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Suicide in Cyberspace - Your Outward Links Can Kill Your Rankings
By Ben Kemp © 2007.

Link building strategies have, for most people for a long time, revolved
around reciprocal link exchanges. Whilst most people understand that links
are important, they generally don't understand why this is so. In a nutshell,
a link to your site has traditionally been accepted by Search Engines as a
vote for your site. A link from a topic or theme-related site to yours is better
than a link from a site having a completely different topic. An important site's
link to yours carries more weight - for example from The Open Directory, or
Yahoo Directory. All pretty straightforward...

BUT... the rules have changed... significantly! All the thinking webmasters
worked diligently to build links - willy-nilly - in order to subvert the search
engine rankings and gain an advantage to themselves at the expense of
everyone else. For a long time, there have been mutterings about this,
and comments from Google staffers about possible penalties from linking
to "bad neighbourhoods" and - heaven forbids it - buying links! Google et
al simply don't approve of willy-nilly link-building schemes, and have recently
tightened the screws a bit more, in two notable ways...

Bad Links

Some links are bad... for example, if you are a car sales company and you've got
dozens of completely irrelevant links to international hotel sites... yeah, YOU know
the ones! in Prague, Munich, Shanghai etc! That's a BAD neighbourhood over there!
That IS going to put a world of hurt on you! And as for the Free For All link sites,
web rings, and 3 way link schemes... that's just suicide in cyberspace! Why? Coz
its a blatant and completely indefensible attempt at cheating the system!

Reciprocal Links - Almost a Waste of Effort

Reciprocal links are still of some value, providing the link titles are explicit, and if
the page they link to you from has a higher Page Rank than the page from which
you link to them. The concept of a link to you being a vote for you, and being
added to your site's Total Vote Count has a flip side. A link from you to someone
else essentially deducts one vote from your total vote count... meaning its value
is minimal when compared to a 1-way incoming back-link!

1-way Outward Links Are Toxic

Ok, lets assume you are a service provider, maybe a health clinic, and you deal with
hospitals, other doctors, specialists, nurses, laboratories. So, as a benefit to your
visitors, you place direct links to their web resources on your links page. Is that clever?
Most certainly it is NOT! Transfusion time, because you'll be haemorrhaging Page Rank
with nothing in return! Do it, but be smart about it, because there is NOTHING to be
gained (by you) from linking to any site that does not link back. So make sure your links
include the "nofollow" attribute that tells SE's that the link is NOT a vote by your site
for that site!

Link Content Is Mission Critical

This is mission critical because Google and other have decided that they can't trust you
to be honest about your site! Basically, it seems like there are two web tribes - those
who know not so much about how things work, and those who know more than they
should. There should also be a flourishing third tribe, who just build great sites with lots
of terrific content that automatically ranks highly - but nobody's seen nuthin' from those
guys for ages!

The tribe who know more than they should ruthlessly manipulate every available loophole
to dominate search engine rankings, at the expense of those who have yet to read SEO
For Dummies. Therefore, Google decided that its essential that there is some external
correlation between what YOU say your site is about, and what OTHER people say your
site is about... This is done by analysing the words in the Link Title on all links pointing to
your site. Bottom line here is - if a keyword phrases does NOT appear on links to your site,
you ain't gonna rank for that phrase!

For many established sites, this is the main reason they might have experienced
a noticeable decline in rankings in the last few months. Most older sites will have a majority
of incoming links based on their business name, and NOT on their activities / products /
services / location etc. To use the common "widgets" analogy - if you are selling "widgets"
and all your incoming link titles have your only business name e.g. Smiths Manufacturing
Co Ltd, its now very difficult for you to rank for "widgets"!

Backlink analysis reveals this shortcoming rather quickly and, lucky for you, it is
possible to remedy this by building 1-way incoming back-links using multiple Title / Description
combinations that contain a good spread of relevant keywords. It does require some keyword
research, and it is tedious - but if you don't do it, you are certainly not going forwards! But
your competitors might be...

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Ben Kemp is a free-lance search engine optimisation consultant and web designer.
He offers free SEO articles & web design tips. Web: http://www.comauth.co.nz.
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