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Aggressively Seeking Links: How Much Is Too Much?
When it comes to link building, how much is too much? How fast is too fast? Neither of these questions would have been asked in 1997, because their was no such thing as too fast or too much. But it isn’t 1997 anymore is it? And since link development now plays a prominent role in web success and failure, these questions deserve answers.
Allow me to try.
Question:How much linking is too much linking?
Answer: I could take the easy way out and say “it depends,” and I have done that for years, because it’s true. But, let’s dig a little deeper. First, you have to qualify what you mean by “too much linking.” Too much for what? For search rank? For link popularity? For click traffic? For your health? The reason most people ask the “too much” question is fear of penalty by any or all search engines. And it is in fact true that the onlyreason to ever worry about having too many links would be because you fear a search engine may penalize you for it. There are only three reasons a site will attract thousands, or even millions of links.
First, the site is so useful to so many people that everyone naturally links to it. See this obvious example.
Second, a site is dedicated to a topic that suddenly and without expectation generates massive amounts of natural news coverage, like Hurricane Katrina did.
Third, someone is actively seeking links for a site far beyond what it would naturally be able to obtain.
The key to me is the word “naturally.” Every web site has a certain linking potential, yet some linking phenomena are out of our control, like a site devoted to Utah Mining Association that suddenly finds itself in the linking spotlight due to the horrible accident a couple weeks ago. I’m sure that site has seen a massive spike in links and traffic, all naturally, all due to the mine accident and the perfectly normal surge in interest in that particular topic right now. More on this in a moment. So any engine looking to penalize a site just because it has a huge number of links, or a sudden surge in new links, would have to have the ability to algorithmically recognize when such surges were natural, or manipulated. My belief is that isn’t as hard as it sounds. It’s one thing to attract links from a few thousand news and/or mining industry sites, it’s quite another to have thousands of links from sites that have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
This leads us to…
Second Question: “When building new inbound links, how fast is too fast?”
Answer: In some ways, this is the same question. Both pertain to the effect that new links will have on either a new or existing web site. I agree it is a bit suspicious when a brand new site is able to attract thousands, maybe even millions of links. But it can happen, and there is usually evidence to support whether it is natural or not. Likewise, it is odd when a site that has been around for a long time with a long established stable inbound link profile suddenly attracts several hundred or several thousand new inbound links over the course of just a few weeks. But once again let me refer you to the above site for the Utah Mining Association. That site has been around for a long time, but it’s getting new links fast, and all perfectly natural.
I can tell you that spotting manipulated linking patterns isn’t as hard as some people think it is. I have a few home grown tools that pale in comparison to what the engines have at their disposal. So if the engines want to look for a suspicious linking pattern, they can find it. Not every time, but you’d be amazed what you notice when you look across a spreadsheet with 50,000 links in it. Without even having to look at the sites, I can spot manipulated links. From the URLs alone you can often spot link spam.
So the real answer to these questions is that it’s not about how many or how fast. It’s all about how natural.
If it can be algorithmically trusted as being natural, there is no such thing as too many or too fast.
Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.
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