Linking Best Practices: Beware of Bad Neighborhoods

Get 1,000+ directory submissions for $50! Guaranteed results! Buy links for your website!

To a new website owner, that kind of offer can seem irresistible. The idea of all those submissions, all that potential website traffic, and all that potential new business, for a relatively low price, can sound like a great deal. But what price is your website paying in the long run?

I’ve talked before about the important role link building plays in getting increased Web traffic. Links to your site act like endorsements in the eyes of the search engines. They help validate your website content – leading to high rankings.

Submitting your site to trusted and relevant directories (human-edited catalogs of websites) is one way to build those links. So it would seem that signing up for 1,000+ directory submissions would be a quick and easy way to start building lots of links right away. However, it’s important to be aware that there IS such a thing as a bad link.

My advice? Make this (from an article at your mantra: “My link sources must be relevant, consistent, reputable, and from the right link neighborhood.”

Right about now, you’re probably thinking, “Relevant, consistent, and reputable. Okay. That makes sense. But… What is a link neighborhood? What’s the difference between a good link and a bad link? What will a bad link do to my website?

Link Neighborhoods Defined

In the simplest terms, a link neighborhood is a group of related, complementary, or like-minded sites on the Internet, each linked to other relevant sites. They could be niche sites focused on health, finance, sports, pets, movies, etc. Pretty much any niche you can think of has its own neighborhood. For example, Early to Rise, The Warrior Forum, and CopyBlogger would all be part of the same link neighborhood because they are related to Internet marketing and copywriting in some way.

The best link-building practice is to link to and acquire links from your own neighborhood. Niche directories, respected organizations, and well-known bloggers in your field are all examples of good links that will associate your site with good link neighborhoods. For instance, if you ran a women’s health website, a link from the National Breast Cancer Foundation website to your site would be a great one! Acquiring that link would be the first step in building a pattern of good linking behavior. The search engines would then associate your site with an outstanding and relevant link neighborhood.

Similarly, if ETR, The Warrior Forum, and CopyBlogger linked to each other, it would have a positive effect on their search engine rankings.

The Wrong Side of the Tracks

Now that you understand what a good link neighborhood is, you can see that almost anything that doesn’t fit within those guidelines would qualify as a bad link neighborhood – particularly those 1,000+ no-name directories.

Bad link neighborhoods typically include:

  • Sites penalized or banned by the search engines (typically any site not following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines)
  • Sites hosting spyware
  • Sites promoting phishing
  • Link farms and free-for-all links pages (large pages full of unrelated links)
  • Any site that offers no value or unique content to visitors and that could potentially be viewed as dangerous

Being linked to a website that isn’t related to your website would also put you in a bad neighborhood.

Google is notorious for being the harshest judge of bad links, and will punish your site for linking to, or being linked from, a bad link neighborhood

A number of sites in the real estate industry suffered severe drops in Google rankings in the past year due to bad link practices. It seems that real estate agents in several states were linking to each other – and, by doing so, built a large volume of links very quickly. But because real estate is such a localized industry, Google determined that an Arizona real estate agent linking to an agent in Connecticut didn’t provide any value to the Web user. That, combined with the sheer speed and volume of this reciprocal link tactic, set off a red flag at Google. This prompted them to fire a “shot across the bow” of those real estate sites – dropping their rankings.

If you have friends or colleagues who are linking to bad neighborhoods – or are acquiring links from free-for-all links pages – and they want to link with you as well, think twice. They might be on their way to getting penalized themselves. And you don’t want your site to be part of their bad link neighborhood.

If you’re a beginner, what I’m telling you today may sound alarming – especially if you’ve always heard that linking is good for search engine rankings. Don’t panic. Google and the other search engines aren’t going to penalize you for a couple of bad links you didn’t know about. They are typically looking for patterns of bad linking behavior: acquiring hundreds of links from unrelated spammy sites quickly.

The Takeaways

Let’s go back to our mantra: “My link sources must be relevant, consistent, reputable, and from the right link neighborhood.” With that in mind, follow these rules when starting a link-building effort…

  • Always be sure you are getting links from legitimate websites in your niche. If you run a website about stock investing, linking to sites about pet care won’t help your Google ranking. Instead, try to exchange links with other financial sites.
  • If you are offered a link from a website that requires you to link back to them, first verify that the website is relevant to your niche and is not participating in any bad link practices.
  • Resist the temptation to pay for thousands of directory submissions. There are only a handful of directories that are worth the trouble of submitting to, and one of them is Yahoo. Start there.

These link building best practices may seem like a lot of slow, hard work – especially when it looks like there’s an easy way out. But you will be rewarded for your hard work with increased search engine rankings, more targeted traffic, and, eventually, more sales.

[Ed. Note: Alexis Siemon is ETR’s resident Search Engine Marketing Specialist. .]

After graduating from Florida State University in 1997, Alexis got started in the golden age of the Internet marketing industry working agency-side where she performed everything from search engine optimization (SEO) to web analytics to media buying for several clients. She then took her expertise client-side managing SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) efforts, as well as other print and interactive marketing initiatives for companies in the financial and software industries.