Within the past couple of weeks Google made an algorithm adjustment that caused dramatic swings for some, and much more moderate swings for others. I have a few associates who had some very high ranking sites for some competitive search terms who have really been hit hard. The common denominator seems to be that they had a good number of site-wide links on large, high PR sites.
What is a site-wide link? Quite simply its having a link on every (or virtually every) web pages within a site. While small “brochure” style sites might have 5 to 10 to even 50 pages indexed in the major search engines, larger-scale sites with high PRs often have hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of pages indexed. By obtaining a site-wide link on a related site, you can get a link pointing to your site on every page – or potentially hundreds or thousands of inbound links from one site. Often a fee is involved, and typically the link addition process is managed via a database or include file, so don’t worry that some schmuck is actually manually editing that many pages!
I don’t like site-wide links. I have very few, if really any pointing to any sites that I manage. The few there are relate and are appropriately handled, and on sites that have about a dozen or less pages indexed, so its a fairly safe to say I’m not participating in this tactic.
Why not? Why are they bad? Well once again go back to the search engine’s perspective. When someone writes a good piece of content that naturally links to another site with good related content that shows the search engine that the other site has some credibility and deals with the given topic. By having a link on every single page its clear that the link is no longer the result of being mentioned as part of a high-quality content piece, and thus should not be weighted in the same way.
In the past, the may have been weighted equally or close to equally as “good” high-quality links from content articles. However, I’ll always stand by my principal that I’m not going to out-think Google’s dozen of PhDs in the long-run, so I won’t even bother to use any tactic that trys to exploit a weakness in their search engine, since it’ll just be addressed in a manner of time.
Instead, having a great site with lots of content and having related sites link to you when indeed your site offers something of benefit to the visitors on their site in a natural way usually yields great results. In fact, I’d say that my biggest role as an SEO is simply helping my clients make their sites better sites – more content, laid out better, more user-friendly, search-engine friendly code, use of style sheets and include pages, more targeted content, general internet marketing, etc. I don’t spend my days trying to analyze is a 3.2% keyword density is better than a 3.5% density – because as soon as you figure this out it will just change anyways.
If you go after optimizing FOR the search engines’ algorithms, you’ll always be at the mercy of the search engines algorithms. If, instead, you optimize to be a good, quality site such as those they are trying to find, you’ll remain steady at the top of the rankings as they tweak their algorithm to find these kinds of sites and weed out the others.
So back to the beginning of this post… It appears as though those depending largely on site-wide links have seen their sites drop in some cases dramatically in Google in the past couple of weeks. Once again, each time you do something for the algorithm and not for the purpose or objective the algorithm exists for, well… you take a huge risk. Both thankfully and as expected my sites have not been adversely effected, and in fact more than half of my clients are on pace for having their best month to date! (toot toot on my horn here…)
The moral of the story is to be very, very skeptical and cautious regarding site-wide links as part of your SEO campaign, especially when large fees are involved. Perhaps if the actual traffic from the link makes sense, then go for it – but if its SE rankings are the sole benefit you expect than please think twice.
Update: Aaron Wall just posted a great article about the most recent Google update. Well worth a read.