Google is cracking down on dodgy links. Sites are being penalised left, right and centre so it’s vital you know what constitutes an unnatural link to make sure you don’t fall foul of Google’s wrath.

An unnatural link (in simple terms) is a link that only exists to manipulate the page rank or search engine results of your website and one that’s been placed on a website without the owner’s consent.

Still confused?

Here’s an example of what would be classed as an unnatural link:

Pretend for a moment you’ve just been to a health spa and had a wonderfully relaxing time. You want to tell others about your experience so you write a blog about it, linking to the health spa’s website. There’s no problem with that unless you wrote it because they offered you a free weekend or a set of treatments, in which case it would be classed as unnatural (unless you show it as a nofollow link).

Therefore, a link like this is OK unless there is some sort of financial agreement.

Motivations other than money

It’s not all about back-handers.

There are times that your website needs a bit of a search engine optimisation boost. When your rankings drop it’s tempting to look for a quick solution, which usually involves looking for websites to link to that will give you the boost you need.

The problem is that sort of thing will land you in hot water.

Linking to another site purely for gains in your search rankings will put you on very shaky ground.

Before you link, think about whether you would recommend that company or blog if the search engines didn’t exist. If the answer is no, the chances are your motivation could be construed as a bit dodgy.

We’re all in the same boat

You may find Google’s linking policy frustrating at times, but it’s there for a good reason – to create an online world where everyone (in theory) is equal.

Without it the smaller companies wouldn’t stand a chance because the bigger ones, with the biggest budgets, would be able to buy the best links. Not only would that be a disaster for many companies, it would also be poor for the consumer.

Google Adwords?

Granted, Adwords does involve selling links, but the main distinction here is that it is open and above board because it involves an invoice. The links are also separated from the organic listings in the search results making it obvious which companies have paid for their link.

Link building will always be a contentious issue. In the increasingly competitive online world, people will try to fiddle the system to get one over on their competitors.

The guidelines are clear for all to see, so if you are caught you won’t have a leg to stand on.

Don’t be tempted to take short cuts. Be open and build your high quality links with dignity and a clear conscious.