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SEO: Does link building through article directories still work?

It’s believed that the Google Panda update earlier this year has hurt the SEO effectiveness of link farms. Now, some online marketers are asking: Will that crackdown on link farms also damage the power of article directories as an SEO tool?

Article directories aren’t link farms, of course. They’re independent sites that let users write and post articles aimed at a specific topic or niche. Among other benefits, article directories can provide solid SEO via backlinks to and from your articles.

Link farms, on the other hand, are bulk backlink providers, and exist only to tweak search engine rankings. Apart from that, they don’t offer much additional value to searchers.

It’s obvious that quality article directories like Buzzle, or offer real value and aren’t just link farms. All the same, many more article directories are blatant SEO cash-ins with little or no interest in unique and valuable content. As a result, all article directories may be feeling the crack of Google’s whip.

Google’s take
“Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of article marketing,” says Google’s Matt Cutts. “Typically the sorts of sites that just republish these articles are not the highest quality sites.”

Ouch. But in the defense of article directories, they’ve always been among the preferred ways to distribute backlinks because, unlike most traditional “link farms” or mass link distribution providers, article directories can be relevant to your niche and actually bring in targeted traffic, rather than just traffic in general.

And it’s more than just getting another link out there — with article directories, you actually have to create and upload an article. If it’s well done, then you’re legitimately contributing something of value to the internet, and you deserve that linkback credit as SEO juice to your own site.

In the past, search engines have typically looked favorably on this kind of linking. Because it’s within the same topic, it looks natural, even if it’s technically manually done. (Natural linking is when others link to you; manual linking is when you link to them.)

SEO summary
Still, SEO benefits only work if Google gives those article directories a respectable PageRank. And many believe that Google no longer does that.

Nobody knows for sure. Google is notoriously secretive about its methods and algorithms. But Matt Cutts doesn’t seem to be a fan. He’s said that article marketing generates “a lot of duplicate content across the web, sometimes duplicate anchor text.

“A lot of times the articles themselves are not the highest quality where someone will say you have to write x number of words and someone will write exactly x number of words,” Cutts continues.

“So if I had to foresee what does the trend hold, these are not really editorial links where somebody is really making the choice that this is a great site as a lot of other links on the web.”

This sounds like bad news for article marketers. When Matt Cutts is telling you that Google doesn’t like something, you can believe him, even if the effects haven’t fully materialized yet.

The lesson, then, would be to reduce your dependence on article marketing for backlinks. If your SEO efforts are currently built on article marketing, you don’t want to abandon it fully — but think seriously of phasing it out in favor of other, more modern methods of SEO, starting now.

Alternate backlink opportunities
And what are those other, modern sources of backlinks? For starters:

  • Writing and distributing press releases;
  • Social media networking, especially Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn;
  • Blog networking — leaving comments on blogs relevant to yours;
  • Guest blogging for other sites.

The final word is yours
What’s been your experience with article directories in the wake of the Google Panda update? Have you found them less effective? We’d love to hear your thoughts —  sound off in the comments and let us know what your article directory link building experiences have been.