Signs Of Linking Over-Optimization

With all the discussion about the soon to arrive over-optimized website penalty, what about links? Many people think of SEO as an on-site matter, even though SEO is also deeply related to external signals, such as the links that point at your site and they way they point at your site.

How much is too much?

As Barry Schwartz recently mentioned in Google Sending Warnings About “Artificial” Or “Unnatural” Links, “Google says this isn’t a fresh crackdown on link networks but rather a change from bad links being “silently distrusted” to being more vocal about this type of penalty.”

So, Google is now going to warn people about their link profiles, whereas before, they didn’t. It would be a wondrous thing if Google actually gave you the exact URLs on which the offensive links existed, but that’s not happening.

I understand why they do not, but it would be nice if they did, because many people running websites took over the job for a previous person, SEO firm, agency, etc., and have no idea about the linking history of the site they run.

It’s no fun to find out that site you are now in charge of was part of  a deep link network for five years before you were in charge. See When Link Rehabilitation Is A Viable Option.

If you are a link builder and have performed back link analysis for a client, you know how unpleasant it is to be the one to have to tell the client their site has a manipulated link profile. It’s especially difficult when they had no idea, and no clue as to who created those links, when, or how to get rid of them, or if they can.

But that’s exactly where we are. A great big pile of what do we do now?

I don’t envision I’m going to offer a link rehabilitation service, though it would be a great new niche for link builders to get into. The reason is because in most cases, there isn’t a lot you can do to remove the offending links. Often, the owners of the sites will not reply to emails or phone calls, nor will they want to remove the links because that’s a tacit admission that their service can no longer be trusted.

Pick A Number…

But let’s back up for a moment. Exactly what constitutes off-site over optimization of links?

We know blog network participation is one thing. Things get fuzzier when we look at specific metrics like anchor text or reciprocal links or sitewides or blog rolls etc. You can’t pick a fixed number and say that number is the tipping point for any given metric.

I’ve shown before that if you are looking at a specific vertical, like Bat Conservation societies, they often all link to each other out of a common courtesy and shared  mission. It isn’t about SEO.

Would you be surprised if you learned that there were 15 different organizations around the world that were devoted to that subject and all of them linked to each other? No, not all all. It’s quite natural in that particular case. But isn’t 90% reciprocity kind of spammy looking? Yes it is, if the vertical is online slots. But if the vertical is Bats, no, it isn’t.

Anchor text would seem to be an obvious target. Most people outside the SEO world really don’t fully understand its impact, what it does, why it matters, etc. And Google has mountains of historical data that show what a typical “normal” distribution of anchor text should look like across subject areas. I bet even now, with the Web approaching twenty years of age, the most common anchor text is still probably “Click here”.

So I would like to end this by starting this. What constitutes over-optimization of external inbound links? How would you measure it? What allowances and exceptions would you see as crucial? And at what point do you tell a client to go back and “undo” what’s been done, kill the site completely, or leave what links already exist alone and make changes moving forward?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Link Week