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Artificial Linking and Search Rankings
by Eric Ward, aka LinkMoses
November 13, 2006
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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 site:.us 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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About the Author
http://www.ericward.com/Eric Ward founded the Web's first services for announcing, linking, and building buzz for Web sites, called NetPOST, in 1994, and in 1995 he launched the URLwire Site Announcement Network, which today has millions of readers and remains the only service devoted 100% to announcing useful web content. Eric is best known as the person behind the first linking campaigns for Amazon.com, Rodney.com, and PBS.org. His services won the 1995 Award For Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web's 100 most influential people by Websight Magazine in 1997. Eric is a 4-star speaker at Jupiter's Search Engine Strategies conferences, and he publishes a monthly how-to newsletter called THE WARD REPORT: Link Building and Content Publicity Tactics. Eric writes online marketing advice columns for Web Marketing Today and I, and previously for ClickZ.com and Ad Age magazine.  Eric, his wife Melissa and toddler Noah live in Knoxville, Tennessee.