|Large number of links from a popular site... should it worry me?|
This has me stumped although I have been running sites for the last 5 years and I am definitely not new to SEO.
I run a well respected <competitive niche> site (US based) which is an authority in its niche. All content is written by me and they normally rank very well. Earlier this year I noticed a decline in Google organic referrals coinciding with the Penguin update (April I think). The rankings drop is uneven, only affecting a few selected pages and I was unable to figure out a pattern that could clue me in (why only some pages and not others). Homepage continues to rank very well and even improved over this time so I have no reason to believe that it is a sitewide penalty or adjustment of any kind.
As a further input to the situation, I believe the quality/trust signals my site gives out are strong as we are linked from universities, k12s, public libraries, non-profits and government agencies in US and around the world, in addition to mainstream media like NYT, Forbes, etc. I even found one of my articles used in a IBM corporate presentation that I stumbled on at slideshare.
So here is the situation. Looking at my Web Master Tools, out of 113K links, about 90K come from a single website. This website is a highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site (with a high PR in Google if that matters). Apparently, every week they showcase a few posts from around the web by adding them below the articles they publish. And they publish 100s of articles every day. All the links in the showcase are dofollow.
Over the period of last 1 year since they have started showcasing my articles, they have pushed through over 90K links to my site. Truth be told, I don't mind much as they send me a lot of traffic, and the visibility and recognition is bound to be good for the long term.
I have no input to when and which post they decide to showcase and I only get to know them when visitors start pinging by monitoring Analytics. There is no reciprocity, no financial exchange or anything of that kind. It is purely hand curated on their part and other sites in the showcase are popular brand sites (think of websites that have print magazine versions that you can buy on a newsstand). But I am wondering if the sheer number of these links look unnatural in Google's eyes. I have tracked a few of my pages that have received 1000s of links from this site and found after initial ranking, they fell off the SERPs once they got linked and it took Google over 6 months to bring them back in the SERPs, perhaps after deciding these links are okay.
So the question is, should I worry about this and ask this website to ease up or should I just ignore this and be happy with the traffic and visibility. I believe if this continues, they will become even more significant part of my link profile. But is that bad when my primary concern is building a brand?
Google organic referrals are about 30% of my daily visits, with the rest coming from social media and referrals from other sites. My social media traffic is mainly from twitter and linkedin and well targetted. I also have a large amount of direct traffic so I am not overly dependent on Google but more traffic from them will not be unwelcome.
I guess I am looking for other point of views to figure out if there is any reason to waste more time worrying about this.
[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 8:35 pm (utc) on Dec 24, 2012]
[edit reason] examplified niche [/edit]
I was worried a while ago because a network of about 40 adult sites linked to my site from one templated page that was on each of the 40 sites. Nothing bad ever came of it.
If some sort of "unnatural linking" penalty does come your way, you can always disavow the links using Google's tool for doing so.
I highly doubt that it will cause a problem. These links should pass every smell test that Google could throw at them. They are curated. They are meant to be useful to users. Users actually click on them. The is no exchange of any sort (links or money). They are with the content rather than in a sidebar or footer. There are many from the same site, but a single link isn't site-wide. If the site is like the news sites that I visit, the links probably fall off the front page and pass very little pagerank soon after they are put on the site.
You didn't say what the anchor text is, but my guess is that it isn't going to be problematic either. This would be the only remaining reason to worry. If the site is linking to your content using only the keywords that are likely to be searched for. If they are linking using your site name, then there is really no need to worry in this regard. If they are linking using your article titles, then when you write future articles, be sure not to keyword stuff them.
Hi deadsea, the anchors are the title of the articles. I used to worry about keywords when I started few years ago, but no longer do so since Google is now very good at matching the content to the right keywords on their own.
Just looking at the volume of content this site publishes on a daily basis, I would estimate less than 1% of their pages in the last 1 year link to us.
Thanks for replying. You are right, it is probably nothing to worry about. Just want to check with the collective experience here in the forums if anyone has seen a situation like this ending up hurting or can visualize a scenario that I should watch out for.
The very fact that one has to ask if natural, quality backlinks could be hurting a site demonstrates just how confused SEO has become since Panda and Penguin. :/
It *shouldn't* hurt you, but am I right in understanding you're still looking for an explanation why Penguin hit you? If so, Penguin is not just about backlinks. There were sites hit with clean backlink profiles, so Penguin has to be looking at other factors it considers spam. Unfortunately, I can't begin to guess what that might be for you - I'm still not sure what it was on my site.
It is sad, isn't it!
When Penguin hit, I was worried. At that time I had about 80% of visits coming from Google. Over the year though I made a conscious decision to just stop worrying about Google and look at other traffic streams. So it is social media, posting on high traffic industry sites, etc, which has been working out well. The traffic is not upto the previous levels, but it is more targeted and better converting so I don't mind that much
It would be still be nice to know why though and this is one of my hypothesis.
Forget Google, it's broken for many quality sites with absolutely nothing wrong with them. Until the G gets its algo back under control almost any site can expect almost anything to happen.
As a matter of interest how do you do in Bing?
Hi HuskyPup, Bing/Yahoo are doing well for me for rankings. Although the volume is less, I find that on average these visitors spend twice as much time on the site than Google visitors, so can't complain.
BTW arohan ... Welcome to WebmasterWorld :-)
Your Bing/Yahoo experience sounds very much the same as many others including myself.
We've had several discussions here about why Bing seems to be able to get it "right" for well-established and evergreen sites whereas Google lets scrapers and MFAers appear from nowhere and rise above the original sites even when they may be 12-16 years old.
I have a 1998 site that has been completey scraped ad verbatim by a 2007 .eu (not .edu) site and Google now ranks that site for most queries above mine. They don't even use any design whatsoever, all texts and images are on blank white pages with an index page containing some 2,000+ links!
Have you been scraped at all?
Thanks! I was a reader for couple of years before I signed up.
No, I have not been scraped as far as I know. It is really hard to scrap my site because I am highly opinionated and my opinions run counter to the establishment so I sorta stand out. Also, I have totally de-emphasized feeds and only send out excerpts to my email subscribers.
My social following is quite large, including on Google+ so search engines know the ownership.
Not that it would stop a determined scraper, but seems to have worked so far.
|Over the period of last 1 year since they have started showcasing my articles, they have pushed through over 90K links to my site |
I don't understand how your site could get 90,000 backlinks in one year if all of them are editorially-given, individually created by hand, one by one. Is it possible that these backlinks are being auto-generated from aggregator programs, feeds, or programs that scrape Google's search results? A lot of sites fill out their content by using these types of programs.
No, it looks like every few days they pick their showcase list and that list is attached to all their articles that get published for the next few days. Being a news site, the number of articles every day is quite large.
The list itself is hand picked. Not all my articles get picked and they seem to pick only the ones that might play well with their audience (based on subject matter, headline, what is topical, etc)
|No, it looks like every few days they pick their showcase list and that list is attached to all their articles that get published for the next few days. Being a news site, the number of articles every day is quite large. |
In that case a large majority of the 90,000 backlinks will come from pages with mostly unrelated content, and all links to the same page on your site will have the same anchor text. This clearly could have caused your site to get hit by Penguin, especially since Penguin has some major defects that have led to many mistakes in which sites it has affected.
One nice thing about Google's disavow tool is that you don't have to actually remove the questionable links, but only disavow them, so that your site can still get traffic from them.
In my opinion, your potential reward is greater than your potential risk if you disavow these 90,000 backlinks
|In that case a large majority of the 90,000 backlinks will come from pages with mostly unrelated content, and all links to the same page on your site will have the same anchor text. |
yes, there are two issues there.
1) links from unrelated content.
2) site-wide or category-wide links from their end.
Both are not useful anymore.
The other issue is a few domains contributing to your link profile. If your content is too good as you suggest, then Google algos would like to see links from more domains than a few, as in your case.
Aristotle, the sites are in the same niche and the content is relevant. It is like a "widget" news site linking to a "widget" site. We might have a red widget news article linking to a green widget page but they are totally relevant. It is not a general news site but rather focused on the niche that I play in.
Disavowing is an option but it goes against my sense of fair play. It is a good site and they are not doing anything wrong and I am not going to send a negative signal against them by disavowing these links.
I have thought about this some more since posting this question here and reading the responses. At this point I think, if Google has a problem figuring this thing out, then it is their problem that they have to fix. Other search engines have no trouble at all.
Indyank, there are no sitewide or sidebar links. Also, I do have a good amount of domains linking. I did not claim to lack in linking domains.
|No, it looks like every few days they pick their showcase list and that list is attached to all their articles that get published for the next few days. |
Irrespective of whether they are on the sidebar or anywhere else, too many links to a page from multiple pages on the same domain aren't going to be useful.
To google, it is probably the ratio that matters more. When you have 113K links, they are normally expected to be from a good number of domains. But since you say that 90K links are from one single domain, it might be very difficult to overcome algos like penguin and panda.
|and that list is attached to all their articles that get published for the next few days. |
Since they might choose to showcase different set of links every few days, does that also mean these links are not permanent on their domain and there is a churn? If yes, they aren't useful either.
But it is not your fault and it is sad that people have to consider disavow tool etc. in scenarios like yours, as Google algos go by a defined set of "natural" rules and they are probably configured to not consider these as natural/good backlinks. Hence their disclaimer on "collateral damages".
|This website is a highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site |
|The list itself is hand picked. Not all my articles get picked and they seem to pick only the ones that might play well with their audience (based on subject matter, headline, what is topical, etc) |
aristotle and indyank
Are you folks actually suggesting that editorially hand-picked links from a "highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site" are somehow harmful?
Are you actually suggesting that Google isn't capable of sorting out multiple links from a "highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site"?
Are you actually suggesting disavowing links from a "highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site"?
|Are you folks actually suggesting that editorially hand-picked links from a "highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site" are somehow harmful? |
They aren't useful as not all of them count. And in some cases,they might prove to be harmful if Google mistakes them for paid links or any other sort of manipulated links.
|Are you actually suggesting that Google isn't capable of sorting out multiple links from a "highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site"? |
Yes they do fail in many cases if not all. If google were able to sort out all links, then they wouldn't have to release a disavow tool.
|Are you actually suggesting disavowing links from a "highly respected and very well trafficked <same niche> news site"? |
Nope I would never suggest the disavow tool as I am still not clear on how google treats them. I haven't yet come across them clearly mentioning the disavow tool is for both webmasters who wrongly built links to their own sites to manipulate ranking and for those who want to disavow links from spammy sites on which you never had any control. Google had only said the disavow tool is for disavowing links that you built yourself.
If the loss in traffic isn't big, I wouldn't personally pay attention to correcting this.Rather I would focus on building better content and getting more natural links from other relevant sites as well.
I'm watching this with great interest because I'm aware of a number of websites mysteriously hit by Penguin that have a preponderance of links from one (respected, totally natural) source. As incredible as it sounds, it does look like Google is either penalizing or devaluing these links for whatever reason.
|Yes they do fail in many cases if not all. If google were able to sort out all links, then they wouldn't have to release a disavow tool. |
What about Bing? It has a disavow tool. Are you then suggesting that it also can't sort out these links?
Indyank, my traffic went down about 80% earlier this year when I was disproportionately dependent on Google organic visits. It is now up to only 40% less. Bulk of the gain has come from social media and related site referrals, although lately some Google organic referrals have picked up a little as well. Google now makes up about 30% of the total.
I have been advised by a former search executive (Lycos) to just ignore Google. His point is to do things that a normal business would do if search engines did not exist. At some point, when Google sees that you have a destination site and they are not presenting your site as a choice in the SERPs, they will figure out a way to fix their error.
This I suppose is a "brand bias" argument but implicit in this advice is that Google is trying to stay relevant to their users and they are doing this by showing the users what they are already comfortable with. That is why his suggestion was to focus more on social media (and other media) to establish your brand first. There is the whole possibility of large chunks of traffic migrating away from Google search and going directly to branded apps on smartphones and Windows 8 machines so Google does need to be nice to the brands if they are to stay relevant.
Looking at how the competitive threats to Google are shaping up, I now understand why hitching your wagon to Google is a bad idea in the long term (even if say, they were not messing around with rankings and algos). Search was just the teething phase of the internet when people wanted to go somewhere but did not know where and entire niches were unstaked. Now brands are taking control and search is going to be less relevant
To summarize (sorry for the longwindedness), from a long term perspective, I am not worried. However, it does hurt in the short term and if there is something quick I can do to fix the situation, I will do it. For now, I am ramping up my postings on other mainstream industry sites (fully authorship verified and linked from my g+ account) so I am expanding my brand awareness and letting Google know while I am doing it, so hopefully at some point in near future the buzz will be large enough for them to take notice.
Re: what the Lycos exec told you...
My Penguin affected site was also getting 80% of its traffic from organic Google search (and all my other sites were far less dependent). I've heard others cite that stat, too, so I began to wonder if this was actually part of Penguin: Google detects that they're the vast majority of your traffic, and then they take away most of that traffic.
There are two possible reasons I can see this making sense to them. (1) They could assume if they're the vast majority of your traffic, that you must be doing "aggressive SEO" (as they described Penguin). Or (2) they may have been trying to solve the "feedback loop" issue we've discussed in other threads: once a site ranks highly, many searchers assume it's good and visit it, creating more positive signals for it... but those signals may be based solely on the existing high ranking. It's possible that one aspect of Penguin is to take away your Google dependence and see how you fare for a while. In which case that exec would be even more on the money.
I think it's good advice, whatever the case, and it's what I've been doing. I haven't seen as much recovery from Penguin as you have, but there are other things going on with my site. I've increase my social media presence, and the response from visitors has been positive. Google will respond to that eventually, and in the meantime, I'm building up other traffic sources so I will never again be so reliant on one source.
Ah, both these reasons make perfect sense to me. I think the Chrome usage is statistically significant enough to generate this traffic data for them, even in cases when the sites do not have GA installed, specifically for high traffic sites. Where it might fail is for new, low quality and scraper sites with little traffic and Google seems to have difficulty with them lately.
I know Google technically claims that they do not use Chrome/Analytics data in their main algo, but they could be running this once in a while when enough data is collected (say once a year) and apply modifiers to their main algo.
Your 2nd reason, if true, throws up an interesting scenario. If many people visit a site, even when it does not rank well, Google might take it as a feedback that the site is good. When the rank improves, Google's share of traffic will increase again. I assume (hope) they will have some sort of a safeguard that prevents the Penguin "test" from running on the same site again. Again, hypothetical, but this would imply that changing domains to escape Penguin might be a losing proposition as it keeps resetting the clock, even if you start with a fresh link profile.
Perhaps these links that I am worried about might even be a positive in the next Penguin run as they DO get relevant traffic that converts. At least I can hope!
There are many sites that get 80% of their traffic from organic Google (mine included) that were not hit by penguin.
It would be an interesting algorithm to base what percent of traffic a site may get from organic google based on its CTR, bounce back rate, and other usability metrics.
On the other hand, I wouldn't expect them to test it all at once. They do tests all the time where the promote or demote a site for a query to test user reaction. They can do those tests query by query, user by user, and for the most part webmasters are none the wiser.
Deadsea, like I said above, I think this could be "one aspect" of Penguin, not an automatic across-the-board issue for every website getting the bulk of their traffic through Google organic.
I think you should take this question to the Google forums and see if you can get John Mueller to answer it. I'd be interested to hear what he has to say.
|One nice thing about Google's disavow tool is that you don't have to actually remove the questionable links, but only disavow them, so that your site can still get traffic from them. |
I missed this the first time around.
Google wants to see an attempt to get *bad* links removed. Google wants you to document in the disavow file your attempts to get the links taken down,
#I didn't ask the reputable news site that links to
#mine to remove the links.
#I know you say I should, but the links send relevant traffic
#that converts. I just want you to pretend these links aren't
#there while I still get all the advantages from them.
|Google wants to see an attempt to get *bad* links removed. Google wants you to document in the disavow file your attempts to get the links taken down, |
I don't give a darn what Google wants. It'll be a cold day in hell before I spend any of my time trying to get backlinks removed. What nonsense.