Can Any Inbound Linking Hurt My Ranking?

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The answer to this question used to be a simple “no”. However that is not longer the case.  What your inbound link profile looks like – how many links you have coming into your web site as well as the authority and trust value those links come from – can and will influence your sites ranking.  How is this known for certain? Well, for one thing, Google said so.

Up until recently, the number of links a web site had was like the number of votes received in an election: all other things being equal, the web site that had the most links (votes) would be considered more authoritative and would rank higher on the SERPs (win the election).

That changed when Google released the Penguin update. Penguin looked at not just the number of links (and the anchor text of those links) but also the quality and relevancy of sites the links came from. But that left webmasters with a problem: since not all web sites have the same value, what do you do with low quality links coming into the web site that you can’t control? Google gave webmasters the answer when they released their “Link Disavow” tool. The Disavow tool allows webmasters to tell Google which links should be considered when determining authority and which ones shouldn’t.

So, where Link Development used to be all about acquiring inbound links, now it’s about building a balanced link profile. To do that, focus on 3 key areas.

Link Building

Link Building is about gaining new links. It is a time-consuming job but in the end, it’s worth the effort because nothing says “authority” to Google like links coming in to your web site from another relevant and authoritative web site. With Google’s Penguin updates, getting a lot of links all at one time – unless they occur organically (i.e. because you did a press release) – is a sure signal to Google that the links aren’t “organic.” Meaning the links didn’t come as a result of good content but rather the links were bought or bartered. If Google detects that your web site employs this tactic, they can and will remove your entire web site from their index. Just like they did to JC Penny.

First, do some upfront research to find web sites that are relevant to your market and are themselves considered authoritative. Second, once you’ve identified those sites, approach them about a link. Since you never know what’s going to work with someone, try several different approaches. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. This works best in a situation where someone already has content that mentions the Brand. Sometimes, you have to offer something in return for the link, like an original piece of content or an infographic, or a sneak peek at an upcoming product release that they can review. This last one has the added benefit of bolstering your social media efforts if they tweet about it.

The main thing is not to try to do too much too fast.

Link Shedding

Link Shedding is about getting rid of the links you don’t want Google to use when developing your relevancy score. All links pass “link juice” from the site where they originate to your site, but links that originate from low quality sites will actually pass negative link juice that takes authority away from your web site.

To figure out which links to disavow, go through all of the inbound links. Links that contain the “nofollow” modifier don’t count, since that tells Google not to consider them anyway. Look for are links that come from web sites with a low Domain Authority score, a low mozRank and a lot of outbound links. Once you’ve identified the links we want to remove, make a list and upload it into Google’s Link Disavow tool or provide it to your webmaster so he/she can upload it.

Link Maintenance

Link Maintenance is about keeping all the good stuff.  Use reporting software that alerts you when an active, high relevancy, high authority link changes to “nofollow” or becomes inactive. This will give you the opportunity to contact the webmaster to fix the problem. And make sure the software also alerts you to changes in anchor text.

Another part of Link Maintenance is looking for opportunities to improve existing links. Make sure you know if your link is coming from as an image or has anchor text. If the link uses an image, you can always try to contact the webmaster at the site to see about getting a text link. And if the link already uses anchor text, contact the webmaster to see about getting the existing anchor text replaced with other text that may be more beneficial.


As the Founder of Expert SEO Consulting, Eric Richmond brings with him more than 20 years of experience in advertising and technology consulting. Prior to forming Expert SEO Consulting, Eric served as Head of Audience Development for Complex Media, VP of Search and Social Media for TechMediaNetwork. Before that, Eric was VP of Technology & SEO at 360i, where he was responsible for overseeing the development of proprietary technology solutions for 360i in addition to managing the Agency’s SEO practice. Eric came to 360i from RichFX, where he served as Director of Strategic Accounts serviced clients list Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and Safeway. Prior to RichFX, Eric was VP/Global Account Director at Viewpoint, as well as CTO for Grey Interactive Worldwide and VP/Technology for APLDigital.

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