Archived posts from the 'Reciprocal Links' Category

Dear webmaster, don’t trust Google on links

I’m not exactly a fan of non-crawlable content, but here it goes, provided by Joshua Titsworth (click on a tweet in order to favorite and retweet it):

What has to be said

Google’s link policy is ape shit. They don’t even believe their own FUD. So don’t bother listening to crappy advice anymore. Just link out without fear and encourage others to link to you fearlessly. Do not file reinclusion requests in the moment you hear about a Googlebug on your preferred webmaster hangout, because you might have spread a few shady links by accident, and don’t slaughter links you’ve created coz the almighty Google told you so.

Just because a bazillion of flies can’t err, that doesn’t mean you’ve to eat shit.



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Opting out: mailto://me is history

Finally quitting emailToday I’ve removed all instances of the thunderbird icon from my computers, and from my memory as well. I’m finally done with email. I’ve forwarded1) all my email accounts to paid-links@google.com, and here’s why:

Sebastian’s Pamphlets

Dear Sebastian,

I visited your web site earlier today and it seems you are also a seo company like us. As an SEO company we are in this field since 1998 in India(CHD). We have developed and maintained high quality websites.

We understand link building better than other because of our 11 year experience in linking industry and we follows the right manual link building approach in seeking, obtaining and attracting topic specific trusted inbound links. We have different themes related sites, directories and blogs and i would like to make a request to enter a mutual understanding by EXCHANGING LINKS with your website in order to get targeted visitors, higher ranking and link popularity.

We look forward to linking our site with yours, as exchanging links would Benefit both of us.

You\’ve received this email simply because you have been found while searching for related sites in Google, MSN and Yahoo If you do not wish to receive future emails, simply reply with this email and let us know.

Waiting for your positive and quick response.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT A SPAM OR AUTOMATED EMAIL, IT\’S ONLY A REQUEST FOR A LINK EXCHANGE. YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS HAS NOT BEEN ADDED TO ANY LISTS, AND YOU WILL NOT BE CONTACTED AGAIN.

Regards:
Lara

Lara
Megrisoft
lara@megrisoft.info

 

Direct message from Spamdiggalot

Hi, Sebastian.

You have a new direct message:

Spamdiggalot: hi!I think you should like my article “12 addons to get the most out of safer-sex”, here: digg.com/x010101 please RT!

Reply on the web at http://twitter.com/direct_messages/create/Spamdiggalot

Send me a direct message from your phone: D SPAMDIGGALOT

our company proposal

Dear Sebastian Pamphlets,

My name is Vincentas and I am member of board in multi-location hosting company - Host1Plus (http:// www . host1plus . com). Our servers are in U.S., U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania and Singapore.

I just visited your website which I found interested and it provides excellent complementary content.
We would like to offer you free hosting for your site in Host1Plus hosting service the only thing we would ask you is to place our visitors counter to your website here is the link http:// www . count1plus . com or it could be any other feature.

So let me know if you are interested for my offer and I hope that offer is interested to you. Hope to hear you soon.

Kind Regards,
Vincentas Grinius

Host1Plus.com Team
part of Digital Energy Technologies Ltd.
26 York Street
London

W1U 6PZ
United Kingdom
T: +44 (0) 808 101 2277
E: info@host1plus.com
W: http:// www . host1plus . com

Vincentas Grinius
Host1Plus.com
vincentas@host1plus.com

Link Exchange

Hi,

I think if I receive something like this I would pay more attention to that.
\”Dear Webmaster I am so happy to find your website and I like it so much! So I want to be a link partner of your site.

If you are interested to make us your link partner , please inform us and we will be glad to make our link partner within 24 hours.

Our Link Details :

Title: Social Network Development UK

URL: http:// www . dassnagar . co . uk/

Description: Web Development Company UK: Premier Interactive Agency, specializing in custom website design, Social network development, Sports betting portal development, Travel portal design, Flash gaming portal design and development.

Link\’s HTML Code:

<a href=\”http:// www . dassnagar . co . uk/\” target=\”new\”>Social Network Development UK
</a> Web Development Company UK: Premier Interactive Agency, specializing in custom website design, Social network development, Sports betting portal development, Travel portal design, Flash gaming portal design and development.

Please accept my apology if already partner or not interested.

Reasons to exchange link with us.

1. Our site is regularly crawled by google, so there are better chances googlebot visiting your website regularly.
2. We ask you to link back to only those pages where your url is present, indirectly you are increasing your own link value.
3. By linking to our articles and technology blog you can provide useful content to your visitors.

This is an advertisement and a promotional mail strictly on the guidelines of CAN-SPAM act of 2003 . We have clearly mentioned the source mail-id of this mail, also clearly mentioned the subject lines and they are in no way misleading in any form. We have found your mail address through our own efforts on the web search and not through any illegal way. If you find this mail unsolicited, please reply with \”Unsubscribe\” in the subject line and we will take care that you do not receive any further promotional mail.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Kind regards,
Tom
Webmaster

John
dassnagar . co . uk
rdcouk@gmail.com

 

Trust me, quitting email is a time-saver. And yes, I’ve an idea how to waste the additional spare time: Tomorrow I’ll have paid me a beer for a link to myself. And I can think of way more link monkey business that doesn’t involve email.

 I'm such a devil!

1) Actually, “forwarding” comes with a slighly shady downside:
If you continue to send me your (unsolicited) emails, you’ll find all your awkward secrets on literally tons of automatically generated Web pages –nicely plastered with very targeted ads and usually x-rated or otherwise NSFW banners–, hosted on throw-away domains.
I’m such a devil.

 

 



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You can’t escape from Google-Jail when …

spammers stuck in google jail… you’ve boosted your business Web site’s rankings with shitloads of crappy links. The 11th SEO commandment: Don’t promote your white hat sites with black hat link building methods! It may work for a while, but once you find your butt in Google-jail, there’s no way out. Not even a reconsideration request can help because you can’t provide its prerequisites.

When you’re caught eventually –penalized for tons of stinky links– and have to file a reinclusion request, Google wants you to remove all the shady links you’ve spread on the Web before they lift your penalty. Here is an example, well documented in a Google Groups thread started by a penalized site owner with official statements from Matt Cutts and John Müller from Google.

The site in question, a small family business from the UK, has used more or less every tactic from a lazy link builder’s textbook to create 40,000+ inbound links. Sponsored WordPress themes, paid links, comment spam, artificial link exchanges and whatnot.

Most sites that carry these links are in no way related to the penalized site, which deals with modern teak garden furniture and home furniture sets, for example porn galleries, Web designers, US city guides, obscure oriental blogs, job boards, or cat masturbation guides. (Don’t get me wrong. Of course not every link has to be topically related. Every link from a trusted page can pass PageRank, and can improve crawling, indexing, and so on.)

Google has absolutely no problem with unrelated links, unless a site’s link profile consists of way too many spammy and/or unrelated links. That does not mean that spreading a gazillion low-life links pointing to a competitor will get this site penalized or even banned. Negative SEO is not that simple. For an innocent site Google just ignores spammy inbound links, but most probably flags it for further investigations, both manually as well as algorithmically.

If on the other hand Google finds evidence that a site is actively involved in link monkey business of any kind, that’s a completely different story. Such evidence could be massively linking out to spammy places, hosting reciprocal links pages or FFA directories, unskillful (manual|automated) comment spam, signature links and mentions at places that trade links, textual contents made for (paid) link campaigns when reused too often, buying links from trackable services, (link request emails forwarded via) paid-link/spam reports, and so on.

Below is the “how to file a successful reconsideration request when your sins include link spam” from Googlers.

Matt Cutts:

The recommendation from your SEO guy led you directly into a pretty high-risk area; I doubt you really want pages like (NSAW) having sponsored links to your furniture site anyway. It’s definitely possible to extricate your site, but I would make an effort to contact the sites with your sponsored links and request that they remove the links, and then do a reconsideration request. Maybe in the text of your reconsideration request, I’d include a pointer to this thread as well.

John Müller:

You may want to consider what you can do to help clean up similar [=spammy] links on other people’s sites. Blogs and newspaper sites such as http://media.www.dailypennsylvanian.com sometimes receive short comments such as “dont agree”, apparently only for a link back to a site. These comments often use keywords from that site instead of a user name, perhaps “tree bench” for a furniture site or “sexy shoes” for a footwear site. If this kind of behavior might have taken place for your site, you may want to work on rectifying it and include some information on it in your reconsideration request. Given your situation, the person considering your reconsideration request might be curious about links like that.

Translation: We’ll ignore your weekly reconsideration requests unless you’ve removed all artificial links pointing to your site. You’re stuck in Google’s dungeon because they’ve thrown away the keys.

I’d guess that for a site that has filed a reinclusion request stating the site was involved in some sort of link monkey business, Google applies a more strict policy than with a site that was attacked by negative SEO methods. I highly doubt that when caught red-handed a lame excuse like “I didn’t create those links” is a tactic I could recommend, because Googlers hate it when an applicant lies in a reinclusion request.

Once caught and penalized, the “since when do inbound links count as negative votes” argument doesn’t apply. It’s quite clear that removing the traces (admitted as well as not admitted shady links) is a prerequisite for a penalty lift. And that even though Google has already discounted these links. That’s the same as with penalized doorway pages. Redirecting doorways to legit landing pages doesn’t count, Google wants to see a 410-Gone HTTP response code (or at least a 404) before they un-penalize a site.

I doubt that’s common knowledge to folks who promote their white hat sites with black hat methods. Getting links wiped out at places that didn’t check the intention of inserted links in the first place is a royal PITA, in other words, it’s impossible to get all shady links removed once you find your butt in Google-jail. That’s extremely uncomfortable for site owners who fell for questionable forum advice or hired a promotional service (no, I don’t call such assclowns SEOs) applying shady marketing methods without a clear and written warning that those are extremely risky, fully explained and signed by the client.

Maybe in some cases Google will un-penalize a great site although not all link spam was wiped out. However, the costs and efforts of preparing a successful resonsideration request are immense, not to speak of the massive loss of traffic and income.

As Barry mentioned, the thread linked above might be interesting for folks keen on an official confirmation that Google -60 penalties exist. I’d say such SERP penalties (aka red & yellow cards) aren’t exactly new, and it plays no role to which position a site penalized for guideline violations gets downranked. When I’ve lost a top spot for gaming Google, that’s kismet. I’m not interested in figuring out that 20k spammy links get me a -30 penalty, 40k shady links result in a -60 penalty, and 100k unnatural links qualify me for the famous -950 bashing (the numbers are made up of course). If I’d spam, then I’d just move on because I’d have already launched enough other projects to compensate the losses.

PS: While I was typing, Barry Schwartz posted his Google-Jail story at SE Roundtable.



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Google manifested the axe on reciprocal link exchanges

Yesterday Fantomaster via Threadwatcher pointed me to this page of Google’s Webmaster help system. The cache was a few days old and didn’t show a difference, I don’t archive each and every change of the guidelines, so I asked and a friendly and helpful Googler told me that this item was around for a while now. Today this page made it on Sphinn and probably a few other Webmaster hangouts too.

So what the heck is the scandal all about? When you ask Google for help on “link exchange“, the help machine rattles for a second, sighs, coughs, clears its throat and then yells out the answer in bold letters: “Link schemes“, bah!

Ok, we already knew what Google thinks about artificial linkage: “Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank”. Honestly, what is the intent when I suggest that you link to me and concurrently I link to you? Yup, it means I boost your PageRank and you boost mine, also we chose some nice anchor text and that makes the link deal perfect. In the eyes of Google even such a tiny deal is a link scheme, because both links weren’t put up for users but for search engines.

Pre-Google this kind of link deal was business as usual and considered natural, but frankly back then the links were exchanged for traffic and not for search engine love. We can rant and argue as much as we want, that will not revert the changed character of link swaps nor Google’s take on manipulative links.

Consequently Google has devalued artificial reciprocal links for ages. Pretty much simplified these links nullify each other in Google’s search index. That goes for tiny sins. Folks raising the concept onto larger link networks got caught too but penalized or even banned for link farming.

Obviously all kinds of link swaps are easy to detect algorithmically, even triangular link deals, three way link exchanges and whatnot. I called that plain vanilla link ’swindles’, but only just recently Google has caught up with a scalable solution and seems to detect and penalize most if not all variants covering the whole search index, thanks to the search quality folks in Dublin and Zurich even overseas in whatever languages.

The knowledge that the days of free link trading are numbered was out for years before the exodus. Artificial reciprocal links as well as other linkage considered link spam by Google was and is a pet peeve of Matt’s team. Google sent lots of warnings, and many sane SEOs and Webmasters heard their traffic master’s voice and acted accordingly. Successful link trading just went underground leaving the great unwashed alone with their obsession about exchanging reciprocal links in the public.

Also old news is, that Google does not penalize reciprocal links in general. Google almost never penalizes a pattern or a technique. Instead they try to figure out the Webmaster’s intent and judge case by case based on their findings. And yes, that’s doable with algos, perhaps sometimes with a little help from humans to compile the seed, but we don’t know how perfect the algo is when it comes to evaluations of intent. Natural reciprocal links are perfectly fine with Google. That applies to well maintained blogrolls too, despite the often reciprocal character of these links. Reading the link schemes page completely should make that clear.

Google defines link scheme as “[…] Link exchange and reciprocal links schemes (’Link to me and I’ll link to you.’) […]”. The “I link to you and vice versa” part literally addresses link trading of any kind, not a situation where I link to your compelling contents because I like a particular page, and you return the favour later on because you find my stuff somewhat useful. As Perkiset puts it “linking is now supposed to be like that well known sex act, ‘68? - or, you do me and I’ll owe you one’” and there is truth in this analogy. Sometimes a favor will not be returned. That’s the way the cookie crumbles when you’re keen on Google traffic.

The fact that Google openly said that link exchange schemes designed “exclusively for the sake of cross-linking” of any kind violate their guidelines indicates that first they were sure to have invented the catchall algo, and second that they felt safe to launch it without too much collateral damage. Not everybody agrees, I quote Fantomaster’s critique not only because I like his inimitably parlance:

This is essentially a theological debate: Attempting to determine any given action’s (and by inference: actor’s) “intention” (as in “sinning”) is always bound to open a can of worms or two.

It will always have to work by conjecture, however plausible, which makes it a fundamentally tacky, unreliable and arbitrary process.

The delusion that such a task, error prone as it is even when you set the most intelligent and well informed human experts to it (vide e.g. criminal law where “intention” can make all the difference between an indictment for second or first degree murder…) can be handled definitively by mechanistic computer algorithms is arguably the most scary aspect of this inane orgy of technological hubris and naivety the likes of Google are pressing onto us.

I’ve seen some collateral damage already, but pragmatic Webmasters will find –respectively have found long ago– their way to build inbound links under Google’s regime.

And here is the context of Google’s definition link exchanges = link schemes which makes clear that not each and every reciprocal link is evil:

[…] However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

• Links intended to manipulate PageRank
• Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
• Link exchange and reciprocal links schemes (’Link to me and I’ll link to you.’)
• Buying or selling links […]

Again, please read the whole page.

Bear in mind that all this is Internet history, it just boiled up yesterday as the help page was discovered.

Related article: Eric Ward on reciprocal links, why they do good, and where they do bad.



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Google to kill the power of links

Well, a few types of links will survive and don’t do evil in Google’s search index ;)    I’ve updated my first take on Google’s updated guidelines stating paid links and reciprocal links are evil. Well, regardless whether one likes or dislikes this policy, it’s already factored in - case closed by Google. There are so many ways to generate natural links …

The official call for paid-link reports is pretty much disliked across the boards:
Google is Now The Morality Police on the Internet
Google’s Ideal Webmaster: Snitch, Rake It In And Don’t Deliver
Other sites can hurt your ranking
Google’s Updated Webmaster Guidelines Addresses Linking Practices
Google clarifies its stance on links

More information, and discussion of paid/exchanged links in my pamphlets:
Matt Cutts and Adam Lasnik define “paid link”
Where is the precise definition of a paid link?
Full disclosure of paid links
Revise your linkage
Link monkey business is not worth a whoop
Is buying and selling links risky? (02/2006)



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Google enhances the quality guidelines

Maybe todays update of Google’s quality guidelines is the first phase of the Webmaster help system revamp project. I know there’s more to come, Google has great plans for the help center. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to tell Google’s Webmaster Central team what you’d like to have added or changed. Only 14 replies to this call for input is an evidence of incapacity, shame on the Webmasters community.

I haven’t had the time to write a full-blown review of the updates, so here are just a few remarks from a Webmaster’s perspective. Scroll down to Quality guidelines - specific guidelines to view the updates, that means click the links to the new (sometimes overlapping) detail pages.

As always, the guidelines outline best practices of Web development, refer to common sense, and don’t encourage over-interpretations (not that those are avoidable, nor utterly useless). Now providing Webmasters with more explanatory directives, detailed definitions and even examples in the “Don’ts” section is very much appreciated. Look at the over five years old first version of this document before you bitch ;)

Avoid hidden text or hidden links
The new help page on hidden text and links is descriptive and comes with examples, well done. What I miss is a hint with regard to CSS menus and other content which is hidden until the user performs a particular action. Google states “Text (such as excessive keywords) can be hidden in several ways, including […] Using CSS to hide text”. The same goes for links by the way. I wish they would add something in the lines of “… Using CSS to hide text in a way that a user can’t visualize it by a common action like moving the mouse over a pointer to a hidden element, or clicking a text link or descriptive widget or icon”. The hint at the bottom “If you do find hidden text or links on your site, either remove them or, if they are relevant for your site’s visitors, make them easily viewable” comes close to this but lacks an example.

Susan Moskwa from Google clarifies what one can hide with CSS, and what sorts of CSS hidden stuff is considered a violation of the guidelines, in the Google forum on June/11/2007:

If your intent in hiding text is to deceive the search engines, we frown on that; if your intent is purely to improve the visual user experience (e.g. by replacing some text with a fancier image of that same text), you don’t need to worry. Of course, as with many techniques, there are shades of gray between “this is clearly deceptive and wrong” and “this is perfectly acceptable”. Matt [Cutts] did say that hiding text moves you a step further towards the gray area. But if you’re running a perfectly legitimate site, you don’t need to worry about it. If, on the other hand, your site already exhibits a bunch of other semi-shady techniques, hidden text starts to look like one more item on that list. […] As the Guidelines say, focus on intent. If you’re using CSS techniques purely to improve your users’ experience and/or accessibility, you shouldn’t need to worry. One good way to keep it on the up-and-up (if you’re replacing text w/ images) is to make sure the text you’re hiding is being replaced by an image with the exact same text.

Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects
This sentence in bold red blinking uppercase letters should be pinned 5 pixels below the heading: “When examining […] your site to ensure your site adheres to our guidelines, consider the intent” (emphasis mine). There are so many perfectly legit ways to do the content presentation, that it is impossible to assign particular techniques to good versus bad intent, nor vice versa.

I think this page leads to misinterpretations. The major point of confusion is, that Google argues completely from a search engine’s perspective and dosn’t write for the targeted audience, that is Webmasters and Web developers. Instead of all the talk about users vs. search engines, it should distinguish plain user agents (crawlers, text browsers, JavaScript disabled …) from enhanced user agents (JS/AJAX enabled, installed and activated plug-ins …). Don’t get me wrong, this page gives the right advice, but the good advice is somewhat obfuscated in phrases like “Rather, you should consider visitors to your site who are unable to view these elements as well”.

For example “Serving a page of HTML text to search engines, while showing a page of images or Flash to users [is considered deceptive cloaking]” puts down a gazillion of legit sites which serve the same contents in different formats (and often under different URLs) depending on the ability of the current user agent to render particular stuff like Flash, and a bazillion of perfectly legit AJAX driven sites which provide crawlers and text browsers with a somewhat static structure of HTML pages, too.

“Serving different content to search engines than to users [is considered deceptive cloaking]” puts it better, because in reverse that reads “Feel free to serve identical contents under different URLs and in different formats to users and search engines. Just make sure that you accurately detect the capabilities of the user agent before you decide to alter a requested plain HTML page into a fancy conglomerate of flashing widgets with sound and other good vibrations, respectively vice versa”.

Don’t send automated queries to Google
This page doesn’t provide much more information than the paragraph on the main page, but there’s not that much to explain: don’t use WebPosition Gold™. Period.

Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords
Tells why keyword stuffing is not a bright idea, nothing to note.

Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content
This detail page is a must read. It starts with a to the point definition “Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar”, followed by a ton of good tips and valuable information. And fortunately it expresses that there’s no such thing as a general duplicate content penalty.

Don’t create pages that install viruses, trojans, or other badware
Describes Google’s service in partnership with StopBADware.org, highlighting the quickest procedure to get Google’s malware warning removed.

Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content
The info on doorway pages is just a paragraph on the “cloaking and sneaky redirect” page. I miss a few tips on how one can identify unintentional doorway pages created by just bad design, without any deceptive intent. Also, I think a few sentences on thin SERP-like pages would be helpful in this context.

“Little or no original content” targets thin affiliate sites, again doorway pages, auto-generated content, and scraped content. It becomes clear that Google does not love MFA sites.

If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first
The link points to the “Little or no original content” page mentioned above.


“Buying links in order to improve a site’s ranking is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results. […] Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such link exchanges and purchased links.”

Basically that means: if you purchase a link, then make dead sure it’s castrated or Google will take away the ability to pass link love from the page (or even site) linking out for green. Or don’t get caught respectively denunciated by competitors (I doubt that’s a surefire tactic for the average Webmaster).

Note that in the second sentence quoted above Google states officially that link exchanges for the sole purpose of manipulating search engines are a waste of time and resources. That means reciprocal links of particular types nullify each other, and site links might have lost their power too. <speculation>Google may find it funny to increase the toolbar PageRank of pages involved in all sorts of link swap campaigns, but the real PageRank will remain untouched.</speculation>

There’s much confusion with regard to “paid link penalties”. To the best of my knowledge the link’s destination will not be penalized, but the paid link(s) will not (or no longer) increase its reputation, so that in case the link’s intention got reported or discovered ex-post its rankings may suffer. Penalizing the link buyer would not make much sense, and Googlers are known as pragmatic folks, hence I doubt there is such a penalty. <speculation>Possibly Google has a flag applied to known link purchasers (sites as well as webmasters), which –if it exists– might result in more scrupulous judgements of other optimization techniques.</speculation>

What I really like is that the Googlers in charge honestly tried to write for their audience, that is Webmasters and Web developers, not (only) search geeks. Hence the news is that Google really cares. Since the revamp is a funded project, I guess the few paragraphs where the guidelines are still mysterious (for the great unwashed), or even potentially misleading, will get an update soon. I can’t wait for the next phase of this project.

Vanessa Fox creates buzz at SMX today, so I’ll update this post when (if?) she blogs about the updates later on (update: Vanessa’s post). Perhaps Matt Cutts will comment the updated quality guidelines at the SMX conference today, look for Barry’s writeup at Search Engine Land, and SEO Roundtable as well as the Bruce Clay blog for coverage of the SMX Penalty Box Summit. Marketing Pilgrim covered this session too. This post at Search Engine Journal provides related info, and more quotes from Matt. Just one SMX tidbit: according to Matt they’re going to change the name of the re-inclusion request to something like a reconsideration request.



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Google hunts paid links and reciprocal linkage

Matt Cutts and Adam Lasnik have clarified Google’s take on paid links and overdone reciprocal linkage. Some of their statements are old news, but it surely helps to have a comprehensive round-up in the context of the current debate on paid links.

So what –in short– does Google consider linkspam:
Artificial link schemes, paid links and uncondomized affiliate links, overdone reciprocal linkage and interlinking.

All sorts of link schemes designed to increase a site’s ranking or PageRank. Link scheme means for example mass exchange of links pages, repeated chunks of links per site, fishy footer links, triangular PageRank boosting, 27-way-linkage where in the end only the initiator earns a few inbounds because the participants are confused, and “genial” stuff like that. Google’s pretty good at identifying link farming, and bans or penalizes accordingly. That’s old news, but such techniques are still used, widely.

Advice: don’t participate, Google will catch you eventually.

Paid links, if detected or reported, get devalued. That is, they don’t help the link destination’s search engine rankings, and in some cases the source will lose its ability to pass reputation via links. Google does this more or less silently since 2003 at least, probably longer, but until today there was no precise definition of risky paid links.

That’s going to change. Adam Lasnik, commenting Eric Enge’s “It seems to me that one of the more challenging aspects of all of this is that people have gotten really good at buying a link that show no indication that they are purchased.”

Yes and no, actually. One of the things I think Matt has commented about in his blog; it’s what we joking refer to as famous last words, which is “well, I have come up with a way to buy links that is completely undetectable”.

As people have pointed out, Google buys advertising, and a lot of other great sites engage in both the buying and selling of advertising. There is no problem with that whatsoever. The problem is that we’ve seen quite a bit of buying and selling for the very clear purpose of transferring PageRank. Some times we see people out there saying “hey, I’ve got a PR8 site” and, “this will give you some great Google boost, and I am selling it for just three hundred a month”. Well, that’s blunt, and that’s clearly in violation of the “do not engage in linking schemes that are not permitted within the webmaster guidelines”.

Two, taking a step back, our goal is not to catch one hundred percent of paid links [emphasis mine]. It’s to try to address the egregious behavior of buying and selling the links that focus on the passing of PageRank. That type of behavior is a lot more readily identifiable then I think people give us credit for.

So it seems Google’s just after PageRank selling. Adam’s following comments on the use and abuse of rel-nofollow emphasizes this interpretation:

I understand there has been some confusion on that, both in terms of how it [rel=nofollow] works or why it should be used. We want links to be treated and used primarily as votes for a site, or to say I think this is an interesting site, and good site. The buying and selling of links without the use of Nofollow, or JavaScript links, or redirects has unfortunately harmed that goal. We realize we cannot turn the web back to when it was completely noncommercial and we don’t want to do that [emphasis mine]. Because, obviously as Google, we firmly believe that commerce has an important role on the Internet. But, we want to bring a bit of authenticity back to the linking structure of the web. […] our interest isn’t in finding and taking care of a hundred percent of links that may or may not pass PageRank. But, as you point out relevance is definitely important and useful, and if you previously bought or sold a link without Nofollow, this is not the end of the world. We are looking for larger and more significant patterns [emphasis mine].

Don’t miss out on Eric Enge’s complete interview with Adam Lasnik, it’s really worth bookmarking for future references!

Matt Cutts has updated (May 12th, 2007) an older and well linked post on paid links. It also covers thoughts on the value of directory links. Here are a few quotes, but don’t miss out on Matt’s post:

… we’re open to semi-automatic approaches to ignore paid links, which could include the best of algorithmic and manual approaches.

Q: Now when you say “paid links”, what exactly do you mean by that? Do you view all paid links as potential violations of Google’s quality guidelines?
A: Good question. As someone working on quality and relevance at Google, my bottom-line concern is clean and relevant search results on Google. As such, I care about paid links that flow PageRank and attempt to game Google’s rankings. I’m not worried about links that are paid but don’t affect search engines. So when I say “paid links” it’s pretty safe to add in your head “paid links that flow PageRank and attempt to game Google’s rankings.”

Q: This is all well and fine, but I decide what to do on my site. I can do anything I want on it, including selling links.
A: You’re 100% right; you can do absolutely anything you want on your site. But in the same way, I believe Google has the right to do whatever we think is best (in our index, algorithms, or scoring) to return relevant results.

Q: Hey, as long as we’re talking about directories, can you talk about the role of directories, some of whom charge for a reviewer to evaluate them?
A: I’ll try to give a few rules of thumb to think about when looking at a directory. When considering submitting to a directory, I’d ask questions like:
- Does the directory reject URLs? If every URL passes a review, the directory gets closer to just a list of links or a free-for-all link site.
- What is the quality of urls in the directory? Suppose a site rejects 25% of submissions, but the urls that are accepted/listed are still quite low-quality or spammy. That doesn’t speak well to the quality of the directory.
- If there is a fee, what’s the purpose of the fee? For a high-quality directory, the fee is primarily for the time/effort for someone to do a genuine evaluation of a url or site.
Those are a few factors I’d consider. If you put on your user hat and ask “Does this seem like a high-quality directory to me?” you can usually get a pretty good sense as well, or ask a few friends for their take on a particular directory.

To get a better idea on how Google’s search quality team chases paid links, read Brian White’s post Paid Link Schemes Inside Original Content.

Advice: either nofollow paid links, or don’t get caught. If you buy links, pay only for the traffic, because with or without link condom there’s no search engine love involved.

Affiliate links are seen as kinda subset of paid links. Google can identify most (unmasked) affiliate links. Frankly, there’s no advantage in passing link love to sponsors.

Advice: nofollow.

Reciprocal links without much doubt nullify each other. Overdone reciprocal linkage may even cause penalties, that is the reciprocal links area of a site gets qualified as link farm, for possible consequences scroll up a bit. Reciprocal links are natural links, and Google honors them if the link profile of a site or network does not consist of a unnnatural high number of reciprocal or triangular link exchanges. It may be that natural reciprocal links pass (at least a portion of) PageRank, but no (or less than one-way links) revelancy via anchor text and trust or other link reputation.

Matt Cutts discussing “Google Hell”:

Reciprocal links by themselves aren’t automatically bad, but we’ve communicated before that there is such a thing as excessive reciprocal linking. […] As Google changes algorithms over time, excessive reciprocal links will probably carry less weight. That could also account for a site having more pages in supplemental results if excessive reciprocal links (or other link-building techniques) begin to be counted less. As I said in January: “The approach I’d recommend in that case is to use solid white-hat SEO to get high-quality links (e.g. editorially given by other sites on the basis of merit).”

Advice: It’s safe to consider reciprocal links somewhat helpful, but don’t actively chase for reciprocal links.

Interlinking all sites in a network can be counterproductive, but selfish cross-linking is not penalized in general. There’s no “interlinking penalty” when these links make sound business sense, even when the interlinked sites aren’t topically related. Interlinking sites handling each and every yellow page category on the other hand may be considered overdone. In some industries like adult entertainment, where it’s hard to gain natural links, many webmasters try to boost their rankings with links from other (unrelated) sites they own or control. Operating hundreds or thousands of interlinked travel sites spread on many domains and subdomains is risky too. In the best case such linking patterns may be just ignored by Google, that is they’ve no or very low impact on rankings at all, but it’s easy to convert a honest network into a link farm by mistake.

Advice: Carefully interlink your own sites in smaller networks, but partition these links by theme or branch in huge clusters. Consider consolidating closely related sites.

So what does all that mean for Webmasters?

Some might argue “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, in other words “why should I revamp my linkage when I rank fine?”. Well, rules like “any attempt to improve on a system that already works is pointless and may even be detrimental” are pointless and detrimental in a context where everything changes daily. Especially, when the tiny link-systems designed to fool another system, passively interact with that huge system (the search engine polls linkage data for all kinds of analyses). In that case the large system can change the laws of the game at any time to outsmart all the tiny cheats. So just because Google didn’t discover all link schemes or shabby reciprocal link cycles out there, that does not mean the participants are safe forever. Nothing’s set in stone, not even rankings, so better revise your ancient sins.

Bear in mind that Google maintains a database containing all links in the known universe back to 1998 or so, and that a current penalty may be the result of a historical analysis of a site’s link attitude. So when a site is squeaky clean today but doesn’t rank adequately, consider a reinclusion request if you’ve cheated in the past.

Before you think of penalties as the cause of downranked or even vanished pages, analyze your inbound links that might have started counting for less. Pull all your inbound links from Site Explorer or Webmaster Central, then remove questionable sources from the list:

  • Paid links and affiliate links where you 301-redirect all landing pages with affiliate IDs in the query string to a canonical landing page,
  • Links from fishy directories, links lists, FFAs, top rank lists, DMOZ-clones and stuff like that,
  • Links from URLs which may be considered search results,
  • Links from sites you control or which live off your contents,
  • Links from sites engaged in reciprocal link swaps with your sites,
  • Links from sites which link out to too many questionable pages in link directories or where users can insert links without editorial control,
  • Links from shabby sites regardless their toolbar PageRank,
  • Links from links pages which don’t provide editorial contents,
  • Links from blog comments, forum signatures, guestbooks and other places where you can easily drop URLs,
  • Nofollow’ed links and links routed via uncrawlable redirect scripts,

Judge by content quality, traffic figures if available, and user friendliness, not by toolbar PageRank. Just because a link appears in reverse citation results, that does not mean it carries any weight.

Look at the shrinked list of inbound links and ask yourself where on the SERPs a search engine should rank your stuff based on these remaining votes. Frustrated? Learn the fine art of link building from an expert in the field.



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Reciprocal links are not penalized by Google

Recently, reciprocal linking at all is accused to tank a Web sites’ placement in Google’s search results. Despite the fact that it’s way too early for a serious post-Jagger-analysis, the current hype on oh sooo bad reciprocal links is a myth IMHO.

What Google is after are artificial link schemes, that includes massive reciprocal linkage appearing simultaneously. That’s not a new thing. What Google still honors, is content driven, natural, on-topic reciprocal linkage.

Simplified, Google has a huge database of the Web’s linkage data, where each and every link has a timestamp, plus an ID of source and destination page, and site. A pretty simple query reveals a reciprocal link campaign and other systematic link patterns as well. Again, that’s not new. The Jagger update may have tanked more sites involved in artificial linkage because Google has assigned more resources to link analysis, but that does not mean that Google dislikes reciprocal linking at all.

Outgoing links to related pages do attract natural reciprocal links over time, even without an agreement. Those links still count as legitimate votes. Don’t push the panic button, think!

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