With the exception of my own, I don't spend a lot of time posting on forums these days. I'm too busy for that. But I do make it a point to scan the popular SEO and Marketing forums periodically to see what the trends are. I sometimes jump in and post, but not very often.
One trend that I'm seeing a lot of since Google deindexed some well known blog networks is people who think their sites have been penalized by Google for getting links from these "bad" places. It may sound reasonable to believe that getting links from link farms, blog networks or other sites Google doesn't approve of would cause Google to penalize your ranking in the search engine results. But that almost never happens.
Think about it: if it was possible for the links coming into your site to cause a penalty and decrease your ranking, then the web would be little more than a never-ending war being waged by webmasters getting spammy links aimed at their competition. Google is far from a perfect search engine, but the people who engineer it aren't stupid, either. So Google's algorithm works by rewarding you for what they consider "quality" links and just ignoring the links that fall outside of that.
So what qualifies as a "quality" link? That's the magic question, isn't it? I can tell you from my own analysis of the search results that Google sets the quality bar on links really low. I see sites ranked on the power of obvious link manipulation, link farms, mass directory submissions, mass article submissions, blog network links, profile links, social bookmarking, you name it. Links that are easily gained through software automation.
Does that mean that Google doesn't reward you more for higher quality links? Not at all! The more links you can get from pages that are related to the content being linked to, pages that themselves also have a solid link profile, the better. Google will reward you with better rankings from better links. But they count the low quality stuff, too.
If what I'm saying is true, then why are there so many webmasters who got links from these now-deindexed networks claiming that their sites have been penalized by Google? Most of the time this is the story:
1. A webmaster got links from a blog network to his site, and his site was ranking well because of those links.
2. Google manually deindexed the blog network, meaning that all of the links the webmaster's site had from that network are no longer counted.
3. Having fewer links being counted, the webmaster's site naturally loses its rankings.
In the eyes of a paranoid webmaster who fears Google's every move, the site has been "penalized." But it hasn't, it's just lost the "link juice" from those pages that are now deindexed, and thereby lost its ranking.
There is a caveat here, though. Some webmasters' own sites got deindexed (or genuinely penalized) in the aftermath of the deindexing of the blog networks. But that doesn't happen because they got links from those networks. That could happen if their site got reviewed because it was getting links from a now-deindexed blog network, and the site was either of low-quality or was using deceptive or spammy search engine optimization tactics on the site itself.
You see, Google won't penalize you for the links that come into your site, but it very well might penalize you for using any shifty on-page SEO or for low quality content. It's the price of fame. When your site rises in the rankings it's much more likely to be reviewed by a human being who might penalize you for bad practices.
What's happening is people are confusing causalities. A webmaster sees their site rankings fall, or the site gets penalized or even deindexed, and they immediately attribute it to the link network they were getting links from. But although the link network may have been what brought the site to Google's attention, it isn't the links themselves that cause the negative action to be taken. As I said before, if that was the case then the web would quickly degenerate into little more than a giant spam-link war between competing site owners.
I've seen this happen with the blog networks that got deindexed, but I've also heard it from my own customers who use my link networks to rank their sites. The link networks do their job and get them good rankings, and next thing you know their site is penalized or deindexed! But again, it wasn't the links or the network that caused the penalty. Every time I've looked into a customer's site who made that claim, inevitably the site either has low-quality content or is using some spammy or deceptive on-page SEO. That means the site got manually reviewed and didn't pass the test.
That's why I advocate using high quality content on your site, and using only squeaky-clean on-page optimization practices. Once that's in place, then get lots and lots of links. Because yes, it's still all about the links.
Some people are posting comments saying they disagree because they've gotten this message from Google in their Webmaster Tools account:
Dear site owner or webmaster of (website)
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.
If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.
If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team
Does this mean that Google will actually penalize you for your links? No. It means they suspect you have links they don't like and hope you'll do something about it. Notice the vague language of the message. Your site's pages may be doing something they don't like.
I'll emphasize this one more time: if Google actually started taking action based on the links coming into your site, they would be starting a spam-link war. They know better than to do that.
Please post your thoughts and questions in a comment below.
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