Today, I read an article about a Michigan firm trying to launch yet another SEO software aimed at boosting rankings of sites. The software’s apparent purpose is to drive an automated link exchange system.
It’s been common knowledge for some time now among SEO professionals that link exchange programs, link farms, and FFA’s (free for all links) are among the practices discouraged by the major search engines. There are countless posts in numerous blogs about site owners who employed link farms, FFA’s, and link exchange programs only to watch their sites disappear from the search engine results. Matt Cutts, Google spokesperson for everything SEO, clearly warns people about automated programs to get links, citing it as one of the first things to look for in terms of bad practices that result in poor rankings or exclusion from Google’s index.
To be sure, the number and value of links pointing to your site is one of about 100 things that Google looks at to determine the value of a site and where it should rank in comparison to others. However, if everything else is not optimized as well, linking is not going to suddenly rocket you to the top of the search engine results.
Nonetheless, let’s talk about linking for a moment. Google evaluates the number and value of the links pointing to your site. If you have links from high-value, high-traffic, highly trusted sites (e.g., cnn.com), these links can strongly affect your site’s ranking in the search results. However, such links are obviously hard to come by. Ideally, over time, you gradually cultivate links from a number of sites with similar content to yours. Content relevancy is important. (If a site for an auto dealer is pointing to the site of a bariatric surgeon, there’s not much relevancy or shared subject matter.)
Beyond sharing similar content, ideally your site’s inbound links should not be merely coming from a page of links on someone else’s site, regardless of whether that site has similar content. The highest value links are those that come from other trusted, relevant sites and are embedded contextually, that is, in the copy of the other site.
Apparently, the software program I mentioned at the start of this post lets users select up to 15 content-relevant categories in which to include your website. The program then trades links with other participating sites that have selected like categories. At first this may sound good. Links from sites with relevant content, right? Well, there are two major problems.
First, the software apparently works by installing and periodically updating a link page on participating sites. A page filled with links is merely that. Although it may reside on a site with similar content, the fact that it is merely an ever-growing page of links will ultimately devalue the site’s worth in the eyes of search engines.
Second, all of the links are reciprocal. That is, you link to me, I link to you. The software company’s site says, “Anyone who has been marketing on the internet knows that reciprocal links are simply a must have tool in your marketing arsenal.” Truth is, Google and the other major search engines place little importance on reciprocal links. A few are okay when appropriate, but if a large percentage of your inbound links are reciprocal, it’s a pretty clear indication to the search engines that you’ve engaged in merely exchanging links to boost your rankings. The major search engines’ crawlers are sophisticated; they can smell this quite easily. It’s not like getting a whiff of something in the kitchen and wondering what it is; it’s like being three feet from a skunk. An abundance of reciprocal links, regardless of content similarity between sites, will likely cause your site’s pages to be placed in Google’s supplemental index, which does index web pages, but does not show such pages in the primary search results. The effect is the same as if the pages weren’t even there. In a separate post, Matt Cutts talks about reciprocal links both as a cause for being listed in the supplemental directory and as a cause for a site being crawled less often or less deeply by Google.
But, hey, the software’s only $29.95 per month. If it doesn’t work, you’re not out that much money. That monthly fee will likely be the least costly of your mistakes. If your pages are placed in the supplemental index and don’t show up in the search results, you’ll be missing a lot of opportunities for sales and exposure. If, for some reason, your linking practices are egregious, you may be delisted from the search engines. If that happens, you can clean up your act, stop the bad practices, and appeal to the search engines to get reinstated. This is a long process, and reinstatement is not automatic. If you are reinstated, you will certainly be reduced in the index until such time as you earn the trust of the search engine. This is especially true with Google, where new and reformed sites seem to spend at least 6-12 months in the Google “trust box.”
The lesson? Be careful about what you do regarding SEO. Be especially wary of those promising fantastic rankings in a short time for a little amount of money. There is no quick fix. If it sounds too good to be true—well, you know the rest.