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The dynamics of run of site links penalty

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These days forums and blogs are heavily populated with webmasters asking for help. Most want to know why they are disappearing from the SERPs for no apparent reason.

Many complain they have been bumped down 6 places (the -6 penalty) or multiples of 6 (something like -60) …

At first this happened on US sites, action was swift as the same pattern took shape here in Europe – here is what happened to a Client – it’s a story worth reading.

I got a call asking if there had been any significant change in Search Engine Rankings – "not that I know of" was my answer, but there had been for his website – a significant drop across the board for strategic keywords.

What had happened ? There was something very wrong with this website and it didn’t take long to find out. My first stop was Google Webmaster Tools. I headed straight for the link count and I found an increase in external links by a factor 8.

Within minutes I identified a number of sites with a link pointing the Home Page – 14 sites in all with the same identical anchor text for a grand total of 170,000 links that came into existence within a short period of time.

Run of site links triggered a penalty.

My Client knew nothing about these links, and I hadn’t ordered them either … they came about because the original site (with 1 link from the home page only) had blossomed into another 13 thus creating an ugly mini net. They decided to use the same template for all new sites as well, so each and every page of the entire network carried a link, thus flagging the website.

There was no change in PR – it looked like a healthy PR5 website, perhaps indicating this penalization was temporary.

When I contacted the mini net owner urging him to immediately remove the footer link he had no idea what he was doing and how it could affect 3rd parties involved – pretty scary isn’t it ?

Now to what happened when the links were removed.

It took 4 days for the penalty to be removed – rankings returned to the natural beauty ๐Ÿ™‚ I was tempted to see if rankings would continue to sink if the run of site links hadn’t been removed but .. well that just wasn’t possible now was it ! (I am wondering if you might have more info to share on similar episodes you might like to share with me and other readers here – please do leave your comment).

So the run of site links were removed and they all lived happily ever after … or did they ??

  • First of all in the eyes of a search engine this is seen as a (stupid) attempt to artificially inflate rankings and draws (unwanted) special attention
  • It will be a cold day in hell before anyone can convince a Quality Control Engineer at Google (or any other Search Engine for that matter) that you had nothing to do with the incident and this will show up in the website history that could be used against you one day in the future
  • Picture a scenario where your competitor sets up a mini net of spam sites and points hundreds of thousands of run of site links to your website(s) and send your site tumbling down, time after time … sounds like Google Bowling doesn’t it ?
  • Let’s go one step further and elaborate this concept – I can see SPAM mini nets do hit jobs on commission to damage legitimate websites

If on one side Search Engines tend to actively discourage this technique, I think the case that I present should call for further in depth (internal) discussions to protect the white hat approach:

Wouldn’t it be better to simply ignore these links ? After all there is enough technology to understand the importance of page layout in SEO.

What’s your line of thought ? Do you have similar experiences to share ?

15 Replies

  1. drew

    What exactly do you mean by “Run of site links”?

    I have a client whose worried that his signature in forums looks spammy so he wants to stop doing it. He noticed his rankings in Yahoo and MSN dropping and thought it might be due to those links.

  2. our job is accelerate the process of what would happen with a strong web site. Iโ€™m not surprised by the view expressed here

  3. DJ

    It’s all about ‘relevancy’. If your site is about Christmas, and your inbound links are coming from a site about Astronomy… then u gonna get slapped. And DON”T EVER use the same anchor text, with same embed URL…. red flag for google. Personally think that 1 example merely constitutes a ‘theory’, not ‘proof’. To avoid ‘seo hit jobs’, Google would almost certainly ignore, not penalize. just a thought.

  4. DJ you make relevant points, but what is to stop someone from mass spamming bad neighborhood blogs and directories with a competitor’s URL using the same anchor text each time? The answer is nothing, and this is already being done.

  5. Unfortunately this happened to me so I’ll share my experience. Yup I made it to #10 on google for a very popular keyword, now I’m at #118 ๐Ÿ™

    I also experience a drop of 3PRs from this.

    I’ve since removed the offending backlinks and am awaiting absolution by the omnipotent GOGle.

    We’ll see ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I don’t think site wide links can hurt ones rank. If that’s the case, everyone would be doing it to their competitors.

  7. Yes that can happen Lynn, it can happen …

  8. Wow this is scary info and in the wrong hands very dangerous.

    I learned the hard was not to use site wide links, boy was it a hard lesson.

    These days im extremely careful who links to me.

    We can all learn from this.

  9. EDevMachine, did you see any the ranking and traffic come back after removing the offending links? I found that one of my sites has over 700 links from a charity organization. This is a good organization. I’ve sponsored them an event so they link my site as credit. I’m not sure if I have to contact this organization and have these links removed or not. Any advice??

  10. I’m not sure either ๐Ÿ™‚ The main question is if you have noticed a sudden drop in traffic and referrals from Google or the other search engines – if not then there was probably no problem, but you might want to approach them and ask for 1 link from a web page rather than hundreds of ruo of site links

  11. The affected site is an ecommerce site, I noticed there is a drop of organic traffic by about 25% and PR drops from 5 – 3. There are also 2 other sites, one got about 100 links and the other one got about 200 links, pointing to my home page ( I buy banner ad from these 2 sites with annual payment). So, I’m not sure should I take out these ads. Adding these up with the 700 links from the charity site, I have over 1000 llinks from these 3 sites (they got PR3 – PR5). After hearing too many run of the site links issue, it make me worry who is linking to me. As per your advice, I’ll approach these sites if we can work out something better. Thank you!!

  12. I am more than worried in these days due to rise and fall, hide and seek of sites having certain keywords. Well, Everything is going in a natural way but I can see the same phenomena. Many of my sites have such links and I was wondering that from where they appeared. Thanks for sharing it.

  13. That is a very scary thought…

    Someone out there on a personal vendetta decided to setup of mini-net of spam sites and spam the heck out of some legitmate site because of whatever reasons!

  14. SEO Internet Traffic

    I’ve posed this question to three well-respected SEO authorities. None of them had a problem with run-of-the-site links. I know of a number of sites that use them as well and have high PR and high SE ranking for their respective keywords.

    If the backlinking site has a decent reputation and isn’t outbound linking all over the place, the worst that Google would do is ignore the links and not penalize. The example illustrated in this post is extreme compared to how run-of-the-site links come into existence for the rest of us.