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Skeletons in the Closet: Inbound Links I Didn’t Ask For

by Joe Schaefer No Comments February 7, 2014

I know some websites that were slapped with two (2) Manual Link penalties last month, I’d like to introduce you to some inbound link red flags I’ve found. I know that the links I’m going to discuss are ‘nofollow’ links, but I believe they are a part of the problem — so much so that I dedicated a post to the issue. If you’re already dismissing what I’m saying, feel free to look at something else, otherwise saddle up partner and hear me out.

I Got Beef

I’m just an SEO guy who has a beef. I’ve been doing this a long time. I shed words like ‘guru’ and ‘expert’ like the skin of a snake long ago. But, marketing and SEO takes some intuition and gut reactions that come with experience. What follows is mine. Right or wrong, my SEO gut tells me these are serious red flags. To make matters worse, these are not links we actively sought. Now I’m cleaning messes that I shouldn’t have to.

The ruckus that these links caused are just like throwing a red flag in Google’s lap and screaming, “look how crappy my link building is!”

Defining the Problem: Part 1

These 2 websites have a crap-ton of new links! Yay! Not so fast Quick Draw McGraw:

→ We all know (or should) that link building/development/earning needs to look natural.

→ We all know (or should) that building too many links too quickly is bad SEO karma.

→ Well all know (or should) that building links at scale, especially bucket-loads of directory links and then bucket-loads of directory links from one single source, combined with the very same directory links from multiple sources isn’t just a red flag, it’s bad for SEO business.

Got all that? Let’s Get Granular

Defining the Problem: Part 2

Let’s just say I know a guy (a couple of ‘guys’ <- read as: websites I'm very familiar with) who suddenly had thousands of directory links pile on the inbound link bandwagon in the last quarter of 2013. Not only where these direct copies of directory links, but each directory had multiple listings for each client. Often, in mismatched categories for their niche. Multiply that by 50+ sources (exact copies of the same directory) and holy crapalicious, this looks unnatural. When the homepage now has a highly unbalanced number of links compared to the interior pages (and directory links to boot!), red flags fly high. One client had over ~2500 new directory links in 2013 from one directory source. Well, many directories, but it was essentially one directory that was then syndicated to tons of websites. You see, there’s a local directory that offers a ‘directory solution’ to website owners. In this case, it’s to major sites (think big name media). If you synidcate enough of these directories that simply dupe your directory content, suddenly websites have thousands of new directory links — all pointing to the homepage. Ugh. Talk about too many people standing in the canoe, look out because we’re now just polishing the silver on the Titanic.

Another client had ~1900 new directory links in 2013. Just looking at the link profile (as seen by Google; having downloaded the list of inbound links from Webmaster Tools), in the last three months of 2013 they each averaged over 60% of newly discovered links coming from these directory copies of copies of copies.

To make matters worse, many of the links were in mismatched categories and many more had incorrect data (addresses and phone numbers were way off). In fact, for some reason, search results within the directories were getting indexed. So now my client who is actually in niche #1 is also listed in niche #32, #4, #64, #8, and for the wrong cities (these are local directory listings). Things can’t look more unnatural.

Distilling the Problem: Taking into Account the ‘nofollow’ Tag

I get it — Google doesn’t use links that utilize the ‘nofollow’ to push value to your website and skyrocket it higher in the good ole’ rank machine.

I have done my due diligence in researching this, but for you, here’s some of what I’ve found:


From the above article (and I have more than just this one) by Frank Isca:

“Do NoFollow Links Really Offer NO SEO Value?

Well, not exactly. It’s a bit complicated but let’s dig into things. Google wants you to think there’s no value but many leading minds in the SEO field have shared their own thoughts and insights based on their own experiments and experiences.

Matt Cutts (the lead guy at Google who controls the knobs and dials on their search algorithm) has stated that their engine takes “nofollow” literally and does not “follow” the link at all. But studies reveal that Google does follow the link, but it does not index the linked-to page, unless it was in Google’s index already for other reasons (such as other, DoFollow links that point to the page). This is an important piece of the equation that should be noted.

Another thing we know in this modern era of SEO, post-Penguin update, is that link diversity is key. This means diversity in the websites that are linking to you, diversity in the link text used for these links and diversity in the types of links in your overall inbound link portfolio. Think about it, wouldn’t it look a little suspicious if ALL your site’s inbound links were DoFollow links? This isn’t natural since the large majority of links from social media sites for example are NoFollow links and a percentage of website’s who pass on links are default NoFollow links. The point is a healthy mix of NoFollow links among your treasured DoFollow links is a good thing and they shouldn’t be removed unless you’re confident they’re low quality links that could harm your site.

It’s also true that NoFollow links are likely to help you attract DoFollow links which based on the fine print in Cutts’ definition of NoFollow links, could increase the value of the NoFollow links that are pointing to the same web page.” ~ Frank Isca

Wrap it Up: I’ll Take It

The issues:

→ Syndicated directory links on a bigger scale are links we didn’t ask for

→ Syndicated directory links on a bigger scale are crushing link diversity

→ Syndicated directory links on a bigger scale are sending thousands of the same anchor text signals

→ Syndicated directory links on a bigger scale are swallowing a huge chunk of the inbound link profile pie, and in my opinion, causing red flags. It suddenly went from a pie eating contest to a barf fest.

Just Admit It:

I am in no way saying that these links alone caused a Manual Penalty. I know there is still some house cleaning to do. My point is:

→ We didn’t ask for these thousands of directory links
→ I believe (and comment below if you disagree) ‘nofollow’ links can cause red flags (when they overpower all other link sources)
→ I believe that this influx of unwanted links sent up red flags and just begged for Google to take a closer look

I could be wrong. I don’t think I am, but I would expect that if you disagree with me, you’d spark some conversation below.

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