If you use Majestic SEO’s Compare Domain Backlink History tool to view the link growth profiles of a few sites, you’ll most likely notice at least one link spike somewhere. A link spike is exactly what it sounds like it would be: a point in time when backlinks go up sharply, backlinks go back down sharply.

Link spikes are of particular concern when you realize that they can, in some cases, serve as a red flag to a major search engine. They aren’t exactly trends, of course. Well, not most of the time…you would definitely expect to see link spikes as a trend with certain types of sites, such as sites that only sell Christmas decorations or Halloween costumes for example, where on a somewhat regular interval, link spikes would occur that are quite easily explainable.

What causes link spikes?

Something happens. Yes, it is that simple. Whether that something is a flurry of paid links, a juicy piece of linkbait, news trends, brand PR, etc. can be completely irrelevant if there are no other trends to correspond. With the recent death of Farrah Fawcett, for example, we should expect to see link spikes to sites like www.farrahfawcett.us and the wikipedia entry for her. These link spikes will, however, correspond with search trends of course, thus making them seem a lot less suspicious. On the other hand, if we saw link spikes for a site that sells those animatronic fish that sing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” we might be scratching our heads.

Types of link spikes occur naturally

  • News: if it’s in the news, it’s only natural to assume that you’d also see some link spikes for it.
  • Social Media: witness the Trending Topics on Twitter and the Digg Homepage for two good examples. These are especially easily manipulated, as we saw recently with the Jeff Goldblum death rumors.
  • PR: whether it’s a new bakery opening in town, the hottest new kids’ movie, or anything else that generates buzz, whether it be big or small, PR of any sort can be expected to produce some link spikes.

Many times, these three will overlap. So what types of link spikes are red flags?

Ones that correspond with nothing of note. These basically look a bit dodgy. Without any other corresponding trends, they really stand out. See above for the animatronic “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” fish.

Linkbait is commonly thought to create link spikes, which can be a bad thing. This is why, when reading about linkbait creation and execution, you will see loads of advice about how it should never be a one-time only event. If you’re going to do some linkbait, planning to do more than one piece is critical in avoiding link spikes that don’t look natural. Spikes on a regular basis are usually ok, though, as they form their own sort of expected trend. If a company does loads of PR at the beginning of each month, over time you’d expect to see a trend of link spikes corresponding (roughly) to those periods.

Determining whether a link spike is organic or non-organic is difficult, which is an issue. How can you tell them apart? I’m not sure that you truly can, actually, which is part of the problem, and yet another reason to always plan out a long-term link development strategy. You can’t think of link building as something that goes on for a few weeks then stops, although plenty of people do. If you do, you could see improved rankings for a period but then they’ll most likely fall back if you don’t keep moving forward.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building | Link Week Column

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About The Author: owns the link development firm Link Fish Media and is one of the founding members of the SEO Chicks blog.

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  • http://seoroi.com Gab

    “Linkbait is commonly thought to create link spikes, which can be a bad thing. This is why, when reading about linkbait creation and execution, you will see loads of advice about how it should never be a one-time only event. If you’re going to do some linkbait, planning to do more than one piece is critical in avoiding link spikes that don’t look natural. Spikes on a regular basis are usually ok, though, as they form their own sort of expected trend. If a company does loads of PR at the beginning of each month, over time you’d expect to see a trend of link spikes corresponding (roughly) to those periods.”

    I’m not sure that’s accurate. I’ve linkbaited once on a site of mine and seen no penalty effects after the initial surge. When people talk about penalties, they’re referring to getting 10,000 links overnight from automated software. IMHO, the pattern is pretty different.

  • Julie Joyce

    I guess it all depends upon your site, really, and your backlink profile. This is all speculation based on reading and discussing this topic with other SEOs…but I imagine that, like with your own site, there are many instances of one linkbait attempt and zero penalties. That doesn’t mean that it’s the norm, I imagine, but it’s still a valid point.

 

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