Google’s Matt Cutts: Linking 20 Domains Together Likely A “Cross Linking Scheme”

google-matt-cutts-sitedownA common question I see from webmasters and SEOs is how many sites in my network can I link together without getting in trouble.

Google’s head of search spam Matt Cutts answered a question on that topic in a recent video which asked “If I have 20 domains, should I link them all together?”

In short, Matt Cutts said that it is very unlikely that a webmaster would have 20 websites on a similar topic and for those sites not to be somewhat spammy. “First off, why do you have 20 domain names,” Matt joked. Matt added, “if it is all, you know, cheap-online-casinos or medical-malpractice-in-ohio or that sort of stuff… having 20 domains there can look pretty spammy.”

When would it not be spammy to do so? When you have 20 domain names but they are all localized versions of your site and you are linking to them, then that would be okay. But even in this case, Matt said you shouldn’t link to all these domain names in the footer — instead have flags or a drop down to access them.

Matt Cutts then talks about blog networks doing it, but advices against it.

At the very end of the video, Matt says it would be a “cross linking scheme” to link all of these sites together, unless there was a “very good reason” to do so.

Here is the video:

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Link Building: General | Top News

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • Durant Imboden

    I can imagine a scenario where, say, the publisher of sites about state fairs might legitimately have a different domain for each state fair, with localized content for each. However, it’s true that having links to all 50 domains in the footer would look suspicious, and (IMHO) the burden of proof would be on the publisher to convince users and Google that those footer links weren’t spammy.

    A safer and less spammy-looking approach might be to have 50 “vanity domains” for localized branding and type-in traffic, so that bobs-texas-state-fair.com would point to bobs-state-fairs.com/texas or texas.bobs-state-fairs.com.

  • Markus

    Barry, thanks for posting the video. I run a network where I represent dozen of sites. In order for comScore to allow me to roll it up under a category they need to indicate they’re part of the network at the bottom with a link.

    Should I be asking them to do nofollow?

  • Computer Genius

    What about domains purchased to protect a trademark? Better to be interlinked than just sit there?

  • http://www.v2interactive.net/ Josh

    301 redirect them; not interlink as a ‘link wheel’ method.

  • dkern

    What about a more white-hat situation where a company has a content site, ecommerce site, video site and an online education site…where the sites need different CMS platforms, hence separate domains. It seems totally logical, and should be safe, to link to them from either the header or footer. Not gaming the system, just linking to the entire family of sites within the same brand so that the users can keep discovering the company’s different online offerings. That can’t be deemed bad. Thoughts?

  • Computer Genius

    Many are redirected now. As I develop separate purposes for the different domains I will need to link them.

  • neotrope

    This is one of those “not quite clear” things about whether sites are getting penalized without a de-facto Google “rule book” at the moment. For example for more than a decade we’ve had news network sites like CaliforniaNewswire® and then FloridaNewswire™ but then we have a single news network hub site which has links to all our sites with an alltop-like ticker so somebody could go to “one page” to see what’s up on all our sites right now. Since all the sites link to the master hub page, one could take away from this that such hub pages might be construed as spammy even though they server a purpose. We’ve only had one site “crunched” from all the “shenanigans” of the past 18 months (webmaster tools say “no problems”, but traffic down 95%!). Very confusing. We’ve always used white hat procedures – good content, original content, and no ad sales in text or any funky stuff, and yet it seems traffic continues to decline everywhere mostly due to lower clicks or placement in Google. I found one thing the other day where our site originated a story, but it wasn’t on the first 3 pages, and yet it was cloned and the clone copy is on page one … and it’s a junk site, and we have a PR6 with 200,000 inbound sites and online 13 years. It makes zero sense. (sorry…. whining to the crowd… I know… ). The topic of the cross linking of network pages seems to be a worrisome thing for us since some sites do have some syndicated news running on all the sites. Matt ! Rulebook ! Please ! Thanks f or keeping us all involved, and entertained none the less. :-) -Chris

  • http://www.netmagellan.com/ Ash Nallawalla

    Large corporations often have links to dozens of domestic company-owned sites or foreign subsidiaries. Some are on every page, e.g. a drop-down country selector. This is where the big-brand part of the algo over-rides the “lesser” cross-linking rule.

  • http://www.elite-strategies.com/blog Patrick Coombe

    good question, that is what I was thinking as well. I have several clients who fall under that category. Some have domains for their blogs, some have seperate wiki pages etc. 5 is one thing…20 is another.

  • ngyikp

    Those links you gave are subdomains, not domain names.

  • vikas lov

    Footer links is such a spammer work, according to Google guideline. i don’t thing so this is right way to promote our 20 domain with inter linking.

    you should inter link your 20 domain by your blog post and any information pages. this is the best way to promote and inter linking with your 20 Domains.

  • christina thomas

    Interesting – possibly yay; possibly nay. I think of it as perfectly honest – but at the end of the day, no matter what you do, if it negatively affects Google’s advertising platform (even if it is a great idea that isn’t intended to game the system), it probably won’t go over well.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Use a single “locations” page as Matt suggests in the video.

  • Durant Imboden

    Well, it’s your choice. But remember that Google isn’t interested in helping you “promote your domain”–Google’s objective is to deliver clean search results. If Google’s research shows that 95% of sites that interlink 20 or more domains with footers are spammers, the fact that you’re the odd exception probably won’t help you at ranking time.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I think there are a few times that a publisher might have a huge network of domains Durant had the suggestion about the state fairs, perhaps some news sites could make it work, or some kind of community resource site–but you have to be very careful about how you link them together. Google, at the end of the day, uses a math equation to judge your website. It doesn’t always understand “intent.”

  • steve

    Google encourages linking your google+ to all the sites you contribute to (ecommerce site, youtube, blog) so I imagine that would be reasonable.

  • steve

    I wonder about same IP address multiple domains vs. unique IP address per domain…

  • Michael Arlen

    Matt, Our company makes a variety of functional foods. we have 7 brands, 5 of which are targeted to the healthcare industry. Our corporate site has links to each of the brands’ websites. Since people who buy soup, also buy pudding, soft serve frozen yogurt and beverages, we have links to our other products’ web pages at the bottom of our brand’s websites.

    There is a legitimate desire to cross-sell our products & to let the reputation of one brand bolster another.

  • http://www.ismoip.com/ vikas lov

    I agree Imboden. I know Google is not interested in ours promotion. we are not inter link our domain by footer and sidebar links. we can inter link with blog posting with information as well.

    footer and sidebar bar links such a spammer way to promote and inter linking your sites, so we should take another way to do this.

    Thanks to Durant Imboden for reply

  • http://www.seogarden.net/ francesco margherita

    They don’t have the answers. They created a software that can’t be controlled. That’s the truth. If you are a human being, you can bypass google at any time.

  • Talkin Hockey

    Google’s objective currently is to deliver crap results, forcing users to click ads for anything resembling a quality site. That’s what Google is doing the past 2 years.

  • Durant Imboden

    Most Web publishers aren’t going to buy ads, because most Web publishers aren’t selling anything.

    When I see a page from an exact-match domain with an obscure TLD ranking no. 1 for an informational search, the result may be crap, but it has nothing to do with ad sales.

  • Joseph DiMaria

    very good post. I agree it’s not a good idea to link 20 domains together.Google has built a wonderful company providing everyone with a great search tool. after all this what they have to sell. Quality searchs.

  • Doc Sheldon

    Unfortunately, Matt didn’t really consider the whole question. While a total of 20 sites might be a bit much, where’s the threshold? 15? 12? 10? Obviously, he’s not able to tell us that, but I think there are legitimate circumstances in which a person might easily own a dozen or more unrelated sites that deserve to be linked together.
    For instance, imagine a company that owns many interests, that has allowed all its holdings to run their own autonomous website.:
    Acme Sports, a holding company with it’s own corporate site, owns the following sites…

    Acme Hunting & Fishing Eqpt.
    Acme Football Eqpt.
    Acme Golf Eqpt.
    Acme Baseball Eqpt.
    Acme Scuba Diving Eqpt.
    and so on…

    There’s certainly no logical reason for any of the child companies to link to each other. But I think it’s not only reasonable, but nearly imperative, that each of the holdings link to the parent company and it back to each of them.

    I don’t know of many that have 20 holdings with individual sites, but I’ve worked for a couple that had a dozen. We simply slapped nofollow on the links from the parent to each child company and those from each child back to the parent, and have had no issues.

    If we hadn’t nofollowed those links and Google thought we were trying to manipulate pagerank, I could understand them having an issue with it. But IMO, nofollowed, whether there are 12, 20 or 200, shouldn’t be an issue. Period.

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