01:14 – Can you damage your competitor’s site?
03:31 – What experiments showed
06:52 – Some action steps
10:50 – Pagerank defined
11:45 – Outbound links – good or bad?
15:20 – Action steps
17:16 – The concept of the fishbone post
19:23 – Do links have an effect even after they are removed?
23:41 – Quick recap
James S.: James Schramko here. Welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com. This is part three of a three-part series called Counterintuitive SEO Experiments Tune-Up Series. The whole point of this series is to find out what SEO experiments have been effective and then you can adjust your website so that you can gain better rankings in Google, and to do that, I brought along my special guest, James Reynolds from SEOPartner.com. Welcome back.
James R.: Hey James, good to be back.
James S.: So we’ve covered six experiments already in this series. If you haven’t listened to those, go back to part one and part two. You’ll find them on SuperFastBusiness.com. Look for Counterintuitive SEO Experiments Tune-Up Series or check out the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher.
For now though, let’s talk about negative SEO. This is a big, bad wolf, this one. There’s a lot of scaremongering going on. The whole point of course about negative SEO is that some people believe you could take down a competitor with malicious intent by sending them nasty links and sinking their ship. So does it actually work or is it something we don’t need to worry about?
James R.: Well, let’s dive in and discuss this, shall we? I think we’ve covered a little bit about sort of spam tactics in the previous episodes and talked about it from the point of view that if you do something dodgy yourself, then you could land yourself in trouble. The same applies to then doing something dodgy to competitors’ websites.
It has been talked about a lot. Is it possible to take down a competitor’s website by sending them dodgy links or doing something that’s not completely above board? This has been fueled I guess by testing also, but also by Google’s stance. They changed their positioning on a statement on one of their sites to say back in 2003, I think was when they first announced it. They said there’s nothing that you can do to harm the rankings of a competitor’s site. And then they updated that statement several years later to say there’s almost nothing you can do to harm your competitor’s website.
Obviously that fueled the fire that maybe if you were to send some dodgy links or do something like that, then you could take down a competitor’s site.
James S.: It’s quite easy to be caught up in someone else’s mess too. I notice when I look into the webmaster analytics section of Google, quite often you’ll see some website will scrape and put like thousands of links to your site. If they didn’t know about that site or they’re not doing it to a lot of other sites, there’s a chance that you would think that that might not be a good thing for your website.
James R.: Yeah, totally. And you can get caught up in that through such things as scraping. And maybe there wasn’t actually an intent there but you’ve got somehow embroiled in that whole scenario. So Google should be able to detect what is self-built manipulation, it’s something that the website owner has acted upon themselves, first is this other stuff, they should be able to detect that, the same way as they detect click fraud in AdWords, right?
You can’t just go and click on your competitor’s ads 100 times in a day. They won’t be charged for those 100 clicks. They know when those clicks are fraudulent and they know when they’re genuinely real. Google should be able to detect this. The result of the test is, though, that negative SEO is in fact a very real thing. This test was run by a brand called Tasty Placement, and what they did was set set up a website targeting the keyword “pool cleaning Houston”, local SEO term, and what they did was went out and bought, first of all, 45,000 comment links. I think they might have done this from Fiverr or somewhere similar like that, James. They’ve gone to those outsourcing sites and just found some dude who said they’ll build like…
“Negative SEO is in fact a very real thing.”
James S.: Common mistake.
James R.: Absolutely. It’s very easy to get tempted into that stuff especially when it’s so cheap. They spent $15 on 45,000 comment links. They then got some forum profile links, 7,000 of those, that cost them another $5. And then they bought some sidebar blog links on some pretty trashy blogs, which yield them another 4,000 links and that only cost $20. So they spent $40 on trying to blow up their own site. The result of this is the comment links didn’t really do very much. No real changes in rankings. The forum profile links in their case also didn’t really do very much. But as soon as they bought these side bar links on these trashy blogs, the site went from number two position straight down to number four position, I’m sorry, 14th position within the space of just a matter of days. It’s obvious that Google were detecting the low quality links and essentially degrading that website as a result of that.
James S.: So there’s no such thing as easy gained links en masse. I mentioned before, it’s a common mistake. Firstly, people think SEO means links.
James R.: Yup.
James S.: That seems a very common misconception. Secondly, those little Fiverr gigs might look super tempting. Wow, get all these links for that little. What have we got to lose? Well, your whole website, for starters, is really what’s at stake. It’s not worth taking that shortcut. If you’re going to pay the minimum possible, you might as well make a margin for things to go wrong because they probably will, because you’re often dealing with people who just set up robots, or don’t do anything at all, or they’re just using rubbish linking places, and it can hurt you.
I mean it makes sense to me that you could harm someone else’s site because all you need to do is pretty much pretend that you’re the site owner making really dodgy SEO choices.
James R.: Yeah, absolutely. I’m hopeful that none of our listeners would then get tempted into doing that, but it seems that it’s a real possibility that you could harm someone’s real estate by doing the exact things you should be avoiding yourself.
James S.: Definitely, you shouldn’t do this. This is absolutely not a strategy for success. You don’t focus on bringing others down. Just focus on making yourself better. Certainly, if someone were to get tanked and they could somehow trace it back to you, then you could very well open yourself up for some kind of legal jeopardy. I’m not sure if it’s been done or not but it’s just not a good use of energy. But what you need to do, and I’m sure there’s an action step here, is you need to be aware of who’s linking to you, and you need to be pretty quick to identify if you get suddenly 20,000 links from junkie forum profiles in your web master section. You’ll want to be disavowing those or letting Google know they’re not yours.
“You need to be aware of who’s linking to you.”
James R.: Yeah, absolutely. Monitoring your link profile to understand what’s working and the results of your own efforts but also understanding the results of anything that’s outside of your own efforts but also understanding the results of anything that’s outside of your control should be something you’re monitoring. We would take care of that for you at SEOPartner.com.
James S.: Well, it’s one thing you check for, isn’t it? You actually look, at using a whole bunch of different tools, you forensically look at what’s going on with the link profile and you’d be very quick to spot dodgy stuff.
James R.: Yeah, absolutely. And low quality links from bad neighborhoods and repetitive linking en masse are the main ones that tend to come up. And there’s ways to deal with that. If you have somehow developed that type of link profile, then it can be fixed. Through the process of identifying the websites, hopefully getting those bad links removed, or if that’s not a possibility, then you can disavow them through Google, and fingers crossed, they’ll then drop them out of their link analysis. So if you are able to identify the bad stuff and then deal with it, then you shouldn’t have a problem in the long term.
James S.: Yup. Perfect. You’ll also find stuff that you didn’t realize when you log in to your webmaster search console. So probably the first thing to do is go and log in to your webmaster tools in your search console and have a look at, in the search traffic section, have a look at links to your site and see what’s going on. When I did that last, I actually found I had nearly 18,000 links to one of my posts where I did an interview with a guy, someone linked to it across an entire forum. So generally, it could be good, it good be bad. You’ve just got to have a look at why that’s happening and then you can make a decision if you think it’s affecting your ability to rank for that.
And of course, if you keep producing good content, you keep getting good pages indexed, that’s actually one way to protect yourself a bit from being tanked, isn’t it? In my case, I got 7,000 pages indexed and I have quite a lot of links to my site over the many years, I’ve got a little bit more buffer against attack than someone who’s got 20 indexed pages and 100 links to their site. It wouldn’t take much to tip them over the edge.
James R.: Yeah, absolutely. You need to understand the full context of the site and the profile. I mean if you’ve got, like you said you’ve got many indexed pages, you’ve got thousands of genuine endorsed editorial links pointing to your site and then some dodgy stuff shows up, it’s going to be a tiny percentage in the overall profile, and it’s not going to be a big deal for Google. But if that’s just all the links that you’ve got to your site, then it’s pretty much going to indicate that you’re up to something you shouldn’t be and that will land you in trouble.
James S.: Perfect. So when I looked at where I was getting these links from, it turned out, I got linked to from a current issue of a major marketing publication and they have it on their homepage as a current issue and I imagine at some point it’ll change. So there you go.
So next up, let’s have a look at this one, outbound links. Do you lose pagerank and rankings? Now, we’re going to have to explain a few things here. Let’s start with pagerank because that’s an important one to understand. I’ll let you explain that.
What is pagerank?
James R.: So pagerank is a metric that Google measure to essentially determine how much they trust a particular page. It used to be a public metric. It’s now just a metric that Google use internally, but it’s effectively a metric from zero to 10. If they believe the page is trustworthy based on the quality of sites that mention and link to that page, it will be up towards the top of that scale. If it’s a low quality page with few links or none at all, then it will be down towards the bottom of that page.
Now the concept of pagerank is that it can be both given, so if you link out to another website, some of the pagerank that exists for your page will be passed to the page that you link out to, and also, it can be received. So if another page links to you, some of their page rank will be passed through to your webpage. Does that make sense, James?
James S.: Yup. That makes sense. And the point here about outbound links, this is when we link away from our site to somewhere else right?
James R.: Yeah, absolutely.
Are outbound links good or bad?
James S.: So where this post is on SuperFastBusiness, the Counterintuitive SEO Experiments Tune-Up Series, we link to SEOPartner.com. The question is, does that make my site worth less because I’m linking away to your site. That’s the question, isn’t it?
James R.: Yeah. And the conceived notion has always generally been that if you link out too often, that you’ll give away too much of your page rank because you’re linking to multiple places, which in turn will reduce the overall pagerank of your page.
James S.: Like a leaky bucket.
James R.: Exactly like a leaky bucket. Too many holes in it, too much pagerank will be spilling out, and what’s contained in the bucket will obviously reduce down, and that will result in lower rankings within the search results. So the test that was conducted here was to set up two pages, both optimized around the same keyword terms. First test page is linked out to credible resources, which in this case was like scientific journals, university studies, like trustworthy websites. And then the second pages didn’t link out at all. And then they just tested those within the search results to see which pages ranked above the others. The result here was pretty definitive. The pages linking out to other resources, so the ones effectively giving away their pagerank, were actually the ones that ranked above those pages that didn’t link out or give away any of their pagerank. Almost totally against.
“If you give, you receive.”
James S.: So actually, it’s true that if you give, you really do receive.
James R.: It’s exactly the case. It would make sense why Google would want to see this. If you’ve written a piece of content like we’re producing here on counterintuitive SEO tests and then we’ve mentioned somewhere in the post related resource that the reader or listener might want to go and explore then we should link out to it, we should reference it.
James S.: Yes. It’s great value for them to go and have a look at SEO Moz or any member of the SEO experts that you’ve mentioned in this series.
James R.: Exactly.
James S.: Rand Fishkin on Twitter.
James R.: Yup. Exactly.
James S.: When I’m thinking about it, the simple thing, what website comes up for a whole bunch of queries? It’s Wikipedia. And how many links must they be linking to away from Wikipedia? So if the leaky bucket was an issue, then they’d have a lot to lose.
James R.: Yeah. So we need to have, I guess, a little bit of context on this. I believe what is really at play here is this sort of an idea of a neighborhood. If you’re linking to credible resources that will help the user, give them good answers to what they’re inquisitive about, then that’s going to be a good thing. But if you link out to bad websites, that’s going to put you in the neighborhood with poor quality properties. It’s almost like you’re putting yourself in a bucket with other websites, so you always want to think about where you link to. And if you can link off to credible resources in the same way as they did in the test, that’s going to be helpful.
But if you link out to low quality resources, you’re essentially pairing yourself up with low quality websites and being put in the same sort of bucket as that. So link out where it’s relevant. Try and do it as much as it is appropriate for the content you’re producing and always link out to good quality sources that is going to help extend a good user experience or site visit.
James S.: Fantastic. So the action step is to go through your website. Have a look at where you’ve mentioned an expert or related industry or product and see if there’s an appropriate link that might be inserted, like as if they were going to contact you and say, “Hey, we noticed you mentioned our blender. Do you mind popping a link to our site?,” if you’re in a food market for example.
If you’re selling healthy meal recipes, there’s no harm in linking to a top-level blender, or food processor, or organic markets that you want to support. You can link to them if they’ve got a good reputation and they’re an industry leader and Google would think that that supports your website, then that’s a good thing to do. You’re associating yourself with your peer group.
James R.: Exactly, yeah. So a good example of this actually would be the SEO experiments post that I produced on SEOSherpa, and that has numerous mentions. Almost every 100 to 200 words, I’m linking out to someone’s opinion or to the test themselves, etc. And then what I did as soon as that post was published is everyone I’d link to, I didn’t wait for them to discover that I’d linked out to them. I actually went out and told them, I just sent them an email and said, “Hey, quick heads up, I mentioned you. Here is a link to the post.” What happened was those sort of thought leaders, experts who’ve been mentioned in the post started sharing it and within the space of a couple of weeks, it had been shared 3,000 plus times. It’s now at 3,600. It had been referenced and linked to more than 100 times, so it’s got more than 100 referring domains.
The only action I did really to promote it was just tell the people I’d mentioned in the post that they’re mentioned and they did all the promotion for me. So it’s a fantastic way to get additional exposure to your content as well.
James S.: Perfect. Now, I want to actually mention this as sort of a related thing is that it just reminded me of. I heard this from Perry Belcher, he was talking about fishbone posts. Do you know about this one?
James R.: Yeah, I think you’ve discussed this concept with me before but you’ll be far better to explain it than I would.
James S.: It’s a great idea. It’s where you get one post and you might say actually select outbound links that you want to curate. Let’s say you pick 10 things you want to curate. You did it with your SEO experiments post, actually. You’ve linked to 16 experiments. And what you do is you start off by talking about the experiments and then linking out to all the tests results and over time, you can actually replace each of the outbound links with a post on your own website as you go and run your own experiments or try and supercede the curated post, so you can then change the link to a link from outside to inside, or in this case, if you still want to pick up the SEO benefit, you can credit the original source and then put a little subnote, “We’ve also run our own experiments, which are over here,” and then link back to your own site.
It’s called a fishbone because it starts off like the ribcage. You don’t really need much of your own content to start this. So again, a restaurant one, you could put 10 recipes and link to 10 other websites so you can immediately start benefiting from these outbound links. And over time, you could add 10 of your own recipes to your website and then you can either replace or just enhance the original post with links to your own recipes as well. So now you’re basically creating a content plan for yourself that you can build up but still get the immediate benefit of the outbound links and the curated content. And when I say curated content, that’s just paraphrasing or rewording a description that leads people off to the outbound link.
James R.: Nice strategy. I like it.
James S.: Yeah. So let’s move to the last one, which is, do links have an effect even after they are removed? What do you mean by this?
James R.: Well this one came as a result of a lot of the other experiments that were done. We’ve talked a lot over these three parts about links and their effect. Something interesting kind of came up as those tests were being run by various people. What happened was they’d put up their test environment, create some sites, point some links to it. Once they’d acquired the results and the data that they would want to be testing, those links would then be removed, so the pages go back to their original state. What was interesting to see that even after the links were removed to those pages, the pages that had seen a real sharp increase in rank remained exactly in those high ranking positions as if the links were still there.
This wasn’t just a week or so after the links were removed. This was like four, five, six months after the links were removed. The pages continue to rank in their high positions even though the links were not present to those pages anymore, which is really interesting, as if Google have taken into account, this link was once there and they’re kind of echoing the effect many, many, many months later and showing the benefit to that site even when it’s not actually placed there anymore.
James S.: So that also has an implication for picking up domains that used to be active and they’re no longer there, right?
James R.: Yeah, absolutely. Oh my gosh, it has many implications, good and bad. You have to think very much, very long term in the same way as if you acquire positive links, those links can keep working for you for many months to come even if the linking party decides to remove it. If you get some bad links, well, they’re also likely to be sticking around for some time even after you’ve had the negative links removed. So Google team take a large and wide time span into account when they look at the whole profile around your site.
James S.: Yeah, OK. That is really interesting. I certainly noticed just in the last few years, as you know, we had a website development business as well. Sometimes, we’d have a customer who would contact us because they had an issue where their whole site just disappears from the search results. What we would often find is that they’d set it to no index, no follow internally to do some work here or there after we’ve handed over the website and they’d had some in house tech guy mess it up.
What we found is when they turned it back on, quite often they were fairly quick to get back up to speed. Maybe that’s because old connections were able to sort of re-propagate again fairly quickly rather than trying to rely on a whole new propagation. In much the same way as if you go to the gym a lot and then you stop for a while and then you go back later, you might have some muscle memory and sort of get back into shape quicker than if you were doing it for the first time perhaps.
James R.: Yeah. My belief is Google are keeping a copy of the sort of indexed over a period of time and they will weight those factors to a greater, lesser degree as time evolves. But they’re still going to look at historic stuff. In the same way as you do something bad in the real world, even if you’re a perfect citizen from this point forward, people are still going to remember the stuff that you did long before.
James S.: Well, you’d still have a record on file at the police station apparently.
James R.: Yeah. And you’ve got a reputation that’s going to carry forward with you.
James S.: Also, it’s like with Adwords, if you have a problem or whatever, they might clear the AdWords console but they still keep a history of all your naughty secrets from way back.
James R.: Yeah totally.
James S.: There we go. You do get some effect, some sort of ghost link effect. Now, if you want to get all the other experiments, head over to SEOSherpa.com/seo-experiments, and you’ll see James has compiled a bunch of experiments. We’ve been really privileged in being able to discuss these in more detail, James, and to have some action steps as a result of each one of these on this three-part series.
We covered does clickthrough rate affect rankings, did Mobilegeddon have big impact, is Google displaying more rich answers in search results. Then in part two, we talked about exact match anchor text harming rankings or not, text surrounding a link impacting search rankings, and press releases, if they help or not. And in this episode, we’ve talked about negative SEO and outbound links to see if they impact your pagerank and subsequently your rankings, and of course, what happens to links after they’ve been removed.
So there you go. I’ve been talking to James Reynolds from SEOPartner.com. If you need help with your SEO, head over there. Get a website check. I highly recommend it. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show.
James R.: Yeah, it’s been a blast James. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
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