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What Is a Link Wheel/Network/Farm?
My work wife coworker Hannah told me today that over 12 percent of Blue Corona’s traffic last month came from people either looking for Google penalty recovery services or looking to find out if they were being penalized by the search engine.
If I put on my “think like an owner” hat, I totally understand the point of Google penalties. In order to create the best user experience, Google only wants to show its users the best websites. By updating its algorithms and dosing out penalties, it eliminates much of the spam and mumbo-jumbo that makes up the big ol’ Interwebz.
But on the other hand, most of the clients that come to us with penalties are small business owners who “don’t know any better.” I’m not saying that they’re not smart—they are—but their focus is on running their business, as it should be. Not on keeping up to date with Google’s latest policies and Webmaster Guidelines.
And unfortunately, these small businesses feel the pain of a Google penalty in a big way—especially if they don’t notice the drop in traffic in rankings right away and don’t take fast action to get the penalty lifted. Imagine losing six month’s worth of Web leads and sales. Ouchkabibble.
So even though 12 percent of our traffic comes from people who have likely already been penalized, I’d much rather be the girl helping you prevent a penalty than the girl helping you recover from a penalty.
The First Step Is Awareness
In order to help you prevent a penalty, it helps to be aware of what types of online activities can get your website penalized. But rather than paraphrase Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, I think it’d be more helpful to start with one of the big penalty culprits I see—participating in link wheels and link networks.
A Little Inbound Link History
In the early days of search engine optimization (SEO), a lot of focus was put on getting inbound links (ideally, with keyword-rich anchor text) pointed back to your site. The search engines basically considered these links “votes” for your website and would consequently rank it higher.
Of course, it didn’t take long for people to abuse the idea of getting inbound links to improve their rankings. Not all inbound links are created equal, after all. Consider the two following scenarios:
- You own an HVAC company and you get a lot of customers asking you questions about whether whole house humidifiers are effective. You decide to write a blog post on your website called “Do Whole House Humidifiers Work?”. Not only does this attract organic search engine traffic from people Googling this question, but Aprilaire—a whole house humidifier manufacturer—decides to reference it in one of their blog posts. They also share it on their Facebook and Twitter pages, which results in even more shares from Aprilaire’s fan base.
- You own an HVAC company and your buddy told you that in order to rank better in search engines, you need a lot of links to your website. You search “how to get more links” and find a link network where links cost $5 a piece. You buy 20 of them.
The first scenario represents legitimate, inbound links. Google sees you as an authority on the subject because a relevant and authoritative website like Aprilaire is linking to you.
The second scenario represents an attempt to scam search engines into thinking your site is actually more authoritative than it is. First, paying for links is a giant no-no (“Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.”). Second, having links to your website from low quality, irrelevant sites can trigger the spam-catchers over at Google to further investigate your site and reprimand you accordingly.
Link Wheels and Networks Defined
Not all linking schemes are super transparent—which is why some of them still work in the short run. Search Engine Watch defines three different types of linking schemes that black hat SEOers have developed in order to “trick” the search engines into thinking the links are natural:
- 1. Reciprocal linking, where two sites agree to link to each other rather than purchasing the links
- Link networks, according to Search Engine Watch, “these are executed via a network of controlled sites, registered and hosted separately to present a non-unified relationship. Links can quickly be added to all point to a given site.”
- Triangle linking, ex: Site A links to Site B if Site B will link to Site C, which is usually controlled by Site A.
In order to help determine if the links are truly natural or not, Google looks at:
- Your anchor text (identical anchor text on a lot of links can look spammy)
- The relevance between the page the link points to and the page its linked on (what does your HVAC company have to do with this website on Alaska tourism?)
- How quickly the links are accrued (a lot of links in a short span of time = not good)
- How many unique domains point to your site (if all of your links are from the same few domains, that’s not good)
The point is, Google has pretty advanced ways of determining whether or not you’re participating in a link wheel or network.
In response to a Search Engine Land article on the increase of link violation warnings in Google Web Master Tools, a Google spokesperson said that,
“It is true that actions on link networks have been more visible lately, but there’s an important disclaimer to that. Google has been able to trace and take action on many types of link networks; we recently decided to make that action more visible. In the past, some links might have been silently distrusted or might not have carried as much weight. More recently, we’ve been surfacing the fact that those links aren’t helping to improve ranking or indexing.”
Conclusion: Link Wheels and Networks Aren’t Worth It.
Seriously. I really don’t want to help you recover from a penalty. I’d rather help you get links the natural way, by writing sharable content on your website that will help you attract new customers and create an overall better website user experience for your current customers.
But realistically, you can contact me either way. Blue Corona offers both Google penalty recovery services for those who got burned and content marketing services for those looking to play by the rules. Give us a call or fill out the form below:
About The Author: Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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