Avoiding Low-Quality Links and Link Networks

In my last column, I discussed strategies to find trusted links with long-term value. Today, I'll explore the other side of the story with signals of low-value links.

With more and more companies realizing the power of links, many want to outsource or find easy methods to do link building in-house. Below are some possible signals of low-value links. I define low-value links as those that will have little or no influence on rankings or will likely be devalued by search engines. As with everything related to search, there are always exceptions. That is one reason it is important to use human judgment in all things related to links.

Network of Sites

One common signal of low-value links is a situation where they are from a network of sites, all owned by a single person or company. These sites will often posses the same look and feel, in addition to the same common backlinks. Often, these sites were created for the sole purpose of selling links. If a company tells you it can get you 50 links by next week on 50 different sites, that very company will most likely own the sites. This becomes especially obvious when the links are offered at a low-price. Remember, not all links are created equal. If they were, anyone could be number one for terms such as "insurance" or "hotels."

Questions to Consider:

  • Do the sites have a similar look and feel?
  • Do they share the same common backlinks?
  • Does the site appear to actually be designed for and used by humans?

New Sites with Few Backlinks

Related to the network of sites are links from new sites with few backlinks. If a site has not acquired trusted backlinks, it has little link value to pass. Again, these are often created just to sell links from them. If the site is new, and has few trusted backlinks, it has not had time to prove its trust to search engines. Thereby, it has little or no link trust to pass to your site.

PageRank (PR) is not a good signal of trust. This is especially true of newer sites. Anyone with basic knowledge can create a new site and have all its pages be PR 5s or 4s in a PR update or two.

Questions to Consider:

  • When was the site registered? Here is a simple registration look-up tool. Note that Search Engine Watch was registered in 1998.
  • Check the backlinks to those sites. Do they have 50 backlinks with 40 of those from scraper sites? Are the links from the same common sites?

Pages with a High Density of Keyword-Rich Links

Scrutinize these pages, examining the following issues. What is the quality of the page? Explore the linking pattern of the page. Is the page a collection of keyword-rich links? If so, that does not appear very natural to search engines and could be a possible flag to devalue links from that page. Most pages created for humans will use the company name or a mix of company name and keywords.

Quality of Outbound Links

Investigate the outbound links to check the quality. Are these the sites you want yours to be associated with? One can often just mouse over the URLs, and if a number of the sites have multiple dashes in the URL, it is a signal they will link to just about anything. Another quick check is to see if they are linking to sites with real substance or just MFA (made for AdSense) sites. Ask yourself if you think people actually use the sites linked to.

These are just a few low-quality signals to be cautious about, whether your company is outsourcing or doing link development in-house. As we all know, if it sounds too easy or inexpensive, there is a reason. More links will continue to lose value, as search engines get better at devaluing quick and easy techniques. Again, not all links are created equal.

Find out more about crafting creative link building campaigns at the first SES: Travel event. The event, to be held in Seattle, Washington, July 26-27, will focus on search marketing trends and tactics for the travel industry.