Combating Links Spam. What would you do if you were Google?

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You're sitting there at the boardroom table of the Googleplex.

"So how are we going to combat this link spam?" Asked Larry Page.

Okay, so you been asked for your opinions on how Google can combat the massive amounts of link spam which is manipulating the search results. Have a think about it for a moment. What sort of ideas would you come up with if you were really part of the Google team?

Here are some of the ideas that I've thought about. It may be that Google are actually using some of them already, who knows? One thing that is for sure, the way backlinks are handled to create rankings IS changing and we need to be thinking ahead to what Google will be doing in the future and not just what they are doing right now.

Idea 1 – Backlinks Page Relevancy

What if Google only counted backlinks that were from relevant pages, ie, a back link from a page about motorcycle maintenance to a page on a Bowflex PR1000 home gym would carry no weight.

This is something that I think Google is actually doing, and has been doing for a while. They may not totally discount irrelevant backlinks, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they do, or will do soon. 

When I first suggested this in my newsletter a few years back, I got an email from a top SEO guru who told me that I was wrong and that the page the link was on was irrelevant. Whether he was right or wrong is irrelevant to me, because I always try to think what Google will be doing in the future and not just what they are doing now. What is the point of looking at what they're doing now and trying to optimise for it, when all the work you do will just be worthless when they make changes? A startling example of optimising for the here and now was the Build My Rank network.  It worked so well that many people used it exclusively for building backlinks.  When Google deindexed that blog network (and many like it), lots of people lost ALL of their rankings

Now you might ask how I know what Google will be doing in the future. It's a fair question and the answer is I don't. However I can be pretty sure that by making sure your backlinks are embedded in content that is relevant to the page you are linking to, it will at least look natural.

In all the SEO that I do, that is the most important rule – EVERYTHING MUST LOOK NATURAL!

That includes content on my pages, the way my pages interlink, and links pointing into my website. If you're struggling with SEO, write that phrase in a piece of paper and stick it on your monitor.

Idea 2 – Backlinks Domain Page Rank.

Most people who do SEO are familiar with the idea that the page rank that is important is the page rank of the page that links to your site. However, I prefer to think of the page rank of the domain of the page the links to your page as being important.

For example, if a backlink is on the page with a PR 0, but that page is on PR 5 domain, then that is a good back linking my book. Again a lot of SEOs will disagree with me and that's fine. But if I was at Google, one thing I would test would be to look at backlinks that are on these high authority websites and see what effect on rankings it would have if these backlinks were boosted.

Why would I do this? Well, the reason is simply that if there is a page on page rank five website, then the chances are that website has quite a lot of authority, so any page on that website also carries a certain amount of authority and can be trusted.  After all, most webmasters who have a PR5 website won’t allow poor content onto the site, as they know it would ultimately cause them problems.

Taking this one step further, I would test to see what would happen to the rankings if all backlinks that appeared on PR 2 or less websites were discounted completely. This would mean that gazillions of backlinks could be totally ignored by the algorithm, and only those backlinks that were on domains with some authority actually counted.

Of course the system could be manipulated, because anyone can create a PR 4 or PR 5 website (or buy one –which is how most blog networks formed in the first place). That website could be complete trash and only used for backlinks. So that brings me onto idea number three.

Idea 3 – Discount Links on Penalised Websites

If Google penalises a website, that means it does not trust that website, so why should it trust any of the backlinks on that website? If I was a Google, I would look at discounting all backlinks on domains that have been penalised. This would then exclude those false authority sites that we talked about under idea 2, where somebody creates a crappy website but boosts the PR so that it can be used for back linking purposes.

One thing that Google can do (and some people think this is what they are doing right now) is to actually have a negative ranking factor for all links on penalised sites. That means if you have a backlink on a site that has been penalised, that backlink is actually hurting your rankings. If I was at Google, I would advise against this strategy, because people have no control over where links to their site appears, and if this were true, anyone could cause problems for their competitors by simply blasting out loads of links on penalised websites or blog networks. By simply discounting the links on penalised sites, we could to a large extent remove negative SEO as a possibility.

Here is an interesting video that looks at Google’s Penguin.  Josh touches on the subject of negative ranking factors:

To sum up, I would only count backlinks for ranking purposes that:

1. Were on pages relevant to the page the backlinks pointed to.
2. Were on PR 3+ domains that were not penalised.

What you think?

Do you agree or disagree with what I have written?  Would it work, and if not, why not?

If you were at Google and had to advise them on how to combat the link spam, what suggestions would you have? I'd love to hear your ideas so please leave a comment at the end of this post.

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7 thoughts on “Combating Links Spam. What would you do if you were Google?”

  1. Interesting thoughts, Andy. I almost didn’t open this article and read it because I have just about had my fill of “what Google is doing wrong” sort of articles. It’s so easy to tell the world what someone is doing wrong, it requires “just a bit” more effort to figure out ideas they might use to improve things.

    I particularly like the idea of using the originating Page Rank system to value links, The PR system which has been in place for years and today, at least to the outside world, has become essentially useless. Of course there are techniques to skew the system,

    it’s not faultless, but it is there, it works at least as well as any other system available today, and it’s already deeply integrated into many aspects of our little on-line world.

    Worthy of some serious consideration, that’s for sure.

  2. Do you know which program showed in the video to monitor websites ranking/traffic?

  3. Very interesting Andy. I was just doodling around playing with some link analysis tool recently and found that one of my sites, which is total crap, has over 30,000 edu backlinks.

    One of my friends recently asked me to take his link off this site because his rankings were failing fast. I had put his link twice in the template. The link site showed 35,000 links to him from my site, I removed the two links and his ranking is improving.

    Negative SEO anyone? Interestingly the Googlebot still hits this site within a minute of each new post. If they don’t like it, and they don’t, why do they still visit?

    So my suggestion for cleaning up the link spam is that when they identify a junk site, like mine, they don’t even visit it from any link anywhere. If you have been slammed and you clean up your act you can ask for a review and get your site back in the database.

    Discounting links from spam sites as well so negative SEO is not a weapon to use against your competitors is not just sensible but imperative.

  4. I agree with you, one thing I would like to see is for them just to zero out any juice links from penalized sites, I know a few guys where negative seo has buried their clients sites, as you said, you sometimes have no control over who is linking to you.

  5. Hey Andy,

    enjoyed the video. Just keep prdocuing this great information.

    On the sibject of backlinking, is there a software that you know of the:

    1. Accurately list backlinks?
    2. LIst MOST of the keywords that you site is ranking for?



    1. 1. There really isn’t one. I track backlinks with SEO Spyglass but it’s not perfect. Majestic SEO and Ahrefs site explorer are two alternatives but none are perfect.
      2. Usually keyword trackers have to have a list of keywords to check against. Enter what you want to rank for, and it’ll tell you where you rank.

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