A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!
The first thing people learn about SEO is that to increase their ranking, they need to get other websites to link to them. Each link to their website is considered by search engines as a vote, and the more votes they get, the more likely they are to win in search.
As a simplistic definition of how search engines work, I’ve got to admit, I have myself used an explanation like this to describe the SEO process.
Now I’m all for simplifying SEO to improve consumer understanding, and for the most part, I gotta say SEO is not nearly as complicated as some ‘experts’ make out. However to imply to a website owner that if they “get more links” they’ll rank higher is as dangerous in SEO terms as saying to an alcoholic “drink red wine, it lowers cholesterol.”
More does not equal better
If you’re only understanding of SEO is that backlinks influence rank, then you cannot be blamed for going out and acquiring links, however, you can. You get your friends to link to you, you do deals with clients where they link to you and you link to them, you buy links from site’s offering links for sale. Whatever, however, it does not matter, you’re on a mission to get more links because more links equal better ranking, right? Wrong!
When it comes to links, the most common mistake I see webmasters make is site wide links. Rarely does a week go by at SEO Sherpa where we do not take on a customer who is struggling in search and has a gazillion links pointing to their site from the footer of some other website.
More often than not there is no deliberate intention to use those links to manipulate the search results, they just lacked the knowledge to know why such links are dangerous.
Below is some analysis of a website we have recently started working on. You will see from the image that the site has a total 8761 links, which is great, however, 8293 all come from one website.
Until this practice was stopped by Google in it’s recent Panda update, SEO practitioners would use site wide links to artificially inflate the number of links pointing to a site. Commonly those links would be placed in the footer or sidebar of a website, and would thus appear on every page throughout the site. Hence the term sitewide. Those links might also include the exact keyword term the site wanted to rank for if the SEO was being particularly manipulative.
Here’s an example we found when we took over a client’s SEO. The term being targeted was “Dubai Property”
For extra measure, the website we found this on was called QualityLinkBuilding.com and included many references to “buying links. If that does not give the game away to Google as to what this company was up to then I don’t what would?
In the case of the first example, there was no intention of manipulation. The company is a website developer and their client agreed to advertise them in the footer of their website with “Developed by ______” in exchange for a small discount. The text is hyperlinked to my client’s site. The intention by my client was to market their website and gain more traffic, in and of itself not an attempt to manipulate search results. However based on Google’s definition of what constitutes a paid link, which includes a “close to the value of money” arrangement, then the fact that my client gave the website owner a discount on the cost of their website development, this would almost certainly be deemed a paid link.
Paid links are strictly against Google’s terms, add to that the suspect looking link profile that has 95% of its links from the same domain then there is no wonder this site was struggling to rank in search results.
How do you deal with site-wide links?
If they have been placed with the intent of acquiring links, then I recommend that you remove them. An email to the website owner, or failing that a letter on your solicitor’s letterhead should get them removed. If however the links have been placed for the sole purpose of marketing, then you can keep the link but disclose to Google that the link is a non-editorial link and it is not to be counted. This is done by using the “no-follow” attribute in the link itself.
I recommend that any links that are of an advertising nature have the no-follow attribute assigned to them. It will allow users to click on the link and reach the intended website, but search engines will not follow the link or consider them a signal toward ranking.