I apologize upfront for the title bait. If it worked, good. What’s ironic is I think if every link builder got together in the same room we actually could come up with 85 different types of unnatural links. That is assuming we could all agree on a definition for the term in the first place. But stick with me for a bit here…
I don’t want to make light of an issue that is impacting livelihoods, but at the same time, there is a certain aspect the this current “unnatural links” meme that is just silly.
I think I realized we’d reached the tipping point when a client asked me why the links he had pointing to his main site from the 25 other sites he owned was unnatural, since after all, he owned all the sites and wouldn’t he thus naturally interlink them? And you know, even if they aren’t about the same subject matter, he had a valid point.
Isn’t ‘Unnatural’ In The Eye Of The Beholder?
Think about how many products there are manufactured by Proctor & Gamble. On grocery store shelves, every single one of those products, in the fine print on the packaging somewhere, it says Proctor & Gamble. And indeed, this is logical, and “natural”.
But on the Web, the rules change, and it’s all because of the signals that links throw off. Any given link can send off multiple signals depending on where it’s located, how often it appears, what it says, who it points to, how long it’s been there and on and on.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then unnatural links are in the eye of the algo.
Further complicating matters is the definition of “unnatural” as it pertains to off-site versus on-site.
If you sell Titanium Ball Bearings, I would naturally assume these words, as clickable links, ought to appear on your own site. It would be hard for them not to. But if those words appear as a clickable link on 275 blog rolls, something is not kosher. I’d go so far as to say if the words Titanium Ball Bearings appeared on 15 different blog rolls, something is fishy.
I’m going list some of the more obvious unnatural links, and include a few of the less obvious unnatural links. I hope you will comment below and add your own definitions well as examples.
As a preface, if there had never been a Google, never been a links based algorithm, and if the terms anchor text had never entered into SEO lexicon, my hunch is 75% of the links on the Web would say “click here”, 10% would say “read more”, and 14% would be company names and/or URLs. The remaining 1% would say “buy Viagra”.
Since Google does exist, we will never know. I do know that the average Web user who does not work in a Web marketing related field hasn’t a clue what the signals are that impact search rank, meaning that this is all a very SEO centric subject.
15 Types Of Unnatural Links
Because I do not believe in absolutes (except that one), each of these below could have exceptions, and I can argue those exceptions all day, but in general, these below mean trouble. What are your thoughts?
1. You have a link to your Atlanta based tanning salon site from an Alaska based Halibut fishing charter site. This is the classic unnatural link. When there is no plausible connection in subject matter or location between two websites, I think we can agree it didn’t happen by accident. And if anchor text is involved, it’s even worse.
The example I just provided does actually exist, but it would be unfair to categorize all Alaskan Halibut Fishing Charters that way, so here’s an example of a honest natural one: http://alaska-halibut-fishing-charters.com/halibut_links.html (I bet that fellow is wondering why he’s getting so much traffic today).
2. On any interior page of your site, if the title tag of the page as well as the page’s main heading text is an exact keyword match for multiple anchor text links from other sites pointing to that exact page, it’s unnatural.
Caveat by example: A niche glossary, like this http://birding.about.com/od/birdingglossary/Birding_Glossary.htm. It’s titled as such, and linked to by other sites using the words Birding Glossary. This makes sense. It’s natural.
3. The link says Orlando Limousines and it appears on 60 school newspaper websites, including one from Montana State Technical College. Actually, any site with a link from 60 school newspaper sites islikely unnatural. Or even 6. And has anyone else noticed the current migration of school newspapers from .edu domain space to .com? Wow. I wonder why?
4. You have ten times the blogroll links as your nearest competitor. Don’t jump me on this one. I agree that blogroll links are often totally legitimate and reflect outstanding content, especially in narrow verticals. But when I can see the world’s worst Forex site has links on over 100 blogrolls, I call it manipulated and unnatural. Poor quality content should not attract links from quality sites in numbers.
5. Out of the 3000 unique TLD backlinks your site has, 375 of those 3000 TLD’s contain a directory or file named /resources-links.html or links.asp, or /exchange-links.html (I know you must be thinking “surely nobody would do that”, but yes they would). When half your inbounds originate from links pages, that’s unnatural.
6. Your site has a high number of links, but they all come from just 8 other sites. This one is pretty easy to understand.
7. 82.5 % of your backlinks originate from prweb.com, prnewswire.com, and/or businesswire.com. The remaining 17.5% of your links come from ezinearticles.com
8. One word: sitewides (or is that two words?)
9. Your blogspot site about hummingbirds launched a month ago and has already 60,000 links. Caveat: You are Lanny Chambers, hummingbird expert extraordinaire.
10. Blog networks. No more to say here.
11. Article networks. Ditto.
12. Mass directory submissions outside your vertical.
13. A site linking to you does not provide an about section, author name, or means of contact.
14. Blogs with posts of about 400-500 words with 3 links per post, one of them to a .gov site, one to an .edu site, and one to the client site. Easy pickings.
15. You never used to offer discounts, but now you have student discount links on 50 different University discount program pages. This one is tricky, because the original intent of those discount pages was not to manipulate.
It’s that link builders spotted an opportunity and abused it. When you see a discount link for a GED tutoring program on a University discount page, somebody somewhere is not paying attention.
Remove, Fix, Recover, Repeat…
I believe that some sites, but not all, can recover from unnatural links. There are numerous variables.
A site that’s been around for a decade with 100% natural backlink profile that made a mistake by hiring a shady SEO firm that adds a few hundred unnatural links has a much better chance at recovery than a brand new site that has nothing but spam in its profile. That’s an easy comparison to understand.
Unfortunately, the Web (and links) are all shades of grey, and nobody can predict with certainty the outcome. Your position in the rankings may never return to where it was. Then again it could, if you have the content to earn it.
If we’ve learned anything with the J.C. Penney and Overstock situations, it’s that Google will forgive, especially for those who are willing to pursue a legitimate content creation and link building strategy.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.