Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Staying Out of Bad Neighborhoods
Part of the competition that exists for high rankings on search engine results pages includes web site owners and webmasters that are willing to cut corners and manipulate the search engines to reach their objectives. Defined as black hat techniques, these practices are targeted by the search engines and penalized when discovered. The penalties range in severity from demotion of a ranking to the stock market equivalent of a de-listing where the site is taken out of the search engines’ index.
Unfortunately, the spiders that crawl websites cannot delineate between the intentional and accidental implementation of practices that cross the line into perceived manipulation. One of those manipulative practices is the linking of a website into what Google refers as “bad neighborhoods”. These bad neighborhoods/websites are typically spammers or link farms that may be tempting due to the traffic they tend to generate. These spam sights started popping up after Google incorporated link popularity into its algorithm to count links as “votes” from relevant sites toward ranking websites.
With the weight given to link popularity, it is now one of the main focal points for search engine marketing. Well aware of the practice, Google and the rest of the search engines will penalize a site if it is deemed that the site is linking to a “bad neighborhood”. Google is pretty clear on this in their guidelines saying, “Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.” Fortunately, this guilt by association only goes so far. Sites are not penalized for inbound links from these same neighborhoods.
It can be difficult to determine whether a site or blogger you may want to link to has been penalized by the search engines at a glance but a download of the Google toolbar can reveal a site’s PageRank and whether it’s been removed from their index. On the toolbar, the sliding scale will show whether a site is indexed by the presence of a green bar which measures the site’s PageRank. Even the tiniest sliver of green in the scale means that the site is indexed and not on Google’s hit list.
The absence of any green in the scale is not irrefutable evidence that the site has been penalized but linking to it is going to represent more risk than reward for your site. The likelihood that this type of site has been penalized is much greater, however, and linking to it should be avoided.
Everyone has wandered into a bad neighborhood by accident at one time or another, and Google realizes that the same thing can happen on the internet. In another quote from their guidelines they state, “Also, be assured that we’re not looking to penalize folks for a ‘bad’ link here and there. Rather, our algorithms are tuned to look for patterns of ‘egregious’ linking behavior - both on individual sites and in the aggregate.”
The occasional mis-step is going to happen but, as in life, being aware of the areas that can be troublesome can keep you out of trouble and save you a lot of grief. The same can be said about the bad neighborhoods on the internet.
There is no need to be afraid of linking to sites whose scale shows only a tiny sliver of green on their scale. These sites have not been penalized, and their links may grow in value and popularity. However, do make sure that you closely monitor these kind of links to ascertain that at some point they do not sustain a penalty once you have linked up to them from your links page.
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