace of a link campaign. The commonly accepted idea is that a natural pace is smooth and slow, indistinguishable from the acquisition pace of a passive site, and therefore undetectable by Google’s radar.
But if we look at an example of a “passive” pace, with the brand Deezer – we notice peaks in link acquisition due to brand news and new feature releases.
Will the site in question be sanctioned by Google? Certainly not. Stepping back from the purely SEO thinking of a decade ago, we need to move beyond the limited logic of the standalone website confined to one closed environment, Google’s natural search. A website is mainly the window or shop of a real brand, whose activity and reputation go far beyond the search results or even the web. Just as one adapts one’s SEO strategy on all subjects for a site, netlinking also deserves to go beyond rigid preconceptions.