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How to Get Readers for Your Hubs
If you're trying to make money online with your Hubs, one of the first things you'll read about is the importance of backlinks. Backlinks are simply links TO your Hub FROM other places on the internet.
Backlinks are essential for two reasons. One is that real people may click on them and arrive at your Hub. Bingo! You've gained a reader. However the more significant reason is that Google judges your Hub's value by the number of backlinks it has. Get enough backlinks and Google will place your Hub on page 1 of the search results - and bingo! you've gained not one, but thousands of readers!
So you need backlinks. And it won't take you much Googling to find all kinds of helpful people, eager to offer advice on how to get them, or even to arrange them for you (usually for a price...). But before you plunge in, there's something you need to know:
Google has declared war on "unnatural" backlinks
The result is that many of the backlinking advice and services currently available are outdated. They're not only ineffective, they can actually do you harm!
The practice of creating your own backlinks is now so widespread, most people think it's normal - but Google has always seen it as "rigging the election".
Why Does Google Hate Unnatural Backlinks?
Google's attitude is understandable really. The best way to explain it is with a simple analogy.
Say you're a candidate in an election. On election day, the people vote for the candidate they think is best for the job. The guy with the most votes wins.
Now say you're a crooked candidate. You pay lots of people to vote for you, and you vote several times yourself using fake ID's. The guy with the most votes - you - wins. But this time, it's not because the people thought you were the best. It's because you rigged the election.
Google sees backlinks as "votes", and the sites with the most votes win the "election" - i.e. get to the top of the search results. So naturally, they want the election to be free and fair. But webmasters discovered, long ago, that Google couldn't tell the difference between genuine votes and fake votes. So began a huge industry in ways to "rig the Google election" - by creating your own votes (backlinks).
The History of Backlinks - Directories and Social Bookmarking
The first way to create backlinks was in directories. These were just lists of websites, arranged in categories. Their original purpose was to help readers find blogs on subjects that interested them - but as search engines got better, few people used them. They became link farms - long lists of websites, submitted by webmasters to get a backlink. Eventually, Google realized that fact, and either de-indexed the directories (removed them from search results) or devalued the links. Directories went out of fashion as a backlinking source.
The "next big thing" was social bookmarking sites. The original purpose of these sites was as a place for readers to save and share links to outstanding web pages. The idea was that members wouldn't have to trawl through the search engines - they could find the cream of the internet on their social bookmarking site.
Before long, most of these sites were over-run with webmasters, bookmarking their own sites. The result today is that social bookmarking sites are no longer places to find "the cream of the internet" - few people join bookmarking sites today just for fun. And Google is well aware social bookmarking sites are primarily a place to self-promote these days, so they have now devalued the links. They're not totally worthless - but they're probably not worth the time it takes to create them.
Blog Networks and Social Networks
With social bookmarking losing its value, webmasters searched for another place to backlink. Google now placed more value on "contextual links" which are links in the middle of text, using a keyword. So for instance, using a link like Belly Dance Australia had more value than just using the website URL. So came the rise of the blog networks.
You would join the network (usually for a monthly fee) and then you could submit guest posts to all or any of the blogs on the network, and include a backlink to your website. That sounds like a fair and reasonable thing to do - like a press release, right? Not quite. For one thing, most of the blogs weren't real blogs - they were created purely to take promotional articles. As for the members, writing hundreds of articles was hard work - so they would either outsource to cheap writers, use software to create them, or steal them from other sites. Blog networks became stuffed with "splogs" (spam blogs). They contained nothing of interest to real readers, existing just to serve backlinks to please Google.
Alongside the blog networks came the rise of social networks. Google realized people weren't sharing links on bookmarking sites any more - they were sharing on Facebook and Twitter. So Google started giving more value to links on those sites (and launched their own Google+). In no time, people were offering to sell or trade Facebook Likes or +1's.
The Google Empire Strikes Back
Unfortunately, Google has to rely on robots to check web pages, and they can't read. So even though these 'splogs' were full of garbage, the robots couldn't tell, and the backlinks worked for a long time.
Until early 2012. Google finally worked out a way to find the blogs on the big blog networks and de-index them. Overnight, webmasters lost hundreds of backlinks as the blogs disappeared, which meant their websites lost their position on the search engine results. It's a manual process, and Google is still working to identify more blog networks and take them down. Any network that advertises for members is a target - if you can find them, Google can find them. Only the few private networks, which recruit only by networking, run real blogs (not splogs) and set high content standards, are likely to survive.
You'll see many paid backlinking services still advertising - but to get value from a backlink, it needs to be there for the long haul. Why would you pay money to get backlinks that may last only a few months, until Google catches up with them?
But worse was to come: the Penguin update. Google had also worked out a way to identify if a website was creating "unnatural" (self-created) backlinks. The Penguin update removed the value of those links (which naturally reduced the ranking of the website they linked to). On top of that, sites which used such links heavily, were given a penalty.
So far, it appears that Facebook, Google+ and Twitter links aren't affected. Presumably Google hasn't yet worked out how to tell the difference between real and manufactured links. However, the practice is so blatantly advertised around the internet that Google must be aware of it - so how long will it be before they do find a way to differentiate?
Links created by other people are called "natural" or "organic" links.
Google calls links created by yourself, "manufactured" links. To identify and penalize those, Google looks for patterns of linking which could be "unnatural'.
What Are Unnatural Links?
The following have been classified as "unnatural" by Google:
Links on unrelated pages
If a real blogger is going to recommend your Hub, or use it as a reference, it's going to be on a page about the same topic. You wouldn't expect someone writing about dog washing to refer to a Hub about feather dusters, for instance. So if Google finds a link on a page that has no relevance to yours, it suspects the link was arranged artificially.
Contextual Links (anchor text)
Conventional SEO wisdom says that when you write a Hub, you should work out what keywords you're targeting and make sure you use them in headings, sub-headings etc. Then when you write articles, comments, Tweet etc to promote it, you use the same keywords.
Google has realized that if real people are recommending your Hub, there's no way every single person would use exactly the same word or phrase to describe it. In fact, they're more likely to say, "To read more about this aspect of ballet, click here."
So if Google find lots of links to your Hub, all using nicely chosen "anchor text" - and especially if it's the same every time - they'll suspect you made them.
So far, it appears that Google won't penalize you for having a few unnatural links. There's an interesting analysis in this article by Microsite Masters, showing that you're only likely to be in trouble if more than half your links fall into these categories.
So How Do I Get Effective Backlinks?
The lesson from the history of backlinking is that an excess of anything never works. Inevitably, someone will spy a loophole in Google's new algorithms and that will become "the next big thing". History tells us that "the next big thing" is the next thing Google will target, so it won't last long. You could try riding the wave while it lasts - but with Google not just devaluing links but actively penalizing websites which have used them, that may backfire.
Unfortunately, if you don't create some backlinks yourself, your Hubs risk sinking into oblivion. And there are still some opportunities, they just take more work.
Two simple and effective options are Pinterest, forums and other blogs on your topic.
When I talk about Pinterest, I don't mean pinning your own photos on Pinterest. If you have a specialist topic and can create a fascinating Pinterest board full of photos from your own Hub plus heaps of photos from elsewhere, then you can create a following - but it's a lot of effort, and if you don't have a specialist subject, the return is definitely not worth the time.
What you can do is create Made for Pinterest images for your Hubs - which will make it more likely that other people will pin your images.
Again, this strategy is effective only if you have a specialist subject. Joining lots of different forums and building enough of a reputation simply takes too long to be worth doing for just a few Hubs.
When you join a forum, get to know people and participate helpfully before you start sharing your Hubs. You may be able to add a link to your Hub or website in a forum signature, which is ideal - it means that every time you post, you get an automatic backlink. And there may be times when you can refer to a Hub in a forum post, if it's genuinely relevant (just don't overdo it and certainly don't do it until you're a well-known community member).
Forum links may sometimes be "no follow", which means they won't count with Google - but you're getting your link in front of readers who are interested in your topic, so they're likely to visit your Hub or blog. And if you've written good quality content, they may Facebook Like it, Tweet it or Pin it - all natural links which Google will like.
Search for other blogs on your topic and leave comments. Don't try to leave a link IN your comment - it will just get deleted as spam. Instead, look for blogs where you're asked to fill in your name and website when you comment - your name will become a link to your site when the comment appears. Again, these may be no follow, but you're getting into a discussion with people who are interested in your subject.
The most valuable backlinks are links in articles you contribute to other people's blogs (called guest posting).
Finding guest posting opportunities can be tough, but the backlinks are so valuable, it's worth the effort. Look for good quality blogs on your topic, write to the blog owner and offer to contribute a post. Suggest one or two intriguing titles to whet their appetite, and give some information on your credentials. Explain that all you want in return is a link to your own Hub or blog, either in the text of the guest post or in an author bio section.
Google used to value guest blogging links very highly. They don't now - but what you are doing is exposing your name to a new group of readers interested in your topic, and that's worthwhile.
If you notice someone has linked to your Hub or blog from an article on their website, write and thank them. You never know what other opportunities you may discover by networking with related sites.
Sometimes you'll hear from a blogger who'd like to "swap links". If you accept, your link will be placed on their sidebar or on a Links page. Google recognizes these links as webmasters promoting each other, and doesn't give them much value. Any blogger who is link swapping may be following other strategies Google doesn't like - so on balance, I would politely decline.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with sharing your Hubs or blogs on social bookmarking or social networking sites. It doesn't really matter which one you choose, so long as you join to genuinely use the service, and not just to self-promote (which might look unnatural).
For those who are ready to get a bit more sophisticated, I recommend this article.