Linking - Updated
To Link? Or Not To Link? That is the question...
Updated - Google's Matt Cutts Explains Directory Linking
Reciprocal linking can provide a benefit, but it is not without
a cost - any reciprocal linking program must be managed.
Interview with Jodi Golisek.
The Internet & Its Purpose
The purpose of search engines is to provide the most relevant
responses (websites results) to queries (searches), and more specifically,
to attempt to do so in order of importance. A search engine achieves
that goal by spidering websites via numerous methods, most significantly,
by following links. Reciprocal linking is the exchange of links
between two (or more) websites. So, reciprocal links ought provide
a means of associating websites focused on similar (or even exactly
the same) topic. Reciprocal links accomplish that goal. And that
goal is the backbone of the Internet - to provide links from one
place to another about subjects that are completely related, somewhat
related, or even totally unrelated.
Scaling The Results - Or Discriminating Between Competing Interests
From a search engine's standpoint, one of the major downfalls inherent
to reciprocal linking programs is the lack of discrimination. If
a search engine determines the popularity by the number of inbound
links, a well-run linking program on all websites would prevent
discrimination because all sites would be equally linked, and therefore,
A side note about popularity. It may help to understand popularity
from the various viewpoints. Popularity from the viewpoint of
inbound links as an isolated factor measures the number of links
TO a website. However, popularity has long been falsely identified.
Popularity is not just the number of inbound links to a site,
but rather the quality of those inbound links AND the quality
of the page to which the inbound link is pointing, the weight
of the inbound link AND the relevancy of the inbound link to the
page to which it is pointing, as well as the origin of the inbound
link in relationship to the destination of the link. If the inbound
link is of little or no value (it has little or no quality to
its content), it will now be discounted by Google. (Previously,
those types of links counted, but a bunch of bad apples in the
orchard abused that measure =). If the inbounds are from the same
IP (Internet Protocol) address - the thing that looks like this
184.108.40.206 - chances are likely that the inbounds will be disqualified.
ANY reciprocal linking with ANY website must be handled with care;
even innocent mistakes can have a very negative effect. The basic
rules remain - natural quality contextual linking to quality content
and separation of reciprocal linking pages.
The Reciprocal Link
"Inbound links" are just one of factors considered
by search engines in producing search results. Some reciprocal
linking campaigns focus on one-to-one relationships (two sites
exchanging links one for another), but others create more complex
schemes by exchanging links between three or more websites. If
the linking is natural, those links often appear at different
times, but if the linking is part of an attempt to spam the search
engines, the links often appear at relatively the same time. As
well, even complex schemes may reflect patterns that are detectable
by the search engines.
Does that mean that you should not reciprocate any links? No,
refer to the purpose of the Internet - to form a web (a spider
web), which allows a person to click on links and go from point
A to point B - from Paris to Princeton in the click of a button.
Reciprocal linking is not an evil act in and of itself, but reciprocal
linking for the sole purpose of spamming the search engines to
cause them to believe that a site is of more value and more importance
than is truly the case is spam, and spam is evil.
If you are asked to reciprocate a link, question the purpose
of the link. If you will be providing a link to a website that
you would refer to others for the purpose of obtaining the services
or products or information available from that site, then by all
means, reciprocate away (just do so with good anchors). But if
you would not refer the other person, company, or service, don't
Anchor text is the text that the link is made from. For example,
how to organize
a website is text that leads to flat
hierarchyor directories, and it is the "anchor"
of that link. Anchors can be created with photos or text, as well
as dynamically. A good anchor defines the intended purpose of
Page ranking is an arbitrary numerical value assigned by Google.
Its purpose is somewhat obscure, but in general, it is meant to
represent Google's interpretation of that page's importance, and
Google tells us that inbound links are one of the factors considered.
If page ranking provides a weighted value, then it is logical to
assume that reciprocal linking between sites of differing page ranks
would provide weighted values. If that is true, then if site "A"
has a page rank of 8 and site "B" has a page rank of 3
- A's link to B is of more significance (in Google and therefore
in other results) than is B's link to A.
In practice, when "A" links to "B", "A"
may see a slight decrease in its ranking in search results and
"B" may see a slight increase. Typically, "A"
can regain its position in the search results.
Interesting Story About Page Rank & Duplicate Content
One of our clients contracted a small website with one of the
major legal directories. During the fulfillment process, the directory
company copied the content from our client's website onto the
new site that they were building, submitted a request for exclusion
of the client's website, and then submitted their newly built
site with the client's old content. The results were quick; Google
responded, transferring our client's old website page rank to
the now new directory's website. While we immediately ordered
the directory to cease and desist, pull down the content, and
submit a direct request for exclusion of all of the pages that
they had copied (that action can be taken in a webmaster's Google
dashboard), the outcome was that the directory's website (now
a skeleton) had a page rank of 4; meanwhile, our client's homepage
had a page rank of 0. In that we had never seen anything even
remotely similar to that type of action ever occur previously,
we took immediate corrective action including contacting SEM guru's
Tim Stanley, Bruce Clay, Danny Sullivan, SEMPO, and Matt Cutts.
Today, Google has reinstated the site's page rank. However, for
four months, the site's home page was ranked as zero, yet the
site remained in the top five results, if not the first result
for all key searches.
The Upside Of Reciprocal Linking
In addition to helping accomplish the actual purpose of the Internet
- to find information - reciprocal linking can increase a page ranking
value. However, the degree to which reciprocal links will enhance
page ranking has more to do with the previous discussion regarding
the value and quality of the link than it has to do with just getting
Another way to look at reciprocal linking is to associate it
with the human factor (often called human emulation in the search
world). If you needed a criminal defense attorney and (rather
than go to the net) you asked 15 people for a referral, and all
15 people gave you 15 different answers, who would you call? Now,
if 13 of the 15 people referred you to the same criminal defense
attorney, who would you call? That is the benefit of reciprocal
links - they refer you to another website. That is also the benefit
of paid placements. But more over, it is the benefit of gaining
omnipresence on the web - being everywhere people look - which
is the entire basis of Internet marketing.
Paid Placements As Reciprocal Links
Paid placements are advertisements. They are usually placed on
a well trafficked website with a link back to the advertiser's
site. Often times, they appear in directories. From a marketing
standpoint, paid placements are of great value for all parties.
For the advertiser, they put the service, law firm, company, or
product - whatever is being offered - in front of people looking
for that accountant, lawyer, process server or law book - whatever
is being sought. The user benefits by being able to find that
thing she or he seeks. The site offering the advertising benefits
by making a profit for their hard work in getting traffic to the
site. It would seem that all parties benefit. And because the
paid advertising is helping in achieving the goal of the Internet
- finding what you seek when you seek it quickly and easily -
it would seem to fit into the stated goals of search engines.
Reciprocal Linking - The Down Side
Previously, some less ethical webmasters purchased junk pages upon
junk pages of content upon which they bought or sold a link to a
website. Google detected that sort of behavior and changed its algorithm
this year. As well, Matt Cutts - an engineer at Google who regularly
appears in public, at seminars, and who maintains a blog where he
will receive questions about Google - asked the entire search engine
marketing community to report any website participating in that
sort of behavior. (A tongue in cheek note here - Matt asked people
to tattle tale just before he went on vacation.) Today, all of Google's
webmaster dashboards provide a link to report paid linking participants.
In essence, most directories fall into the paid linking category
when they sell a link, banner ad or any form of advertising to a
website owner. So, the question is raised as to whether those types
of links are considered to be 'bad links' by Google's definition.
If the current organic results are an indication of that answer,
and those results do not include the SuperPages.com, FindLaw.com,
Lawyers.com, DMOZ.org listings that were there at one time, then
the answer would be a quick yes. Even if an affirmative answer can
be assumed, the reality is that Google is ever changing and that
which appears today can appear very differently tomorrow.
Update: Above, we mention
the fact that Google is always watching! We originally published
this article asking if Google intended to recognize or discount
paid placements (i.e. directories). Matt Cutts answered the question
and we didn't even have to send it to him. Matt clarified that
paid directories are not among the paid links that Google seeks
to rid from the results. Those types of links are very useful
to Internet users - they help folks find what they want and need.
Thanks for the clarification, Matt!
Reciprocal Linking Management
Reciprocal linking programs MUST be managed, and while that is
not a downfall, it does require time and planning. Dead links
often result in negative consequences including lower ranking
search results positions up to complete removal from search engine
results, with the latter being much more frequently the outcome
than the former. As well, if "A" were to create many
links to many other lesser ranking sites, it would be very likely
that the results would be more significant. "A" would
be wise to couple any reciprocal linking campaign with additional
"good SEM" (search engine marketing) campaigns. Reciprocal
linking is not a bad thing so long as it is not abused.
"A" could also create a separate area on the website
(perhaps under a directory) for reciprocal links, and use the
"no index, no follow" syntax. In addition to the comments
made by the editor regarding the "no follow, no index"
syntax, branding on the web also has a positive effect.
With all that said, WE DO NOT ENGAGE IN NOR DO WE SUPPORT
PAID LINK PROGRAMS.
In instances where a non-paid reciprocal linking program exists,
we manage it on separate pages from the main website utilizing
"no index, no follow" syntax so that it does not appear
as spam to the search engines.
You may also enjoy reading, "About
the Google Dance"