Linking is still de rigueur when optimizing for Google and all major engines. Linking strategies have run the gauntlet, from simple link exchange requests to buying links. For a good review of current best practices in linking tactics, I refer you to The Link Spiel by Debra Mastaler and “11 Experts on Link Development Speak Out” from Sugarrae.
While linking is a critical component of your in-house SEO tactical plan, it is also important to be careful in selecting the sites you link to. If you link to a site that’s totally unrelated to your own, search engines will become confused about your link neighborhood.
Defining link neighborhoods
A link neighborhood is a collection of like-minded or like-themed sites on the web. It could be a group of sites focused on niche areas like auto racing, women’s health issues, or sports, each linked to other like-minded, complementary sites. For instance, the graphic below shows some link neighborhoods that could represent a number of sports hubs on baseball, basketball, boxing, football, hockey, skiing, surfing, tennis, volleyball, etc. The best strategy is to focus on getting links in your own neighborhood.
What is a bad link neighborhood?
Broadly speaking, a bad neighborhood is a network of sites with a number of penalized or banned participants. These networks might also link to sites involved in hosting spyware, malware, offensive material, and/or illegal activities like phishing.
If you link to a bad neighborhood, this can categorize your site as part of the network, thereby damaging your theme and ranking strength.
Dangers of bad neighborhoods
Sometimes sites will get into a bad link neighborhood by linking to sites or pages whose only purpose is to exchange links for high search rankings, regardless of any relevance to the sites the links point to. Such sites will accept and accumulate links from anywhere, no matter what the topics of the linking sites might be.
If you are ever promised a link to a page contingent to your returning a reciprocal link, disregard the offer unless you verify the source is authentic and relevant to your site’s theme because it could be from one of these bad neighborhood sites.
Google’s take on bad neighborhoods
Google does not approve of the following types of web sites; thus, linking to these sites will have a negative effect on your Google rankings.
- Free for all (FFA) links pages
- Link farms (automatic linking with multiple unrelated links)
- Known spammers
General guidelines on bad link neighborhoods
Search engine personnel have posted on forums from time to time regarding linking and bad neighborhood penalties. Below is a recap of what has been documented in the past.
Bad neighborhood linking patterns: Search engines look for linking patterns and do not generally penalize a site for one or two accidental “bad links.” Search algorithms are focused on looking for patterns of egregious linking behavior on individual sites and collectively. One way they do this is to monitor the rate of acquisition of links to a site. The addition of too many links too fast can be an indicator of “unnatural” link buying activity, potentially jeopardizing a site’s rankings. Search engines also look at the rate of removal of incoming links to a site. Too many sites doing this simultaneously call for closer scrutiny.
Shared IP Addresses: The affiliations between a linking site and the linked-to site are inspected by some search engines. If two sites share an IP address or have a common postal address on the “contact us” page, the link is ignored at best, or can result in penalties.
Auditing outgoing links: Broken outgoing links that are not promptly taken care of are also noticed and can harm rankings. It’s a good idea to regularly audit your outgoing links to ensure you’re not sending visitors to inappropriate or 404 pages.
Outbound links and Google’s supplemental index: Despite much speculation to the contrary, Google personnel insist it is unlikely that a site’s outbound linking is the cause of its pages being listed in the supplemental index.
Best practices for buying links
Buying links remains a controversial tactic. However, many sites continue to buy links and feel it is safe. If you decide to use paid links, be aware of the following best practices:
- Your site and the sites linking to you must have some relevance to each another.
- Ranking benefits can increase in a matter of hours or days once relevant links are in place.
- Ranking benefits can also decrease in a matter of hours or days upon removal of those links.
- Direct URL links purchased from highly ranked, relevant sites may deliver click-through traffic in addition to search ranking benefits.
A linking mantra
Links, paid or otherwise, are necessary for decent search engine rankings. Use the following mantra when developing an in-house linking strategy: My link sources must be relevant, consistent, reputable, and from the right link neighborhood.
Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and in-house consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for the strategic implementation of search engine marketing activities within Red Door’s Internet Presence Management (IPM) services. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.