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February 28, 2008

Linking Q&A

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Okay, time to answer all of your linking questions. Danny Sullivan (Search Engine Land) will be moderating a rowdy list of speakers who include Nathan Buggia (Live Search), Matt Cutts (Google), Priyank Garg (Yahoo) Rae Hoffman (Sugarrae Internet Consulting), Peter Linsley (Ask) and Todd Malicoat).

Rae says if I comment on how fast she speaks she’ll cut me in the parking lot. Saying nothing.

I want to move my site to a new domain, how do I make sure I don’t lose traffic?

Priyank: 301s from your old location to your new location.

Matt: That rocks. In addition to that, if you want to be very safe, consider moving one part of your site first. If you move those pages over and your rankings are fine, you know you’re in good shape. If you want to, lots of places give you a way to look at your backlinks. Write to those people and tell them you moved.

Peter: Try to be conservative with the content and the layout, keep it the same.

Rae: Getting new links after you do the 301 will help the engines sort it out a bit faster.

Nathan: This is a great place to engage a reputable SEO. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when moving a site over. Don’t do it yourself without experience.

How important are .edu or .gov links?

Rae: She goes for older links before the .govs and .edus. You can have a crappy link but if it’s been there for 8 years, it will be more helpful than an .edu link that you got 3 days ago. She’d be really surprised if the engines haven’t found a way to identify user pages on .edu pages as opposed to links coming from the core domain.

Matt: You used to see this question being asked in regard to DMOZ. The value in those links is that they typically have higher PageRank.

Peter: …And one of the reasons for that is because spam doesn’t exist on .edu domains.

Would Ask.com tell Google why the nofollow attribute is not necessary?

Hee!

Peter: I wouldn’t go as far as to say that. I think the concept is sound but the reality is a lot of paid links will not be disclosed that way. As a search engine, we still have this fundamental problem of trying to work out the value of each link. We support it on the page, not link. Not each link is created equally at query time. This algorithm is fairly good at filtering out paid links.

Google recommends disclosure about paid links, what do the other engines want?

Nathan: We recommend using nofollow in the event of a paid link. The definition of what a paid link is, is the gray area. He’s not going to talk about what a paid link is. ;)

Priyank: Paid links have been found to not be useful for searches. We tend to look at these things more on a site level and take relative points of view. That’s the kind of variation of the Web we look out for.

Danny: It sounds like the preferred method is to go with a nofollow.

What’s the definition of a paid link?

Matt: I understand the inclination to go for the gray area, but you have to realize that the vast majority of time when we’re talking about paid links, we’re talking about "here’s some money, here’s a link". Those links are not the most useful to searchers.

Rae: The search engines created currency in links. You created the value of a link and I wish you would take more responsibility for the problem that you created instead of putting the responsibility on me to fix it. [Huzzah for Rae – Lisa!]

Matt: Every search engine tries to make their algorithm robust. Some people rant about nofollow, but the idea is that it’s a tool you can use so that the search engines don’t have to come in and run the algorithms. If someone wants to sell links, here’s an easy way to not flow PageRank – use nofollow.

Nathan: There are two spectrums of paid links. In one the link is totally irrelevant and obviously bad. On the other side, you have the American Veterinary Association where you have to pay to be a member but you’ll get a link. It’s very much a spectrum right now.

Priyank: We have been fighting irrelevant links before nofollow was there. All these mechanisms are a way for webmasters to provide us with better signals. Site owners do what they do and we lose control.

If someone has a question about a gray area with paid links, where can they go to get an answer?

Matt: We have our Webmasters group that will answer your questions. You can also ask on the Webmaster Central blog. You can ask on his blog, too. In general, it’s not a bad idea to ask yourself, well if a competitor walks in the room and looks at my site, are they going to consider is strange?

Priyank: Go to the Site Explorer discussion board.

Peter: Leave a comment on our site or send a message to support. When Bruce Clay was in the last session, he said that if you can explain why you have that link on your site to Matt Cutts, that’s a really good test. The opposite is true, as well. We should be able to tell you why you’re getting a ding.

Nathan: Ask in the webmaster forums. They don’t have an automated way.

Why do the link counts on Yahoo Site Explorer fluctuate?

Priyank: There was a period when there was an error and things when out of kilter. That’s all taken care of now. You should not see much fluctuation but what does happen is sometimes there are machines that go up and down.

We have a lot of link baiting going on. What’s the quality of UGC linking? At what point could they go bad?

Matt: Some links are higher quality because they come from high PR sources and you have to think of the effort and the value of a link. If you got a link because someone copied and pasted your widget, that’s a link a search engine doesn’t consider useful. A lot of social generated content sites spend a lot of time thinking about how they’re going to create a high quality link. The best thing a UGC site can do is to monitor for spammy links.

Todd: If you sit on enough linking panels, you’ll wind up getting the idea that the last links that are going to count are Harvard, Stanford and CNN. The truth is, there’s gotta be a balance. As long as there’s a balance in the links that you’re getting, you’re okay. If all your links are from UGC site, you’re going to tip off a filter.

Concerns that if I use a 301 I’ll use some of my link value. Do those links count less?

Priyank: A 301 is not the same as a link. In terms of Yahoo, 301s carry all the link juice forward.

Matt: For the most part, they carry the same link juice. If you use 30 of them in sequence, Google is going to get dizzy. He still recommends moving a small portion of your site over first.

Peter: Make sure the content is fundamentally the same thing so that we know the links you had before can vouch for the new site.

Nathan: If you’re using 301 in your site and it looks like a relevant page, then you’re golden.

Link sabotage: fact or fiction?

Rae: Fact. I think that a lot of it has to do with the balance. I don’t think I can go out and take CNN out, but I think I could take another site out by changing the balance of their links to be in favor of something Google doesn’t like.

Todd: If we can do it accidentally sometimes, you can certainly do it on purpose.

Matt: The thing I would say is that Google has made it really, really hard for one site to hurt another site. We make it very hard for someone to negative SEO someone else’s site.

Peter: People can hack into your site and pop up links in directories you didn’t even know existed. And then if they link to you, it looks like you’re participating in a reciprocal linking circle.

Priyank: If you’re checking your site in Yahoo Site Explorer and find links that you think are bad, you can report them. It goes into their analysis queue. It’s a way for you to see who’s linking to your site.

Matt: That’s a great feature. Matt asks how many people want to be able to disclaim links. Lots of people raise their hands.

Rae: If you make that feature, are you going to penalize me if I don’t patrol my links?

Matt: Matt basically says yes. Heh. Here we go again.

Peter: If you suddenly see all these incoming links, you have a right to be very suspicious. It could be a sign that someone is trying to hurt your site. It’s worth keeping an eye on your access logs.

Outbound links: Make a difference to a Web site?

Todd: Outbound links are probably one of the lesser discussed and more important things these days. It’s a good way to get someone’s attention to link to the 100 top bloggers, but you’re also linking to the right places, so you’re associating your site with other experts.

Rae: You’ve gotta link out when it makes sense for the user. It’s not even a search engine thing.

[The engine reps applaud her. Hee.]

Matt: Google agrees with that statement. Your users appreciate it when you link to high quality stuff. You can’t control who links to you, but you can control who you link to. It’s about reputation.

Priyank: We do look at your neighborhood.

Peter: All of the above. Linking to a bad neighborhood is not a good thing.

Todd: Don’t be a scrooge with your links. It’s like Progressive. They’re rates aren’t always the cheapest, but they still show their competitors rates so users can decide.

What about this PR sculpting thing?

Matt: Worry more about the overall health of your site. When you’ve got that down, then worry about sculpting your PageRank. You want to put your best pages first. Why wouldn’t you put your best selling products and put links to those top ten products right from your home page? It’s going to get the most link juice, they’ll get crawled, etc. All you’re doing if you’re using nofollow is pushing the juice to the most important pages. People have been doing that from the beginning of time. It’s an advanced technique. Pay more attention to the basics before you start worrying about that.

Rae: You’re not against sculpting, but technically it is manipulating things, right?

Matt: Well sure it is. Any time you put a link on a page, it’s manipulative. Google is only against evil manipulation. Deciding how you link around on your site, sure it manipulates, but it’s not a bad thing.

Rae: Do you think it could be abused and then we’ll have to change it?

Matt: People always do dumb things on their Web sites. The search engines don’t need to crawl your Contact Us page. In any normal usage, you’re not going to have to worry about it.

Nathan: Microsoft agrees with that statement.

I’ve got a Web site, then some company buys it and the domain name registry changes, will you still pass the credit or are we starting at stage one?

Nathan: No.

Rae: We did that recently when we had to move 20 sites from one company to another company and we didn’t lose rankings.

Matt: In the general case, no one needs to worry. It’s completely normal. However, as with anything on the spectrum, you can go all the way to the edge. Suppose you’re buying thousands of expired domains and you want to link them around. You wouldn’t want that to count. That’s the case where it’s not okay.

Rae: If you buy 15 smaller niche sites and redirect them to your site, is that a problem?

Matt: If it’s 3 or 4, it wouldn’t a problem. At 15, that’s a bit high. It’s a spectrum.

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3 responses to “Linking Q&A”

  1. Shirley writes:

    Thanks for the insight. I learned something today. Will consider doing that. But I don’t know 301. What does it mean? Sorry still learning.
    http://odchoi.wordpress.com

  2. Martin writes:

    I love the quote from Matt…
    "here’s some money, here’s a link". Those links are not the most useful to searchers.
    Lol, isn’t that what Google’s whole business model is based on… that’s exactly what adwords are – now they’re telling us those kind of things aren’t useful to searchers, lol :)

  3. Matt Cutts writes:

    Martin, Google’s ads are designed so that they don’t flow PageRank and they don’t affect search engines’ results. On the panel I mentioned a post by Google colleague Brian White: http://www.brianwhite.org/2008/01/12/link-selling-mistakes-including-the-buyers-directives/
    In that post, Brian highlights a paid post where the person was so sloppy that they copy/pasted the advertiser instructions right into the middle of the post. That sort of post isn’t helpful to users.

    Lisa, I can clarify this section more: “People always do dumb things on their Web sites. The search engines don’t need to crawl your Contact Us page. In any normal usage, you’re not going to have to worry about it.”

    Because search engines don’t mind crawling peoples’ contact pages. :) We were talking about PageRank sculpting and how a) it wasn’t the most important thing to work on, but b) it was similar to the fact that you decide what to link to on your front page partially based on what pages are important and should be surfaced to users/search engines. Rae asked whether you’d ever be penalized for “manipulating” PageRank within your site.

    My reply was that in general folks didn’t need to worry about it. The fact is that people sometimes do control the flow of PageRank on their site to do irrelevant things (the example I gave was doorway pages). But that’s quite rare, and a normal webmaster doesn’t need to worry about the issue. And that the normal webmaster should also be more concerned with writing a great site that gets more links rather than tweaking exactly how the PageRank flows within their site.



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