Kyla Becker – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Wed, 19 Jul 2017 14:00:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Did you know? Google sees JavaScript links you don’t /know-google-sees-javascript-links-dont-277057 Wed, 19 Jul 2017 14:00:36 +0000 http:/?p=277057 Columnist Kyla Becker explains how poor visibility into JavaScript backlinks can impact webmasters' ability to keep a clean backlink profile.

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Most SEMs are aware by now that Google is parsing JavaScript and processing content within the DOM. We know this not only because Google has flat out told us, but also because it has been tested.

We know all of this — and yet, tools which provide backlink data are only seeing classically formatted <a href> HTML elements listed within a given page’s source code. They specifically are not capturing link referrals from JavaScript redirects, dynamically inserted <a> tag links or URLs associated with JavaScript onclick events — all of which I will refer to hereafter, collectively, as JavaScript-based link referrals.

With the exception of Google Search Console (GSC), whose backlink data is limited, top backlink data providers like Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, Moz Open Site Explorer and SEMrush are not currently reporting on JavaScript-based link referrals.

For example, we set up a test pointing JavaScript-based links at Links to these target pages did not previously exist on the referring site.

While the URL “strings” are present in the source code of the page, they are associated with onclick events and not within the href attribute of the <a> element. All three links above have been picked up and reported on within GSC appropriately. With this information, we now know as fact that Google has a larger understanding of what qualifies as a “link referral” in today’s digital ecosystem.

Unfortunately, these same links are not reported across the previously mentioned top data providers.

So, you probably have some questions…

Question 1: Is this really a concern?

A lack of visibility into JavaScript-based link referrals could be problematic for webmasters. Because Google is able to parse JavaScript, these types of link referrals are also able to be considered when analyzing profiles for webspam. Google is likely considering these JavaScript-based links within the context of link penalties, and an inability to see this data within backlink data tools hinders webmasters’ ability to ensure their profiles are within compliance.

Question 2: But Google is providing these links. Shouldn’t GSC data be enough to work from, since it’s Google’s own data?

Unfortunately, “Links to your site” data can’t show you everything that you need to see in order to conduct a thorough review of a given backlink profile. The data is limited, providing just 1,000 rows per Example and Sample report. As a matter of best practice, those attempting to review and monitor their backlink profiles are strongly encouraged to utilize multiple data providers — not just Google Search Console.

There have even been occasions where the example link provided by the Google Webspam Team in a Manual Action message was not found by any backlink tools, including GSC. While likely a corner case, it is an example of why multiple backlink data providers should be used to get a full picture of a given backlink profile. It is also representative of why it is so important that other tools expand their available data by integrating JavaScript parsing.

Question 3: Are JavaScript-based link referrals weighted the same as traditional redirects or links?

Yes. Not only does Google look at JavaScript redirects the same as 301s, but Mariya Moeva, a Search Quality Team member at Google, also confirmed at SMX West 2017 that Google looks primarily at the DOM rather than the source code of a page. Therefore, dynamically inserted <a> elements would be weighted the same as if they were located within the source code.

Question 4: How many backlinks could be impacted by this?

It’s hard to say with any certainty, but OverStack conducted a survey in 2016 of over 56,000 developers across 173 countries. Across all groups, JavaScript was “by far the most popular technology,” as reported by 85.3 percent of full-stack developers, 90.5 percent of front-end developers and 54.4 percent of back-end developers. This data indicates a high usage of the JavaScript language within day-to-day web development.

While dynamically generated links, JavaScript redirects and onclick events aren’t common practice in web development, sometimes they are necessary — especially for programmatic solutions at enterprise levels. With high adoption of JavaScript in web development, there’s greater chance of it impacting the way your link referrals are being coded (and thus reported).

Question 5: So, what am I supposed to do with this knowledge?

All we can do is wait for backlink data providers to catch up to JavaScript-based link referral reporting. When you think about it, it took Google some time to get to this point, even with a lot of resources behind the effort. Tools today are up against a very wide web, and parsing JavaScript for every page in their indices requires vast resources on their part. Dmitry Gerasimenko, CEO of Ahrefs, tells us: “To execute JS for every page at our scale [would] require 10,000-15,000 servers, and we believe our customers are not ready to pay for that yet.”

It’s an honest point, and it paints a clear picture of just how difficult providing this level of data can be.

In the meantime, and despite the growing gap that exists in backlink data visibility right now, there is still a good amount of data to be had to make an honest effort in rectifying any webspam issues and showing due diligence to Google’s Webspam Team.

Closing the gap

Gathering as much backlink data as possible is a crucial component to ensuring the success of submitted Reconsideration Requests. Doing so enables backlink reviewers to analyze as close to a majority of a given backlink profile as possible, providing a more complete analysis of webspam patterns that may be relevant to the cause of penalty.

It is for this reason that current backlink data providers are encouraged to build JavaScript parsing functionality into their crawlers and get that reporting out to users in a timely fashion.

Be sure to keep an eye on top of data providing tools for when this functionality becomes available, as three out of four preferred backlink providers we spoke to confirmed that these developments are already in progress. (Thanks, guys!)

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Back to basics: Why you need to stop stressing over backlinks /back-basics-need-stop-stressing-backlinks-250835 Wed, 22 Jun 2016 14:30:18 +0000 http:/?p=250835 Fishing for backlinks is like fishing for compliments: the sincerity will always be questionable. Read backlink veteran Kyla Becker's perspective on why we need to step away from backlinks and get back to basics.

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Backlinks are important — there’s no argument on that fact. The emphasis that has been placed on backlinks in the past decade, however, has caused SEOs to hyper-focus on something that was never meant to be a marketing strategy.

I cannot count the number of times I have had conversations with clients, trying to impress upon them how they hurt their digital marketing efforts by prioritizing followed backlinks over relevancy, value and innovation in their marketing strategies.

In my experienced opinion (5+ years in the link business, 50+ clean-up efforts, 100-percent penalty removal success rate), the downward spiral of ineffectiveness begins the moment you start a marketing strategy conversation with, “What can we do to get followed backlinks?”

When backlinks become the primary KPI of your campaign, you’ve effectively shifted focus away from your customer and to your bottom line. Your readers will notice this lack of sincerity, as will the influencers you try to engage with.

The harder you work toward gaining followed links, the farther away you get from natural link acquisition

When you start taxing your brain to come up with all the various ways you can gain a followed backlink to your site while avoiding a manual penalty, you begin to lose sight of the original intent behind the existence of backlinks: citation.

In the World Wide Web’s infancy, links were used to connect pieces of information/research for the reader’s reference. Citation in academic research serves to support or argue a position or to provide the foundational learnings upon which the research was conducted.

The same holds true today for backlinks in the sphere of digital marketing, and, in my opinion, is the essence of what Google is trying to get at with their provisioning of the Link Schemes list. Links should be to content that is relevant to the topic, supports or argues a position or is recommended reading for those consuming a given piece of content to further inform themselves.

Scholars and scientists do not conduct their research with the goal of being cited by another paper — their goals (assumedly honorable) are to contribute to the research in that space and shed more light on a possible answer to a persistent question or problem. In sum, their goals are to contribute value and advance knowledge.

The same should go for any marketing strategy: Develop and market content for the benefit of and value to your readers, not for the possible backlinks.

The objective is not to “make your links appear natural,” the objective is that your links are natural.
Matt Cutts, former head of webspam at Google

If backlinks are like votes, then it follows that link spam could be likened to ballot stuffing, and followed advertisements and affiliate links likened to vote buying. When domains participate in these practices to influence their positions within organic search results, they are effectively influencing the governing body’s (aka Google’s) understanding of who the people voted for — and in turn, rigging the “election.”

In the real world, these actions can have serious consequences. In the SEO world, the same is true — sites are penalized (aka put in “Google Jail”) and demoted in rank, effectively pushing them out of their positions of influence. With penalization having the potential to impact thousands, if not millions of dollars in revenue, fixating on backlinks as a marketing strategy is a huge gamble for a lot of big-name sites.

Many digital marketers from the last decade have recklessly played the long con called link building and have bet against the house in the hopes of climbing the ranking ladder. A lot of us are guilty of this, including myself.

In the last few years, however, with the clarifications Google has made in its Quality Guidelines (Yes, Link Schemes provides clarity, if you know how to read between the lines), those who “get” this industry have recognized what it is Google wants and expects from their sites: a solid user experience, and valuable, authoritative information.

Backlinks are a happy result of a job well done

Backlinks were never meant to be the origin point of a marketing campaign, but rather a result of (or even reward for) those efforts. Sure, they contribute to how competitive you are in the search results, but this is based solely on the idea that those backlinks were legitimately gained and represent the people’s choice.

We, as SEOs, need to step away from the dials and stop trying to game an ever-evolving and highly complex algorithm. Instead, let’s get back to the SEO basics of building technically sound sites that crawlers can find, read and understand.

Let’s develop, market and share content that helps our customers improve their lives, expand their thinking and get involved in the important conversations happening around them. Let’s stop looking for the gaps in the system and start paying attention to what really matters: user value and a quality experience.

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