Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Thousands of Reciprocal Links & Getting Nowhere in Google - by Aaron Wall

SEO Question:
I have traded hundreds (maybe thousands) of links. I am ranking great on MSN, but am nowhere on Google. What gives?

SEO Answer:
Your site is associated with sites of similar link profiles. If most of your inbound links and/or outbound links are of low quality that may preclude your ability to rank. As your reinforce the identity of your site as being associated with low quality sites you are digging a bigger and bigger hole.

Your site may stay in the search index but just have it's rankings suppressed for your targeted keywords. The reasons search engines may want to leave sites in the index that are using ineffective search spamming methods are:

* maybe they will keep focusing on the outdated methods
* no reason to make it easier than necessary to reverse engineer exactly how to spam (even Matt Cutts pushes this line of thinking when describing how and when Google chooses to contact some websites that were removed for spamming)
* anything that blurs the line to what is effective outside of what Google really wants you to do is a plus for their relevancy

Sometimes you will see an older site that heavily relied upon reciprocal linking ranking well and think that you can just duplicate their link profiles, but typically it is not that easy. Largely because:

* when search was less sophisticated and there was less content on the web it was much easier to get quality links
* they probably have a few decent quality links you will not be able to get
* they likely built their link profiles over time, during a time when search was less sophisticated
* their domain might be trusted more (and thus given higher authority and more leniency for algorithmic infractions) because of its age

Recently I pulled the reciprocal links page off a friend's domain and got them about a half dozen average to decent quality links. Their site went from nowhere in Google's search results to the top 30 for their core term in a month. And I still haven't even built any linkage from sites I would consider core trusted seed sites or sites that are extreme topical authorities (in other words, in a few months they are probably going to be doing far better).

Algorithms will continue to advance, and what happened at one point in time, in one engine, with one site, is probably not enough to call it a representative sample. But if you think of search from the eyes of a search engineer, how hard could it be to detect mass reciprocal linking? What website content quality is typically associated with sites sharing that footprint?

Consider the math as well. Time is worth money. And my friend was paying $500 a month for a large scale reciprocal linking campaign. All they needed to do was stop doing that and get about a dozen reasonable links and they were suddenly a market player.

I often get asked about optimizing reciprocal linking methods, but unless they are associated with real social relationships that pull you into your topical clique I generally think they are not worth the effort and have a poor risk to reward ratio, at least if you are intent on building a long-term brand, and want to rank well in Google.


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