Links: the good, the bad, and the ugly—Part 2 (SEM 101)

In the previous blog post, Links: the good, the bad, and the ugly—Part 1, I discussed that links are de facto endorsements of the site linked to, that the relevance of the linked to page to the one linking to it is critical for determining the value of the link, and how the quantity vs. quality argument shapes up regarding links. I also defined what is good and bad about each. So let’s pick up where I left off last time in our discussion of the good and bad of linking, and touch on when things can turn ugly.

Neighborhoods

Search engines do recognize “bad neighborhoods” on the Web. These are places (such as dedicated domains or even IP ranges) that do nothing but set up meaningless link exchanges. Bad neighborhood sites often “sell” you, the webmaster, the opportunity to have them link dozens, hundreds, sometimes even more, of their sites to yours, all based on the assertion that this will boost your page rank in search. However, those referrer sites are usually nothing more than junk pages, consisting of endless lists of outbound links to any subject under the sun, void of any meaningful content. To make matters worse, many of the customers of such services tend to be shady enterprises, such as those associated with adult entertainment, counterfeit goods, gambling, fake pharmaceuticals, and pirated software. That’s bad from the perspective of search engines.

Search engines can identify these link exchange sites for what they are – fraudulent attempts to elevate the ranking status of sites they link to. Actively associating with these bad neighborhood characters, who are notoriously untrustworthy resources, reflects badly upon your site. These are the folks who, once discovered for who they are, are typically penalized or even banned from search engine indexes. I said they were bad!

Luckily, search engines can also identify worthy sites as well, and as a result, they can distinguish between endorsements by thugs versus trusted friends. These trusted sites are identified by features such as:

  • The quality and quantity of their inbound and outbound links (especially those built over time to other, similarly respected sites)
  • The quality and quantity of their original content, as well as its consistency over time
  • The relative content refresh rate and the age of the site (older sites are considered more reliable because they have a history of consistent performance over time)

Search engines deem the best of these as authority sites, and the valued reputation they earn over time is reflected outward with their outbound links. You need good inbound links to set your site apart as a trusted, authority site. And by linking to other, relevant authority sites, you are sharing that goodness with others. It’s a virtuous circle. Again, when sites provide value to the customer, it’s good.

Legit vs. illegit

It’s clear that links to and from other trusted sites for the benefit of the customer are legitimate and good.

Unfortunately, some sites try to game the system by playing with how their inbound links are achieved. Some opt to use a lot of reciprocal links back and forth between sites, but if they aren’t relevant, they aren’t of much value (unless the inbound link is from an authority site, which carries the influential weight of that site to yours. But then again, most authority sites don’t indiscriminately exchange reciprocal links; that’s not how they became authority sites in the first place).

Some link exchanges try to mask their manipulation techniques by using link triangulation, where site A links to site B, which in turn links to site C, who links back to site A. They don’t appear to be reciprocal, but in fact they are. Search engines see this. And if these links are not relevant or from authority sites, they are low value links for page rank consideration.

Other unsuccessful techniques are used by owners of multiple domains using outbound links from multiple junk domains to boost the status of his or her primary domain. Search engines are smart enough to recognize this behavior, and its effect is discounted when identified.

Worst of all is a lame, old trick. Some webmasters think they can get more link credit by adding many more links to their pages, but to get around the fact that they are irrelevant to the theme of their page and thus useless to their customers, they hide them with invisible text (rendered the same color as the background). This is quickly detected by search engines for what it is: badness.

Sabotage?

You control the outbound links from your site, but what about inbound links? They are, by their nature, supposed to be out of your control. We often get questions in our forums from webmasters asking how bad inbound links affect ranking. Invariably, the conversation steers to the same theoretical question, “What if my competitor tries to affect my rank by aiming bad inbound links to my site?”

The truth is that getting bad links happens to great sites. We know this happens. In fact, we’ve never seen a decently ranking site that doesn’t have a few (or more) bad inbound links. We take the approach that bad inbound links won’t adversely affect your site ranking unless most or all of your inbound links are from bad sites.

Consider this as well: perhaps the reputation of the site linking to you is bad, but the content on the actual linking page is relevant to the page on your site. This could possibly be a decent inbound link—not as good as one from an authority site, but it might give you a little link goodness.

When it comes to inbound links, just remember this: zero inbound links are better than all bad inbound links. But if you have many good, relevant inbound links from respected sites, a few bad links won’t count against you (but they won’t help you, either).

Repercussions

Things can get ugly when illegitimate linking schemes are used in a attempt to fraudulently promote a site higher up in page rank. Search engines detect this behavior and will, at best, ignore the attempt to manipulate the ranking. If the effort is seriously bad, penalties can ensue, demoting a site below its natural page rank position. If the effort is especially egregious, the site can be banned outright from the search engine index. And given that all of this misguided effort was made in a attempt to get more users to find a site through search, this is a terrible, although not surprising, result.

You can always ask the webmaster of a bad site linking to you to remove their links to you, and if you do participate in link exchanges, you can always remove yourself. If you stay relevant, work on higher quality links, and avoid bad neighborhood, your efforts will pay off. To try to game the system is to risk achieving the exact opposite of your goal, and that can be bad, or even downright ugly.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to post them in our SEM forum. Look for another article soon!

– Rick DeJarnette, Bing Webmaster Center

Join the conversation

43 comments
  1. himanshu_swaraj

    Thats really a useful article regarding Links.. hopefully this will help may webmasters.

  2. Saphy

    Great tips. I guess the the search engines end up picking up on "link footprints" so don't always use the same path

  3. pixelpeople

    Link farms are quite esasy to discover, but what about good directories out there, how do you treat them? it's logical that people want to invest in some internet marketing strategies, directories are a good way to do that.

  4. Anonymous

    I too would like to know how Bing views inbound links from free directories.

    Some might view multiple directory submission as an attempt at gaming the system by submitting to dozens of free web directories, yet on the other hand, decent directories do practice manual site evaluations, insuring that the suggested site conforms to the standards of the particular directory.

    Additionally, free directories are in fact used by many visitors for their intended purpose; therefor, even if they are the sole source of a site's inbound links, would not, I assume hurt the rankings of a site.

    Some clarification on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Jhumon

    did bing supported vbseo sitemap? I submitted my web 15 days ago. but still no good search result. I think bing should update support abot vbseo sitemap.    

  6. Anonymous

    When I was starting out on the internet, I fell for reciprical link services which would instantly point over 900 sites to yours. This looked good. However, after months, I would see that my page rank has fallen by a value of one.

    I stoped. But the unfortunate things is that offerers of this service keep on coming up with new tricks such as triangulation which up to now I thought was a good trick in preventing any footmarks.

    With this post, I have known the bad and ugly in linking and I will surely avoid it.

    May be my question is bout links from social bookmarking sites. How are they viewed by search engines? I find that many social sites are meaningless.

  7. jackin

    It's a fantastic article and one sentence i like the most is "zero inbound links are better than all bad inbound links" it is really truth because i have seen that bad inbound links have no value.

  8. Anonymous

    This is an excellent post and will help to all SEO's..

    Thanks for sharing…

  9. Anonymous

    Great article about Link Building. 5+

  10. Anonymous

    Excellent post!

    Just wondering: For some of my websites I do exchange links with other sites. But I am very picky and careful who I trade links with. You see, I want the links to be to quality sites that my users would find useful.

    With that said I only will trade links quality sites that are complementary to mine. Trust me I delete hundreds of link exchange requests weekly and only accept a couple a month at most.

    So does the fact that the links are reciprocal but between two quailty sites help with getting indexed in the search engines.

    I'd love to hear your response, you are after all Bing.

    Thanks

    Eric B

  11. softsolutions

    I check bing everyday merely for its new looks. Interesting concept. Everyday new image… wonderful.

  12. Webmarketing Man

    Nice post,

    By the way, I feel worried about that "bad neighborhoods" when it comes to IP ranges level…

    what if I share my IP adress with lots of other websites on a shared hosting server. Could my website ranking be affected by other webmasters bad behaviours ?

    Do I realy have to select my web hosting company carefully ?

  13. Anonymous

    How could you  detect illegitimate linking schemes? And speaking of "bad neighborhoods," do you mean all SEO should better get a dedicated IP?  

  14. Quality Directory

    I don't like link exchange, as it often gets one to link to certain sites that are inappropriate. Search engines are doing great job in detecting link schemes and penalizing those sites involved.

  15. Anonymous

    bing is a very poor search engine. For keywords that are relevant to my site you return just spam. EX: porn search etc…

  16. Blackpool UK

    fantastic article the bit about 0 inbound is very true :)

  17. awanhendra

    Older site is better in search engine positioning, It's not good for newbie site.. it's bad.

  18. panther45

    Very helpful again. Yes, I have been caught by paid links some time ago.

  19. eastwood19

    I agree. I was lead to a site that was a porn sign on.

    I unsuscribed asap.

  20. bootland

    Interesting reading, thanks for the share!

  21. fitnessdad70

    Great Info and well written.  I understand this article more than hours of reading googles boring pages

  22. Anonymous

    thanks for article very

  23. Anonymous

    thanks for article very

  24. Anonymous

    thanks for article very

  25. Anonymous

    hey nice post  Great article

  26. miles2go

    I think of making a online book for SEO with all these articles. :-)

  27. Shekhar Sahuc

    Thank you for tips.

    But why doesn't Bing recognize the new sites, even they are relevant?

  28. Anonymous

    Many thanks for this wealth of info. Small sites can do really well on google and yahoo! and struggle on bing, so please think about the "little people", too.

  29. darkhawk12

    first day trying to do seo for bing … lets try to find good links

  30. royhunters

    Thanks guys for a great search engine!

  31. Anonymous

    Great tutorial. All good advice we should be following!

  32. Anonymous

    I'm curious about the value of links from article marketing. On on hand there is (occasionally) a lot of relevant content in the articles. Any ideas of this is a worthwhile linking strategy?

  33. ronniedobbs

    this article is one of the best link building articles on the internet.  perfect for a new SEO to read.

  34. ronniedobbs

    this is a great link building article.  Some great basic tips and tricks to get you started.

  35. Zebra Entertainment and Events

    I understand about not falling for all those link submission places, but what about directories?  Are they still useful?

  36. dogwiz

    How to distinguish between a bad link farm vs an online directory. Are there any checks you can recommend.

    Thanks,

  37. niharraj

    Hey!

    Thanks for the valuable information on the Good & Bad about inbound links.

  38. HerbsMD

    I think bing's search algorithm effect on our sites very badly.

  39. angel_demirev

    Nicely said! I've been cracking down on spammers trying to get links from my site.

  40. eLinenStore.com

    Hello,

    My site is newly developed and I did the work myself.  Have network engineering background but not much in the way of code or development.  Learning curve has come fast but I am concened about my reciprocal links.  They are only to directory listings that we have appplied to post our company information.

    Are these types of links an issue if the receiving site is not based on the information from our site?  If so, how many reciprocal links are too many?

    Thank you,

    John

  41. limhoochon

    I definely benefit from this article.

  42. sudip_cal

    bing is yet to catch up

  43. Mark Kens

    Nice Post

Comments are closed.