Part I - Linking Practices That Will Hurt Your Search Engine Rankings
Quality linking practices are encouraged by the major search engines as an acceptable way of improving site popularity, website traffic and help contribute to higher search engine rankings. As a webmaster you must be wary of engaging in poor linking practices that have the potential to strip your website of its ranking status on the major search engines Google, Yahoo and MSN.
In this two part Article Series we will firstly discuss those linking practices that will find your website penalized by the major search engines, with the most current controversy over 'paid links'. Google has recently penalized several sites with ranking drops for violating its quality webmaster guidelines by selling paid links. This penalty can also be applied to those sites displaying 'paid links' that are considered spam or of low quality by the search engines and provide users with a poor browsing experience.
Not all paid linking will be penalized, the current focus tends to be on those links that are primarily being used to manipulate search engine rankings. Purchasing paid links may also affect your rankings if the originating site selling the links is considered to be a 'bad neighborhood' site by the major search engines, your site's rankings can be affected by association. As a general rule, avoid companies selling links who are promoting paid links that are 'hard to detect by a search engine' and with the recent increase in the reporting of paid links to Google, their ranking algorithms are being adjusted to detect such paid links.
The advice from Google on paid links is that it's okay to promote paid links that are aimed at increasing website traffic but are not being used to manipulate search engine rankings. If you are using paid links:-
• Add a 'no follow attribute' to the linking info, for more information on how to do this see Google Webmaster Tools
• You can also redirect the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from the search engines with robots.txt file.
• Clearly define paid advertising links on your site to the search engines ie. with a 'sponsored link' title heading.
Another linking practice that is discouraged by the major search engines is using Link Farms to artificially increase a site's link popularity. Link farms are usually classified as a website or web page that displays a series of links to other unrelated sites and displays no content of real value or interest to site visitors. These types of links pages are usually created by automated software programs and services. To avoid being caught linking to a 'link farm' vigorously check all link exchange requests and the reciprocal URL location of your link on their site. Link farms will be obvious in nature as no actual web content will be present for site visitors except links and often the link exchange will be represented as a '3 way link' exchange.
3 Way Linking' has been an emerging trend over the past 12 months and is designed to quickly boost the search engine rankings and online presence of the requesting link partners site by anonymously building link pages that have no direct link to them so that they can't be penalized by the search engines for deceptive SEO practices. 3 Way Links are of little or no benefit to your site or your linking campaign as typically the third party site that your link is located on has no content relevance to your own site or worse still it is just a 'link farm'. Once again your site's search engine rankings can be penalized by association.
Check link exchange requests carefully as often 3 way linking practices are hidden in the link request, in some cases you may agree to a link exchange with a site whose content is similar to yours only to find that when the link exchange is completed that your link has been placed on a third party site. Often the site requesting the link exchange does not even have a links page set up on their site. 3 Way Links can also be represented as 'triangular link exchanges'.
The final linking practice we will look at is 'Cross Linking'. Excessively cross-linking sites of unrelated content can and will violate the quality webmaster guidelines of Google, Yahoo and MSN. This linking practice is generally used to artificially increase the number of links to a site and link popularity with the main aim of manipulating the search engine rankings. Even if you are the owner of multiple sites it is unwise to cross link them if the content of the sites is unrelated.
I came across a prime example of cross-linking recently when analyzing a potential new client's site for SEO & website marketing recommendations. What I discovered was that their existing SEO provider had excessively cross-linked their site to all their other clients sites under the disguise of 'site map' pages which were not only numerous in quantity but also keyword stuffed. This practice has somehow gotten past the ranking algorithms of Google and Yahoo most likely because the pages were being represented as 'site map' pages however the site had been penalized by MSN with no rankings showing whatsoever.
The only way of bringing up the site on MSN was to type in the site's direct URL address. The site owner was completely unaware of this breach which was explained away by this SEO company as the search engine results for MSN being inconclusive on the day they were searched for reporting purposes. To a novice, this explanation probably seems viable - so website owners be wary and don't be afraid to ask questions as to why your site is not receiving rankings in at least the top 10 pages of the search engine results for Google, Yahoo & MSN especially if you are paying for professional SEO services. Avoid automated software being added to your site primarily for SEO purposes, organic search engine results are certainly achievable without the application of automated software which usually displays web pages of lower quality than your main web pages and certainly be wary of site maps being developed for your site in the format I have described above. These are generally placed in the footer of your home page with the words site map preceding them, followed by an A - Z listing of site map web pages. This doesn't apply to software added to your site to record site statistics for performance analysis.
Positive linking practices will be discussed in Part 2 of this Article Series.
© Rosemary Donald, Rank1 Website Marketing 5th November, 2007
Rosemary Donald is an SEO Consultant with Rank1 Website Marketing
Rosemary is also a successful online trader and owner of http://www.sabujewellery.com a top ranking on site on Google, Yahoo and MSN with experience in online marketing, export sales, importing, growing customer bases, ecommerce customer service, online sales generation and Rank 1 search engine marketing.