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Other sites can hurt your ranking | JLH Design
6th June 2007

Other sites can hurt your ranking

posted in Google, Paid Links, SEO |

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Google still says that there is almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from their index. What about a site that is not your competitor, but one that you thought was your partner?.

I’ll be using the poorly titled newest addition to the webmaster guidelines ” Why should I report paid links ” as a reference.

The first thing you read about your site being negatively impacted is where they clearly state that buying links is a violation of the webmaster guidelines and can result in penalties.

Buying links in order to improve a site’s ranking is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results

Now this raises an interesting consideration. Assuming Google isn’t in your bank account, they don’t have access to your credit card statements, and they don’t review your tax returns the only way they could divine that you’ve actually purchased a link is to make the conclusion that a site that links to yours has sold that link. Previously we were told that those sites would loose their ability to pass PageRank, but the quoted paragraph above points to a much more proactive penalization of the linkee not the linker.

Further down the page they expound a bit on what Google considers to be the correct way to buy links for traffic purposes only.

Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

* Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the href tag
* Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

The interaction of the two paragraphs cited represent a profound change in Google’s earlier stated stance that external sites can’t hurt you (almost).

They have now clearly stated that buying links can harm your site, but if you do buy links that they should be constructed in a way that does not pass PageRank, such as with nofollow or through a redirect. Unfortunately for you, the link buyer, you have no control of how the webmaster you purchased your link from set’s up her website.

Imagine a situation where you’ve done your due diligence an purchased a link for traffic from a site that nofollows all of it’s sold links. Three month’s go by and they decide to change their policy and remove all of the nofollows. Your busy running your own website and don’t have time to police the internet full time and don’t notice that your purchased link is now not not-nofollowed. Google may have already tagged the linking site as a link seller [perhaps due to abundance of nofollow!] and now sees your link that is not properly designated as a paid link and issues a penalty on your site.

We can’t have it both ways, either external sites can or cannot hurt you, or link buying can or cannot hurt you, the two are not independent of each other.

I can forsee a sub-economy building out of this if it truly is the case; purchasing obviously paid links for your competitor on sites that don’t properly designate them as paid. On your site that sells links offer a free one time link to a non-indexed domain. You can prove to your new potential client that your site is deemed a link seller as the new purchased link should not get the new domain indexed. After that charge a set rate to link to your clients competitor, without using nofollow, through javascript, or through a redirect. To expand your business even further you could also add the option of letting the targeted site outbid the competitor to take the link down!

I’m hoping that this is just a case of sabre rattling by Google and the new paid links page has not been thought thoroughly through. As it is written now it’s a complete policy shift from the stance that the link seller will have their ability to pass PageRank stripped. A simple change of the subject in the two paragraphs above from the link buyer to the link seller would also solve this paradox, such as:

Buying Selling links in order to improve manipulate a site’s ranking is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results

and:

Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased sold for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

* Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the href tag
* Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

More discrepancies in the new webmaster guidelines to come soon…

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 6th, 2007 at 1:52 pm and is filed under Google, Paid Links, SEO. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. All comments are subject to my NoFollow policy. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 7 responses to “Other sites can hurt your ranking”

Why not let me know what you think by adding your own comment! All the cool kids are doing it.

  1. 1 MyAvatars 0.2 On June 6th, 2007, JohnMu said:

    I still have a feeling that it’s the other way around: the site selling the links gets the penalty, if any. Look at the sites that had the DP setup - they got it and were unpenalized after removing the setup and filing a reinclusion request.

    Look at it the other way: Assume your site is supported mainly by paid links. Is there a need to penalize the site if the paid links are easily recognized and suddenly discounted or blocked from passing value? Assuming half of the paid links are found right away (TLA, DP, etc) - they could take that as a signal and check the other half of the links with a more detailed, intense algorithm. If those links are also found to be mostly paid (but not so openly), the chances that they’re discounted will be much higher than if the site only had the kind of paid links that took a detailed analysis to find.

    If your site is known to be supported almost completely by paid links, chances are that Google will (could) look twice at all other new links.

    If your site is known to have a strong natural backing, Google might just take the obvious paid links and remove them and leave the harder-to-find ones alone.

    I’m sure it could be abused, but it’ll be expensive :D. I could go out and buy 1000 PR6 links for a new domain that someone else registered and hope it is enough to trigger the detailed analysis for all other links. Would that be worth it? It might work for a new site (and you might do them a giant favor, lol), but it will be much harder for an existing, strongly backed site. Will the price of “naked” paid links go down now? 1000 PR6 links will still remain costly, if only for the value from the traffic.

  2. 2 MyAvatars 0.2 On June 6th, 2007, JLH said:

    I agree with your analysis JohnMu, that’s how it should work. However, that is also contrary to what today’s existing standard says. Like I said, I hope they make a change, and hopefully with a retraction so everyone knows it. You can only be held responsible for what is on your site when it comes to doling out penalties.

  3. 3 MyAvatars 0.2 On June 6th, 2007, Sebastian said:

    Do we *know* that the destination of a paid link gets penalized? To my best knowledge, no. All reliable sources tell us that the linking page may lose its ability to pass link juice, and that the link’s destination just cannot suck any search engine love from discovered paid links. That’s pragmatic, and it makes sound sense. JohnMu may be spot on with his presumption that Google pays special attention to sites “attracting” too many links from sources known as link sellers. Again, this would make sense, but that’s not the same as penalizing. I’d say that purchasing links is quite safe but most probably not worth the money.

  4. 4 MyAvatars 0.2 On June 7th, 2007, JLH said:

    What they say what they do are two different things. We can all point to spam in the index, file a ton of spam reports, and it still stays there, so their ability to automatically spot things is limited at best. Their willingness to take action on individual sites is even more documented.

    They may say they will take action for buying links, but is it a scalable possiblity? I doubt it. Of course for large networks of sites that leave trails or just have random links that change on every page reload it’s easy to spot. But of course if I paypal Sebastion $100 for a link, who’s going to know it?

    As with anything Google, the big popular sites are of course immune to this. If you’ve already got thousands of links a few bad ones won’t hurt. But if you’ve got 10 links and 3 of those are suspect you may be in trouble. New sites, or small ones on the bubble, will be the ones hurt the most, which is true of any Google change in philosophy. Or should I say, true in life as well :)

  5. 5 MyAvatars 0.2 On June 7th, 2007, Sebastian said:

    Just because Google keeps some reported spam in the index that does not mean that they didn’t (re)act on the spam report.

    Just because a (reported) source of paid links still shows a nice toolbar PR that does not mean that it passes link juice.

    In this sense the analogy is ok, but hapless otherwise. I think you clearly underestimate the brain power Google invests algo tuning and development. Remember that they algorithmically deal with paid links since 2003 at least, and imagine what they could have discovered and invented til today.

    Sure, when I silently sell you a link they won’t spot its intention, especially not because I tend to naturally link to your stuff every now and then. And your warning is spot on, sites trying to boost their ranking with too many paid links should watch out.

  6. 6 MyAvatars 0.2 On June 8th, 2007, JLH said:

    You raise another fine point. When evaluating the health of a site you are linking to using the site: command and looking at toolbar PR are no longer reliable sources of information. mmm….more blog fodder.

  7. 7 MyAvatars 0.2 On June 8th, 2007, JohnMu said:

    My main tool for evaluating the value of a site before I link to it is the MSN linkfromdomain:-query. There’s nothing better — even if MSN only has 1/100th of the data that Google (or even Yahoo) has. It would be great to be able to check up on sites like that, eg: [linkfromdomain:othersite.com xxx] or better: [linkfromdomain:othersite.com seo] :-)

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