SEO MythBuster Revisited: Inbound Links

Author: | Posted in SEO experiments, SEO Myths 23 Comments

You know how in horror flicks there’s always that point where you think the killer is dead? Just when the main character lets out a sigh of relief, WHAM! The killer springs back into action because apparently the death blow was in fact merely a flesh wound. I’ve always wondered what the protagonist was thinking when the villain popped right back up. Now I know it’s something along the lines of “Are you &#*@ing KIDDING ME?”

In case you haven’t figured it out by the title, I’m having to revisit the myth I thought I had previously exposed as well… a myth.  I’m not sure if I just wasn’t convincing or not enough people read it or what, but if the real Myth Busters have to revisit things, I figure I’m not above it either.

The Myth

The premise of this myth is quite simple: that somehow links pointing at your site (also known as inbound links) can somehow hurt your rankings.

Recently I encountered a situation where I had placed a link to a site (an old and established site) in the blogroll of one of my blogs. Like most blogrolls, this was a site wide link and I had roughly 400 pages of content indexed in Google for this blog. A while later, the site I had linked to saw their rankings tank. After searching around, the site owner contacted me asking me to remove the link to their site. Their reason being of course, that gaining those 400 links in a short period of time had caused them to receive a “very specific” Google penalty for their top few terms, one of which I had used as the anchor text of my link.

Also not too long ago I got into a rather heated debate with Hamlet Batista (who’s blog has actually turned out to be pretty good despite his being wrong on this issue) about whether or not John Chow’s site had been penalized due to a high number of sites linking to his with the exact same anchor text. John seemed to back up Hamlet’s position by changing the rules of his review offer to allow different variations of the anchor text. Of course he also fixed his broken robots.txt file that had been blocking spiders from accessing most of his site but that hasn’t deterred many people from believing incoming links were the culprit (or at least part of the problem).

Last but not least, earlier this week, “King Nomar” published a post titled “How your competitors can sabotage your website rankings.” In it he stated that “Your competitor might add your website to several spam linking schemes to hurt your site.”

And viola, a revisit is born.

As I mentioned previously, Google has stated several times that there is almost nothing a competitor could do to affect your rankings. Now obviously a competitor could hack your site and do quite a bit of damage or possibly even hurt your rankings by administering a DDOS attack and taking your site down for an extended period of time. However, I’m here to tell you (again) that something as simple as linking to your competitor’s site will not harm their rankings.

In the blogroll example I gave earlier, if the inbound links were the problem, what would happen to their rankings if I didn’t remove the links? Obviously you can’t control who links to you. If you don’t want a certain site linking to yours, all you can do is ask nicely for them to remove the link. In this case, if my link to their site was the reason their rankings dropped, a less scrupulous person might be inclined to ask for a fee to remove the links. I mean people pay SEO’s to help them improve their rankings all the time, so why wouldn’t removing a link that you think is harming your site worth a similar fee? Better yet, how much would linking to each one of your competitors be worth? If I can take a site out of the top 10 in Google simply by linking to them, those links would be worth WAY more than any link I could sell to improve PageRank or search engine rankings wouldn’t it? I could auction my services off to the highest bidder and make a fortune!

On top of all that, you’d have thousands of webmasters linking to competitors not because they have a quality site, but because they want to harm their rankings. That would essentially put an end to Google’s practice of viewing a link as a “vote” for the site being linked to. Google’s built their algorithm heavily around links and now I’m supposed to believe they’d allow something like this to happen?  I don’t think so. Not when they could simply devalue the links in question or ignore them all together. That would keep any links they believe to be artificial from influencing their rankings and wouldn’t open their algorithm up to the kind of abuse I just described.

The Challenge 

Unfortunately, I’m sure there are going to be people who are still not convinced that inbound links can’t hurt you. Despite the mound of common sense staring straight at you, I’m sure there are those of you who are clinging to your belief in the evil inbound links. So, I’d like to propose a challenge to my detractors. Tell me exactly what circumstances you think would lead to inbound links harming a site. I’ll then do my best to recreate those specific circumstances and then point as many spam links at the sucker as possible. I’ll document the whole process over the course of a few months and we’ll see who’s right. Are you up for it?

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