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Are Cross-Links About to Get Google-Punched?

Uh oh. Remember how I noticed the murmurs about content farm penalties back in January 2011, and got scoffed at for suggesting Google was going to be unrolling domain-based rather than single-page-based penalties?

Weeeell, I don’t like the sound of this. Something in seoMOZ’s whiteboard Friday vid this week caught my eye:

Here’s the part that concerns me:

We’ve particularly seen this in the past few weeks with Google cracking down on linked networks, low quality links. They announced that they are going to be devaluing more administrative links. By administrative links, we mean sites that are related to each other. So if you own a network of 50 sites and you’re interlinking all of those to each other, the value that you are getting is over-optimizing. They are going to be diminished, and you could face a penalty. If you do it too much, you could face de-indexing, like we’ve seen Google do with the linking indexes.

I cannot find the source for this: where has Google announced it’s about to crack down on administrative links (cross-links between our own content on different sites)? But actually, it makes sense that Google would treat links we build to our own content as less value-passing than links other people have built, since self-promotion is not the same as third party recommendation. Furthermore, since Google (and Bing) define webspam as artificial practices designed to boost ranking in search engines, it will crack down on any linking practices — such as building a whole bunch of websites and cross-linking them to simulate backlinks — that are designed primarily for that purpose.

Once again, there’s one thing that worries me, and one thing that doesn’t.

I don’t care if Google decides to treat those links as less important. Many people think that Google ignoring signals it used to give more weight to is a penalty, and the effect can be catastrophic if you relied too heavily on them.

But there is a difference between “Google starts ignoring X…” and “Google starts penalizing X.” I may do things that Google pretty much ignores: they could be of benefit to my readers. What I try to avoid is things that I believe Google may actively penalize. (For example, since Google is on the record for penalizing paid links, I do not use Redgage, even though it may be perfectly safe).

I’m not saying I’m going to stop cross-linking my sites, articles and content: that would be a silly knee-jerk reaction, and I’m still not entirely sure what Cyrus Shepherd’s possible “administrative link penalties” will entail. After all, prior to Panda, the punditsphere was full of people predicting the demise of “Content Farms,” expecting Google to create some sort of blacklist of user-generated sites like Blekko did, and just penalizing those. In fact, Panda worked in an entirely different way. So we don’t yet know what form Google’s announcement will take when it’s implemented. (WHERE is this announcement?) But it’s time to brace, just in case.

To avoid possible algorithm tweaks in the future, it may be time to reconsider whether our cross-links are for our readers’ benefit or for ours.

If this “administrative linking” algorithm adjustment materializes and is confirmed from reputable sources, I’m going to watch my author-linked content closely compared to my alternate pen name content which is not linked to my real name, “Greekgeek” pseudonym or Google profile. It will be interesting to see whether the network of blogs, articles and content Google associates under my authorname drops in rankings while the stuff associated with no particular author name (and thus missing the authorship benefit) stays unchanged.

I also want to leave you with a word of wisdom picked up from a guest interview at seoBook (I do not necessarily endorse most of what Aaron Wall says, and I am a “useful/exceptional content and on-page optimization” advocate rather than a professional backlinker like Jim Boykin, but still):

SeoBook: Google recently nailed a bunch of lower quality bulk link networks. Were you surprised these lasted as long as they did? Was the fact that they worked at all an indication of the sustained importance of links?

Boykin: Well…surprised…no… filtering out networks is something that’s always going to happen….once something gets too big, or too popular, or too talked about…then it’s in danger of being burned… the popular “short cuts” of today are the popular penalized networks of tomorrow.

Emphasis mine. They’re talking about BuildMyRank and other link/blog networks getting deep sixed by a recent Google penalty, but the wider message is a Google variant of Tall Poppy Syndrome: various tricks will work for a while to draw traffic, boost lensrank, or succeed in any sphere where success is measured by a computer algorithm, but once a particular strategy for gaming the system becomes popular, then, sooner or later, the algorithm maker will notice and attempt to thwart the tactic. (And the collateral damage is sometimes more devastating to innocent bystanders than those the algorithm tweak is meant to thwart.)


  1. Nathalie Roy says:

    Well this time you did convince me to remove my Redgage backlinks. After all, they won’t be missed (they are low quality and not really on topic) and as you say why take a chance. I can always add them back once it is confirm what direction Google is taking. I’ll keep using Redgage tho, because it’s great for photos!

  2. lisadh says:

    Trying to figure out what Google likes and doesn’t like is such a headache! A site usually needs some decent SEO just to get found and get the “natural” link juice flowing.

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