November 13, 2006

By now just about everyone who depends on the Web for a livelihood is aware that links are a key part of how all major search engines rank their results. Stated simply, if you want to rank well, you must be well-linked. Where you rank in search results is due to a combination of factors, one of which is the trustworthiness of the links pointing back to your site.

What exactly does “well-linked” mean? You get different answers to this question. Marketers agree to “avoid artificial link schemes” or “don’t get too many links too fast,” but there’s far more disagreement than agreement as to what constitutes a truly legitimate inbound link profile (IBLP).

In a little known page in the Google Librarian Center, “How does Google collect and rank results?”, Google engineer Matt Cutts states:

“As a rule, Google tries to find pages that are both reputable and relevant. If two pages appear to have roughly the same amount of information matching a given query, we’ll usually try to pick the page that more trusted websites have chosen to link to…”

Three words jump out at me: reputable, relevant, and trusted.

From Theory to Practice
So what is an artificial link? For me, an artificial link is any link that you obtain or create with the goal of fooling a search engine’s algorithm into thinking that link was freely earned. A link that is paid for, swapped, bartered, or otherwise engineered is — at least from an algorithmic standpoint — less trustworthy than a link that occurs with no strings attached. The link may be a great source of direct traffic, leads, etc., but for rankings, it’s likely to have no value at all.

Three Recommendations
Let me offer three recommendations: For sites that are already engaged in artificial linking activities, either remove those links or accept that your site’s ranking is on borrowed time. When seeking links, don’t rely on reciprocal links as your only linking tactic. 100% link reciprocity looks mighty suspicious, that is, artificial. If you have link-worthy content, seek links for that content from known trusted sources. What’s a trusted source? Put yourself in Google’s shoes. Trusted sources will vary depending on the subject matter.

Do a Google query on: “best of the web” library After all, whose links are likely to be more trustworthy than a librarian’s?

A Warning
Search engines do look for suspicious linking activity now. They’ll only get more capable in the future. If Google or any other engine notices something about the links pointing to your site that it feels is artificial, your site’s rank may drop as a consequence of the engine devaluing the links pointing to it.

One last bit of advice. Have a look at Google search results for the phrase (with quotes around it) “artificial linking”. The fact that there are so many people writing about the problem shows you how widespread the problem is. Read through a few of those results and you will see many artificial linking tactics and rules and warnings. Pay special attention to the warnings and — unless you are willing to accept the consequences — do not engage in linking schemes to fool the engines.

Link well my friend,  LM

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