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Linking liberally- in your geographic area for a tourism site?

 2:21 pm on Jan 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

I am in a specialised area of tourism. I have always linked liberally to businesses within my geographic area that cater to my clients. I just felt it was the best way to introduce my clients to the area and places and or businesses of interest to them.

I am now getting paranoid that this may be considered improper in some way by Google.

I never check to see what the recipients PR is because I don't think that's a legitimate reason to link or not link. I don't charge for any links and I link to anyone and everyone who may sell goods or services that my clients would be interested in while they are visiting. If companies within my area want links but would be of no interest to my clients, I don't link to them and no amount of begging will get me to do it. I also never ask for links in return. In fact, I have never once asked for a link from anyone … free or otherwise.

Is this type of linking a thing of the past?



 3:36 pm on Jan 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Is this type of linking a thing of the past?

No. Why would it be? Google depends on links to discover and rank sites. It wouldn't make sense for Google to punish legitimate links, which are as essential to Google as they are to the functioning of the Web.


 4:05 pm on Jan 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

No. Why would it be?

I don't understand most of what Google is doing these days, so just trying to figure things out.

I have started doing individual pages for places and businesses that my clients would be interested in. I am including links to their websites if they have a website. Many don't.

I just started thinking that perhaps Google might see these things as "paid" … when they aren't. They are 100% legit links and they are specifically for the edification of my clients.


 4:22 pm on Jan 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

I link out like a mofo, and my sites do extremely well. Some of the linked-to sites notice the link and link back (including some very valuable .gov and municipal sites)

I do not mess with keywords in anchor text though; I'd keep it simple. If the sites you link to are high quality and there's no overt keyword manipulation, you should be fine.


 4:30 pm on Jan 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

OK … thanks netmeg. What you said about not messing with anchor text makes sense!

However, you said:
If the sites you link to are high quality

I don't worry about the quality of the websites I link to. I am in a very unsophisticated part of the world where some business owners can barely spell, let alone understand the purpose of a website.

If they offer a service or product my clients would be interested in, I link to them … I don't care about the quality of their website. I care about my client's enjoyment of their stay here and what the other people have to offer that could make their stay here more enjoyable or more fun!


 5:57 pm on Jan 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

This was good advice in 2009 and I think it still is (martinibuster on link cliques)

I believe that in and of itself linking out to quality sites that are relevant to your visitors does not help you ranking, but it does help situate yourself, so it helps with relevancy.


 6:40 pm on Jan 21, 2014 (gmt 0)

Many thanks Ergophobe. I am not really interested in what the links do for me. I am interested in providing the most up-to-date and relevant information for my clients.

As I am in a specialty area of tourism, I receive thousands of questions from where to eat, where to stay the first night the client arrives before embarking on what I offer, what shops the wives would be interested in visiting while they are here, where they can get corn rows done, where to visit along the way, where they can buy cool things to take home, etc.

I have a rather in depth website, but am going a few steps further and adding even more content. By doing so, and in keeping with my previous practices, I am also adding links to the information supplied.

I just want to be sure that this is not something Google considers "spammy". I certainly don't think it is and I know my clients don't … but Google clearly has some strange rules these days and I honestly don't understand most of them. I don't "get" their logic on many things they have done in the recent past.

I mean, why penalise someone for someone else's inbound links to your website? I sure as heck didn't ask for any of them! Why should I have to spend MY time disavowing them? Why can't Google just ignore them completely?

I don't want to use "nofollow" if I don't have to. I don't want anyone to think that I think their website is trashy … even if it is! Some of these people think they have a "website" if they have a Facebook page and all they do is put a picture of their store and a phone number on there. Some of them don't even have email! :)

But this lack of modern day internet savvy is, in and of itself, what makes many of these people, places, shops, restaurants and other services so interesting for my client base.


 2:44 am on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

I hesitate to even go here because feelings about Google run strong, but as I see it...

Honestly, I've never seen a site sink that didn't deserve it, and I'm talking about a couple that I've been responsible for that tanked. Quality sites that are regularly updated and have unique, expert information do as well as ever. Perhaps better because they aren't leaking traffic to spammers and scrapers.

A few years ago the Google results were so full of spam it was insane. I did some tests where I wrote articles of good quality, though hardly groundbreaking, and included some unique phrases that I could track. I would publish those pages in article directories and within 12 hours the first ten results were scraper sites with spun content often with completely nonsensical language (think "What's it like to SCUBA plunge in a classroom of fish?"). My original was quickly pushed off the front page.

Overwhelmingly in the last few years what has changed is Google has gotten way better at smelling the garbage. I've seen some of my garbage get smelled and literally drop off the grid. But it was garbage. I've heard of a few cases where the garbage smelling dial gets turned a little aggressively, but my garbage was garbage (not spam, but just non-expert content that in a print world would never get published; it was "good for the web" but garbage in any absolute sense). This was certainly true of the early Panda/Penguin rollouts that caused some collateral damage. That collateral damage got a lot of press, but the simple fact is before Panda and Penguin, I felt like Google was sinking in a cesspool and had become almost completely unusable.

Something I've been saying for years is that the end game of SEO is when search engines have the natural language and analytics abilities of a subject-area expert and the speed of a supercomputer. This is coming. Just recently IBM has decided to invest billions in Watson, the natural-language computer that defeated two Jeopardy champions a couple years ago. The current version of Watson is already 20 times faster than the version that won Jeopardy against two of the best humans to ever play the game.

To me, whoever can make the Watson technology work on a general task like indexing the web wins. Google will I'm sure spend billions to make sure that it's not IBM, though I don't think Google is yet especially strong in that field. But when you are trying to think of where things are headed, that's always the long-term target. We're a long ways off, but I think any technique that will withstand that standard (checkup by subject expert) will be very unlikely to become collateral damage in a Google update. It does happen, but it's far more rare than you might believe from all the accounts of webmasters who say their awesome site sunk for no reason (or, another version, their site which did will for so long suddenly and for no reason dropped).

So Google is miles and miles from a natural language search engine, but Google has expanded use of the knowledge graph way beyond calculating degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. It has gotten way better at understanding all sorts of associations and connections and that means that it's harder to rank for content that is not useful. I think in your case, that's actually good news. If you have useful content, you have less competition from people who are aggressively buying crappy and obvious links to their mediocre content.

Why penalise someone for someone else's inbound links to your website?

Short answer: because Google's algorithm and infrastructure are not that good. If the they were really good enough, they would simply recognize spam as spam and ignore it. The fact is, though, Google isn't actually good enough to sniff out all spam so Google relies on a two-pronged approach:
1) attempt to recognize spam and ignore it
2) bully and intimidate webmasters so they're too scared to try, thus reducing the overall stress on Google infrastructure.

So many people found we could get some pretty decent traffic by paying someone to do hundreds, even thousands of directory submissions. This was pure SEO BS and had no value to anyone, but it was cheap, formulaic and easy to hire out. The purpose was to game Google. When Penguin rolled out, Google was able to see that and one site I work on lost 90% of its traffic (they were doing these submissions before I ever came onboard).

On another site, which is a substantial company with namebrand, I got an impassioned query about why they suddenly lost all search traffic for one of their money pages. I didn't think it was anything I had done (backend stuff), but was a little worried I'd screwed something up on the server... until I saw that their inbound links for that page were all spam. They had hired an SEO company and stipulated that they didn't want any garbage links because they didn't want to sully the image. When I sent the link to the marketing director and he saw what the SEO company had done, he went ballistic. But it was too late. And realistically, that technique had brought them good traffic for three years. But there was nothing to do at that point but to own up, disavow the links and move on.

To get an idea of what sort of links I'm talking about that got this page dropped from the SERPS, imagine a knitting site where the commenter used the user name "Performance Corvette Mufflers" and then commented with "Wonderful article! I learn much interesting thing from your blog. Keep up the good work!" It was actually worse than that, but I don't even know how to make up something as bad as what the original SEO contractor had done.

Nobody would do stuff like that if not for weaknesses in the Google algo. So basically Google said "Okay, you want to screw with us? We're going to make it hurt if you get caught."

In my experience, 80-90% of the people who complain about unfair penalties from Google are simply not being open and honest with themselves about the quality of their sites. Demand Media might claim there was tons of great stuff on eHow, but mostly it was crap. And it was hit[1]. Jason Calcanis may think Mahalo was an awesome site and Google was wrong to penalize it [2,3], but in 2010 Aaron Wall called him to the floor and criticized Matt Cutts for pimping spam[4] when Cutts made positive comments about the site.

I'm mixing Penguin and Panda here since eHow and Mahalo were hit for thin content, not spammy linking, but just to say that these are some of the issues that Google was trying to solve while you were off running your real business instead of comment spamming sites totally unrelated to your business. I think that there have been a few times when spam began to choke Google to death and it was literally a matter of fix it or die. 2011-12 was one such time. Google results had gotten so crappy that I think Google was literally scared that their useless search results would create an opening of Bing could just get it right. So they got a little trigger happpy and hurt some good sites, but overwhelmingly they hurt the crap sites.

1. [searchengineland.com...]
2. [searchengineland.com...]
3. [nichepursuits.com...]
4. [seobook.com...]


 2:57 am on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

Uhh.... I guess I got a bit carried away there. That's got to be the longest post I've written on WebmasterWorld in years. Nowadays we blog anything that long ;-)


 6:08 am on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)


The reality is that search engines still can't understand what is actually on a web page. So they need to rely on measurable indicators and links are the indicator of choice, along with a bunch of other criteria. Links are votes but when you start voting for yourself, you will get smacked sooner or later. So as long as you avoid doing that you should be OK (or so the theory goes)

The risk, if there is a risk, is if Google takes it into their head to treat outbound links to relevant, authority sites as being manipulative because you can create them yourself. There is a convoluted logic that says "how good can a site be if it needs to keep linking out to other sites for information? If it is a good site it should provide the information itself"

Heaven forbid we should ever get to that situation but I for one would not be surprised if we do. If Google thinks OBL's are impacting their algo, they will take action and collateral damage be damned.

We now live in an environment of authority sites, skewed domain authority, unnatural link profiles, disavow requests, reconsideration requests, manual penalties, non-message Penguin penalties, guest blogging penalties, nofollow vs dofollow …. an environment so confusing and toxic that it smacks of an emergency ward full of bandages and band-aids. Not only do you have to get over those hurdles but you have to also factor in that Google is now an active affiliate in several niches, of which travel is just one.

There are many who believe that Google now only pays lip service to being a search engine and there are also many who believe that Penguin was really about the money… a clearing of the playing field (affiliates in particular) that left Google and a small group of travel authority sites to dominate the affiliate market place.

If this is the new reality then your future success may depend more on whether Google sees you as a competitor, never mind how you manage your link profile.

But I would just add that if you are in the travel niche and your site has not been smashed, then you must be doing something right.... so if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


 11:16 am on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

Many thanks for your very in depth response ergophobe. I have a lot to chomp on and take in there!

austtr, I do supply "some" information as well as photos. I only link out to the actual site so that my clients can get more in depth info about the place or service offered if they want or need to.

But I would just add that if you are in the travel niche and your site has not been smashed, then you must be doing something right.... so if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Sadly, it is broke.

I have never bought or sold a link. I have never asked for a link and I have never had any means to link to my own site from elsewhere.

I am working diligently (with very limited knowledge) to try to discover why my site has tanked. So far, I'm not having much luck … and your note doesn't offer much hope that I ever will. :(


 11:34 am on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)


During the last two years I have tested more or less all kinds of linking out on different travel sites: removing them all, or linking extensively to wikipedia; or linking to anyone at all I saw fit, or removing any links to affiliate sites. None of these made any difference to results.

Of course, perceived 'poor quality' or other issues with sites could be masking the effects of changing linking strategy, so I don't link out as much as I used to.

The problem for regional travel sites might be solvable (my guess is that it isn't for the vast majority of us) but if it is I don't think the answer lies in outbound links (of course assuming you aren't selling links, exchanging links or linking to completely unrelated sites).


 12:10 pm on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

The problem for regional travel sites might be solvable (my guess is that it isn't for the vast majority of us) but if it is I don't think the answer lies in outbound links (of course assuming you aren't selling links, exchanging links or linking to completely unrelated sites).

Thanks Rasputin! I did not think the answer to my ranking problems lies with OBL's. I just wanted to make sure that the new content I am busy writing isn't going to cause further problems. So your response is very helpful in that respect. Thanks!

Having said that, I link to many completely unrelated sites because I am in a travel niche. So what I sell isn't in any way related to the restaurant business or hairdressers who do corn rows, or ladies who make hand made jewellery. The only way they are related is that this is the kind of info my clients want to know about because we occupy the same regional space ... and on their travels, these are the kinds of places they want to see and visit.

It's very confusing trying to second guess a machine and figure out what will or won't hurt your business. Particularly when that machine keeps getting fed new parameters to discern what is and isn't "good".

Back in the good old days when "content was king", things were much more straight forward. Hard work and perseverance paid off. Sigh. Now you have to eat, drink and live algorithms, penalties and the effects of outside forces on your site, just to barely get by. It is making the mom and pop website pretty much obsolete.

The wants and needs of the customer seem to have become secondary to the wants and needs of the search engine … and that's just wrong, no matter how you look at it.

My site is still at the top in Bing. The problem is that almost nobody uses Bing! The world is Goolglecentric and by the time the average user figures out that they are missing a lot of good content, many of us (good content providers) will be out of business.

Not whining … just noting my personal observations. Well maybe a "little bit" of whining there. I am not ready to retire! :)


 4:52 pm on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

Good post there Ergo!

I also link out liberally to quality sites, especially to local brick and mortar type businesses. As long as your site answers the particular query the searcher is there for, the link in my view is a value add.

The only time it might be a problem is if the link is the answer. As I understand it, the search engines wish to link to the actual answer, not to a page that might have a link to the answer. I think that makes sense.


 9:54 pm on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

Yes, ergophobes response was wonderful. I spent quite a bit of time reading the links supplied and following other links on the same topic from those pages as well.

The only time it might be a problem is if the link is the answer.

My content may be a problem then. You see, I created my website mainly to service my existing and prospective clients. The fact that it serves others is just a happy coincidence.

It is difficult to explain this without stating what I do … but suffice to say that what I sell is "mobile". When a client asks me about any given area within my geographic region, I will often point them to a main page that discusses that specific area. There, they will find an overview of the area with photos and descriptions.

At the bottom of that "overview page" page, they will find links to the various other businesses or points of interest I have written about and provided photos for. But I do not write about nitty gritty specifics, prices or that sort of thing. Since I don't sell those products or services, I leave that up to the individual business owners to take care of.

I am just letting them know that when you are in this area, you will find ABC park where your kids might enjoy doing DEF and there is also 123 restaurant that serves great hot dogs and a lovely store that sells 456. I post photos of the shops or restaurants or what have you, talk about it a little bit and put their contact info at the bottom of the page with a link to their website or Facebook page if they don't have a website.

So the link is the short answer for my clients "IF" they are interested in that sort of thing … but if they want the nitty gritty, they should visit the website or contact them directly by some other means. I always give a phone number but stopped posting email addresses. They change too frequently. In most cases, my short answer is sufficient because the long answer will be provided when they actually visit the shop, restaurant or whatever.

Whether it is "the long or short answer" for Joe Blow surfing the internet … I really can't say. In some cases, it is going to be the only answer any surfer (be they my existing or potential clients or Joe Blow surfer) because some of these people have no website and nobody else has bothered to do what I am doing.


 10:15 pm on Jan 22, 2014 (gmt 0)

The problem for regional travel sites might be solvable

Maybe in some cases, but this is where the domain authority of the big affiliate sites kicks in and makes it virtually impossible for the smaller local sites to rank competitively.

The small local guy can, and usually does, provide the superior viewer experience. Places to go, things to see, activities and events, local history, transport, rental providers, accommodation choices, weather, booking facilities etc etc.

The authority sites on the other hand punch out a boilerplate template page for every city or town with nothing like the depth of research and added value. BUT.... if the searched for place name appears somewhere in the content, then those pages will be catapulted to the top of the rankings due to the power of the domain. That makes it extremely difficult for the small local guys and gals to compete.

I know I sound like a negative, depressing conspiracy theorist and I really don't want that, but most of the folks in here are looking for technical solutions for their "WTF just happened?" event(s). IMO, much of what we see now is about the commercial reality of how Google protects its revenue sources.

It saddens me to see people pouring money into trying to find a technical solution to problems that MIGHT have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of their sites.


 3:34 am on Jan 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

but this is where the domain authority of the big affiliate sites kicks in

Trip Advisor is preponderant. It's like it eats everything in it's way.

Liane, thinking of some things that have changed in five years that would surprise someone who had good rankings and then paid no attention for five years.

You say you've never asked for a link, so this may not apply to you, but...

  • Targeted anchor text was good. Now it's sort of bad. Google has figured out that truly natural link profiles are perhaps 70% the domain name and "click here" (and its cousins) as anchor text. If you have "blue widgets" for 70% of your anchor text, that's not good.

  • Links in blog comments, directories, links pages were good, but now they leave a link profile that says "this person is link building." On a good day they get ignored. On a bad day, Google decides you need to be punished.

  • Not that long ago people were still saying 400-800 words was the SEO sweet spot for content. A 400-word page would now be considered "thin content" of little value and high ranking pages tend to be over 1000 words. I would say my highest ranking pages tend to be over 2000 words actually, but as you can see from my previous post, I may have a greater tendency to 2000 words than the average person.

  • Social signals may or may not count, but they certainly correlate to higher rankings. Look for the Searchmetrics rankings studies. They are correlational, but interesting. In general, pages that are talked about a lot on social media are likely to rank well. This could be a pure correlation and not at all causal, but it is a good diagnostic. Is your content "shareworthy"? If not, it may not be "rankworthy" either.

  • As austtr pointed out, domain authority is preponderant in many cases. Google is all about authority (power domains) and authentication (authorship). In the past, a tiny niche site might easily rank a couple of pages within broad subject areas dominated by the big boys. Now that's very hard. Brand counts. Brands are an easy shortcut for Google - a brand says authority and authenticity. Whether austtr's conspiracy theory is correct or not, I don't know, but the effect is the same - it could be Google's limitation. It could be willful. But for the small niche site owner, the effect is the same.

  • General content is hard to rank for. Overview information, general geographical info, glossaries and so forth used to all be good content. Now, Wikipedia is going to grab the top spots for almost all that type of thing. Again, austtr is right here as far as I can see.

Everyone - what else is Liane missing if she's been sleeping for five years?

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