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Are Your Links Unnatural?

In late April, Google launched the latest major update to their search algorithm, dubbed Penguin. Google makes hundreds of updates like this every year but this one has caused a major shakeup in SEO, as many pages that were ranking well in the SERPs had suddenly lost their ranking due in a large part to the kinds of links that were used to place the website there in the first place. The focus at Google is now on quality content, and in an effort to produce more relevant results for its users they are penalizing websites that are deemed to be over optimized.

In the update announcement on Google’s Webmaster Central blog1, Matt Cutts from Google’s webspam department indicated that over use of keywords and links that were only intended to improve page rank were in the spotlight. The use of keyword stuffing has been in decline recently and the real thrust of Penguin is to find the unnatural links that point to a website. If yours has been one of the websites that has been demoted recently then it is very likely that Google has classed some of your links as unnatural and penalized you for it in the SERPs.

The websites that Google is targeting are the ones that use Black Hat SEO practices like buying backlinks to their website to improve its SEO; however, there was a huge gray area in regard to which links were Black Hat and which sorts of links were White Hat. The area that Google wants to really eliminate is the use of link schemes where backlinks are bought to raise the ranking of a site but which add no value for the user of that site. Since August 2011, excessive numbers of links can be a flag for Google, and the official line from them is; “It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links.2”

There are several kinds of links that are considered by the crawlers and the changes to the algorithm have turned some practices which were once good SEO into page rank liabilities. Internal links are important for the crawlers to be able to easily navigate a website but Google is now considering too many of them to be unnatural and an indicator of a webspam page. Similarly, too many inward and outward pointing links have become a red flag for Google and, as with internal links, Google is looking for an amount that is organic.

While this is still a bit vague, the general indication is that organic links are the kind that are produced naturally by someone that is creating original high quality content with an ordinary amount of references to outside sources. The key to SEO is to find the right balance of links for the content that is being used; too few and they won’t help the page rank, while too many will attract a penalty. In many cases it is best to have an SEO professional like look over your links to determine which ones may be harming your rank in the SERPs.

Websites that have a lot of links should take a good look at whether they fall under the general umbrella of Google’s unnatural links. There are several kinds of links that are deemed to be unnatural and should be avoided to ensure that they don’t influence page ranking in the SERPs.

Links to Semantically Unconnected Sites
Links that connect a website to a page of totally unconnected information indicate that they point to a link scheme. Quality content will naturally attract links on pages that are concerned with the same niche, and Google’s shift towards a more semantic based search is now looking at the sources of links to a page more contextually.

Too Many Links to Top Level Domains
Most organic links will point to a specific page in a website rather than to the top level of the domains like the home page. If your page is predominantly using general links to websites it may be a good idea to edit them so that they point inside those domains rather than just at them.

Excessive Amounts of Links Pointing to a Limited Number of Sites
In the normal course of running a website like a blog, a lot of links to different websites will naturally accrue as they are organically included in the content, so a site with a lot of links pointing to only a few websites indicates a link scheme and Google will penalize it.

Links Pointing to Content or Link Farms
Link farms are websites that have little or no valuable content but which post a huge amount of links to other sites to improve those sites page rank. Of course these link farm pages aren’t going to climb the SERPs, but their influence can cause the recipients of their links to rank much higher than they deserve to, skewing the SERPs in the process. These are the link schemes that Google is most focused on in its latest algorithm updates.

Thin or Mechanical Content with Excessive Links
Pages like this are almost the opposite of link farm pages. Thin content has already been the object of much scrutiny by Google. These sorts of websites are usually simple hard sell marketing pages that have used a lot of links to make the page look like it has collected valuable information in one place, which the search engines really like. In reality, none of the links point to anything related to the page and it is just a Black Hat SEO ploy.

Too Many Links on Web 2.0 Sites like PR Sites and Article Directories
Links on reputable Web 2.0 sites can be beneficial but the explosion of bookmarking sites has made it easy to mechanically produce large numbers of links on dubious or webspam sites which don’t point to anything of value. Using an organic amount of PR and article directory links is still good SEO if you don’t over use it.

Links to Unstable or Constantly Changing Websites
Pages that are constantly making radical changes to their content are usually webspam sites that are doing it to post another lot of bogus links. If the links that point to you come from them, then your site will be painted with the same brush by Google and you will be penalized.

A lot of what used to be White Hat SEO is now either disputable or has become downright Black Hat in the eyes of Google. If you really want to be sure that your links aren’t working against you, contact Brian Hong at to talk about an analysis of your links to weed out the unnatural ones. Brian can also help you with coming up with the steady supply of fresh, informative content that will really benefit your SEO in the long term.



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