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Why link building is so much harder now
We poisoned the well
beren




msg:3455096
 4:53 pm on Sep 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

Back in 2001 or so I had read that Google used links in their algorithm, so I decided to start asking other websites to link to my clientsí sites. I didnít know if anyone was doing link solicitation Ė this was before I discovered webmasterworld.com and similar boards. My email just said I have a suggestion for your site: you may want to add a link to my site. And it worked. While most of the sites I asked for links did not give me one, many did. We had good success with Google and as Google became more dominant, good success period.

Link building was something I would do maybe once a month, as it was time consuming and not much fun, even though it was very effective.

As the years wore on, link building has become harder and harder. The success rate declined and resistance increased. I even started receiving link requests from other webmasters, and it seemed that link building was going mainstream. I knew we had passed some sort of milestone two years ago when a woman responded to my request that she would not give me a link because she looked at my site and did not see a link to her site! She would not give a link unless a reciprocal one was given. It appeared that the run-of-the-mill site owners now understood that links were valuable. I donít mean people who hang out on webmasterworld. I mean the average site owner now understood that links carry value.

This rise in awareness of link value is a large part of the reason I think people are less likely to give them out. Itís not a secret or even known just by people in the trade. When people understand that links are worth something, they start to see link request emails as spam.

Today I received a request for a link to an unrelated site. The requestor suggested which page I put his link on (something I often do also) and then said ďor any other minimum PR Ė 3 pageĒ. Can you believe it?! He explicitly asked for a link on a page with a minimum PR! This type of link requests poisons the well even more. It teaches people to be aware of PR! No longer is PR something that only professionals know about; with this type of request more and more people will know about PR and start to think in those terms.

The point is that with all this link request activity, the average site owner now understands links are worth something and therefore much less likely to give links to requestors they donít know. Itís a shame, but the success of link building activity has poisoned the well.

 

Matt Probert




msg:3455116
 5:08 pm on Sep 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

Its the same old story that accompanies all SEO. We link to sites because the link may benefit our readers. That is the only reason. With so many sites linking to so many other unrelated sites the benefit to the user is minimal, its just a game of SEO forgetting that readers are the target, and while SEO tricks and manipulation may encourage larger quantities of initial visits, they wont attract back quality users.

Matt

cnvi




msg:3455225
 6:24 pm on Sep 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

As the years wore on, link building has become harder and harder. The success rate declined and resistance increased. I even started receiving link requests from other webmasters, and it seemed that link building was going mainstream .... The point is that with all this link request activity, the average site owner now understands links are worth something and therefore much less likely to give links to requestors they don't know. It's a shame, but the success of link building activity has poisoned the well..

Beren,

Excellent observation! I share your concerns because I work in the link exchange management business and I see the same trend you do on a daily basis. Today's new webmasters (who don't have the experience you have) simply don't see it the way you do.

I would like to share with you top 6 reasons why I believe link building is harder in 2007 than in 2001:

- Reason 1: Some (not all) webmasters have abused link building through link exchange in high volume with junk sites. In my opinion, this is Google's fault because they revealed their Pagerank scoring system based in part on link popularity instead of keeping it hidden like so many of their other technologies. G opened this proverbial pandoras box providing a means to game the Pagerank scoring system.

- Reason 2: You all have received an irrelevant link exchange request. If you know how to read between the lines, you realize that irrelevant link exchange requests are part of today's Internet - and that there are still quality link opportunities out there through relevant link exchange. But not all webmasters think that way anymore.. many webmasters have become frustrated with irrelevant link requests and some have thrown up their hands and said "no more" which is putting the baby out with the bathwater in my humble opinion. These webmasters who have given up on link exchange are missing out on some quality linking opportunities (see my reason 4 below where I tangent on a way to cut down on requests via email).

- Reason 3: 98% of what I read about link exchange on today's web is flat out false misinformation and/or webmaster paranoia. There is so much inaccurate information regarding link exchange on the web today, it confuses webmasters who don't know what to believe. Some simply say "I won't do it because Y blogger said X".

In the past week, I have seen article and blog topics along the lines of "link exchange will get you banned in Google" and "Matt Cutts said don't link exchange". Both completely false statements. The truth (based on my ten years of experience in the link exchange business and monitoring factual search engine webmaster guidelines) is that link exchange in slow natural volume with quality sites related to your own builds traffic to your site both via the links themselves, and through search engines rankings based in part on link popularity. Matt Cutts has never stated "do not link exchange". I read the conference transcripts and I watch his blog. Matt has indeed stated "there is such a think as excessive link exchange". Matt has also stated "avoid irrelevant reciprocal links". Google knows webmasters acquire quality links through relevant link exchange. But most webmasters don't realize this.. if it's been blogged by Joe SEO Expert, many webmasters believe it. This spreads false information causing webmasters to abandon this classic link building method.

- Reason 4: Link exchange is a mind numbing time consuming data management challenge. And although there are editor based software scripts and application services on the web that manage the tasks for you while allowing you to maintain editorial discretion, many webmasters are paranoid to use any software because they fear "it will get me banned by Google". Paranoia surrounding what G thinks affects webmasters decisions to link exchange; "I won't link to you because you are using X software". When all the while, there is documentation in Google webmasters forums indicating that G views link management software and scripts as CMS's.. it's HOW you use the software and not necessarily which software you use. However, unless the webmaster is reading these facts in an official forum maintained by a major search engine, webmasters are more inclined to believe the next paranoid blogger statement without questioning it's validity. "I read about it on the Internet so it must be true!"

Many sites who do participate in relevant link exchange and use quality link management software publish "suggest link forms" to take the hassle out of fielding link exchange requests. Watch for those forms. Use them when the link exchange is deemed relevant. There is nothing wrong with them and you are more likely to get a response to one of those forms than a direct email which we all agree are time consuming to deal with.

Here's a quickie tangent and tip and then back on topic: Suggest link forms are considered to be "low hanging fruit" for professional ethical link builders. Find them by searching keywords related to the site + link exchange such as "motorcycle parts suggest link" or "motorcycle parts add link" instead of sending email.

- Reason 5: Some webmasters who have read way too much misinformation about link exchange are doing it for SEO when they should be conducting link exchange as a traffic building and branding function. Sure it's ok to benefit from the SEO benefits but folks who send email demanding a link from "PR 3 or higher" as Beren suggested above are wasting their time and linking for all the wrong reasons. Folks, if you can get a quality link from a site that will benefit the end users of both sites, GET THE LINK regardless of PR or other metrics.

- Reason 6: Other marketing methods exist to build links.. you know them all, we discuss them here all the time so I won't bore you with a recap. As other marketing methods become successful, webmasters are more apt to try them, especially those that promise lots of links overnight without much effort by the webmaster. In this world of drive thru's, overnight shipping, and downloadable movies, webmasters want it now. However, it's the slow natural method of acquiring links that is exactly what the search engine Gods are always watching for. As other methods come under fire such as paid links, I think you will see webmasters return to their marketing roots and explore relevant link exchange.

Sorry for the long post.. I didnt realize I would go on so much! I would like to wrap up this post by explaining the three most important things webmasters need to know about link exchange: Editorial discretion, Relevancy, and Volume.

Editorial discretion: Google's Search Engine 125 patent cites "gaining links from documents without editorial discretion on making links" as a primary indication of "attempts to spam a search engine." Translation: maintain editorial control when making links. That's easy. Avoid software or services which guarantee links. Maintain editorial discretion always and don't allow a full duplex link exchange software to publish links you have not approved. There are many editor based software and scripts out there. Avoid the full duplex products.

Relevancy: The Google patent states "A sudden growth in the number of apparently independent peers, incoming and/or outgoing, with a large number of links to individual documents may indicate a potentially synthetic web graph, which is an indicator of an attempt to spam ... this information can be used to demote the impact of such links." Translation: Don't link to sites irrelevant to your own. Who you link out to says a lot about your linking strategy.

Volume: You may read about "natural volume" but rarely does anyone translate that into English.. how many link exchanges is too much? Google's patent on the subject says "While a spiky rate of growth in the number of back links may be a factor used by search engine 125 to score documents, it may also signal an attempt to spam search engine 125. Accordingly, in this situation, search engine 125 may actually lower the score of a document(s) to reduce the effect of spamming." Ö it goes on to say "The dates that links appear can also be used to detect 'spam,' where owners of documents or their colleagues create links to their own document for the purpose of boosting the score assigned by a search engine. A typical, 'legitimate' document attracts back links slowly."

So how do you fly under that "excessive link exchange" guideline recently published by Google? Easy. Avoid software or services that make links for your site in high volume. That means avoid the service that offers 500 links for $50. Instead, obtain links one by one over long periods of time (this is exactly what ethical link exchange facilitates). Example: get 1 link today, no links for the next four days, 3 the next day, 1 the next day, none for the next five days, 1 the next day, none for two weeks, 5 the next day, and so on.. That is natural volume.

Hard disk space is very cheap these days. You can bank on the fact that all of the search engines are trending how often you obtain links! Every time a search engine crawls your site, your site is being forensically probed in manners you never dreamed possible. It's worse than a rectal exam. Don't give a search engine any reason to penalize you. That means slow natural volume when obtaining links through link exchange.

Hopefully, some of the information above will get some webmasters rethinking link exchange as a perfectly acceptable marketing method in 2007.

dickbaker




msg:3455408
 10:29 pm on Sep 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

Great post, CNVI.

Perhaps your post should be included with every email request I send to another site that I would like to trade links with. ;)

Maxnpaddy




msg:3455465
 11:53 pm on Sep 19, 2007 (gmt 0)

So true and sensible, it's a wonder why many take the 'screw you for a link' option.

Lorel




msg:3455504
 12:47 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

I get about 20 link requests every day, most of which are proposing triangular linking schemes, or they are from foreign countries, or their sites are irrelevant to mine, all which I ignore (i have a message on my link page to that effect but people don't even read it).

I've only posted one link in the last few months and that was because the person took the time to look over my site (it wasn't a canned link request) and had content relevant to my own that would benefit my visitors. I was willing to link to his site without a trade but he posted a link to mine in return anyway.

buckworks




msg:3455516
 1:00 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

had content relevant to my own

That's the magic ingredient that the majority of link beggars mess up.

wheel




msg:3455532
 1:15 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

It's darwinian. It's a bit tougher to get links than it used to be and different strategies are needed - but it's a LOT harder for the second tier link builders. The rich get richer type of thing.

vincevincevince




msg:3455539
 1:27 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

beren, those are some excellent observations.

When you talk about poisoning the well...

I would love to review link suggestions which are from true site visitors with a genuine interest in the topic of the website. I can't. The number of genuine suggestions would be swamped by the number of webmasters and their outsourced teams engaging in self promotion.

I don't think it is fair to give links on the basis of link requests. Even if a website suggested to me is really good, I'd not link to it because it's unfair to all the other websites which aren't spamming me and are equally as good.

I link frequently, but the only effect your 'suggestion' email will have is to make me less inclined to link to your specific site. Want a link? Attract my attention by providing such an outstanding website that when I stumble across it in the course of general browsing, I feel I want to link to you.

dickbaker




msg:3455614
 3:41 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

vincevincevince, I also get many link requests every week.

I try as much as possible to look at the site and see if it's a quality site, and if it would have any value to my visitors.

I also look at the site's PageRank, but not for the reasons that a lot of webmasters do. If I see that it's a new site and has a PR of 0, I'll give them the link. I was there once with my most successful site, and I'm there again with my new site.

Begging for links is a real drag.

Maxnpaddy




msg:3455726
 6:59 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Rarely do I get a decent link proposal. The majority of sites approaching me are either desperate offering no benefit in return or plain dumb in that they have approached a totally unrelated website, where my visitors won't be interested.

Surely a waste of time sending the email in the first place.

jecasc




msg:3455786
 9:54 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Link building is still easy when you offer valuable content and target relevant websites.

Before you ask for a link exchange take at a look at the website and ask yourself where the owner could put your link. If you yourself don't have a clue where it could fit in, then your potential link-exchange partner will probably have no clue either.

wolfadeus




msg:3455804
 10:50 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

So we agree that link exchange has suffered from a terrible inflation in the past couple of years...

But what can be a practical solution?

For myself, I concentrate on content; also, I use my established "network" of webmasters that I know from past exchanges; and I try to approach people that I know as "responsible" white-hat webmasters - for example here at WW.

Other ideas?

trooperbill




msg:3455819
 11:25 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thats just sour grapes... *whinging* it used to be my secret technique and now everyone knows about it WAHHH! */whinging*

I think its a good thing that clients are getting to know more about seo. however i have to dissagree completeley that this is the reason why link building is getting harder as your reasoning just states that you cant exploit people as much as you used to... the real reason is googles manual editing of the serps which is a factor you just cant work around!

mark

[edited by: jatar_k at 11:55 am (utc) on Sep. 20, 2007]
[edit reason] no sigs thanks [/edit]

Miamacs




msg:3455826
 11:41 am on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Beren, cnvi...
Nice posts!

I have the same problem, and even developed a non-conditional disgust of doing link research ( the turnoff of being rejected so many times, clearly because of the reasons you listed ).

And it turns out that even though I'd like to push this onto someone else's desk, the task requires my SEO eyes... I could tell others what to look for but... they'd never manage as well as I do.

*sob*

Let's find a solution and get out of this mess, shall we? Google arranged the set for us, all we need to do now is tell people how links work in 2007.

...

As with every trend in SEO the public is informed/misinformed with a lag of about 2/3 years.

Which sometimes is for the benefit, but most of the time is just plain annoying to those who know the realities. One thing is for sure, it slows the process down. Which is a problem because I don't like doing it.

...

Want to put an end to this?
Educate people of the *real* facts.

Penalties, filters, phrase based reranking related to...

Irrelevant links (2007):
aka. links bought for PR, nonsense link exchanges, blog spam, non-editorial directories

- Irrelevant links get devalued. PERIOD. ( not just new links, but *all* such links in retrospect )
- a site with lots of irrelevant links ON it *will* get a penalty.
- a site with lots of irrelevant links TO it *will* be demoted.
- a new site which aims to compete in monitored areas with links from irrelevant sources will *never* make it. Regardless of volume.
- and most importantly... regardless of the trust towards the source ( an irrlevant link from Harvard, is... just as irrelevant. uh, er, no, actually it's worse, for it'll flag you until you gather enough trust, relevance to counter that link... as if you could. .edu spammers: goodbye. )

- Relevant links ( in and out ) will strengthen your theme in Google. You'll rank higher.
- Also, relevant links for some mysterious reason, tend to bring in more traffic too.
- A lot of such links will make you less dependent on search engine traffic.
- A site with lots of relevant links ON it is *OK*
- A site with lots of relevant links TO it is *OK* ( extension: don't request/exchange/buy sitewide links to your site. Make sure to have variety in your incoming anchor text, watch out for natural balance in your link profile )

- Not only is this the only method that'll work, but... honestly...
- People, it's EASIER this way! ( and more fun! it's like marketing research! You'll get to know the competition, you'll see many, many ideas on the same theme... it can be inspiring, it can yield a new idea for content that's not yet covered on the net. Join the new Initiative NOW and make the Internet a Better Place. Yaay. ... )

- I guess sooner or later people will get this.
- My link campaigns outrank long established competition with 1/100 the number of links. Get it now?

These aren't myths, gossip, blog posts from Joe SEO, these are/this is the new Google, the new patents, the prelude to Universal Search, TrustRank revisited, and the root of all -950 rankings. I've been doing research since May on the issue of what caused all the shakeup. In layman's terms the trust that's passed with links and which is required to rank for competitive phrases... is tied to relevance. You have to stay on topic.

- Those who don't adapt
You'll be out of business soon enough, so I guess you can just stop posting cr@p on your SEO blog as if you knew what you're doing.

If we let people know that irrelevant links aren't worth it, the practice of linking will be *forced* to revert to normal... er... pre-Google standards.

- Link to me, I've posted great content and you're the established website on topic, please help.
- Link to me and I'll link to you, let's share the visitors interested in this.
- I'll link to you because you've posted great content. No need to thank me.

Meaning... lot more comprehensive, managable communication between those who built a new site, and those who are already at the top and want to stay there.

In short

Competitive keywords:

- Relevant links, ie. the *source* and the *target* being relevant to each other will make you rank.
- Irrelevant links ie. the *source* is NOT related to the *target* won't go nowhere + kill your rankings for life.

Non-competitive keywords:

- Google doesn't care, neither do I, nor does any SEO. And this isn't a coincidence.

Solution:
Go out, look for sites that are related to yours.
Related by theme, and not only words.

...

btw. dear established website owners who refuse link (exchange/partnership) requests by default. I've managed link campaigns enough times to know that any link while might be useful, is rarely *necessary* to beat you to your own keywords. Regardless of how many years you've spent putting up quality content, and collecting links from the then authorities. Consider this: either you're refusing all requests to keep your status, and pray those startups don't find a way to beat you without your help... or link to, and get linked from most startups of quality, making you the authority/hub for life on the topic, even if it means you sometimes give out that power to new competitors. Your choice.

maximillianos




msg:3455847
 12:01 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

My favorite are the requests that say their site is a "predicted" PRX or whatever...

They have no clue.

But I guess it is like those telemarketing scams... some folks must fall for it or they wouldn't keep doing it... right?

trooperbill




msg:3455848
 12:03 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

mianacs: good post... tho in this day and age you have to be carefull getting/buying even good quality links...

crobb305




msg:3455926
 1:34 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

My favorite are the requests that say their site is a "predicted" PRX or whatever...

yeah, and the ones that give you a lecture about the "value of link exchanges". Annoying. I just hit delete.

londrum




msg:3455936
 1:47 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

i hate the emails which ask for a link first, and then say something like "as soon as we see our link on your site, we will place your link on ours"

how cheeky is that! they are asking for a link but can't be bothered to do yours until you have done theirs. needless to say, those emails just get deleted.

pageoneresults




msg:3455956
 2:06 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

I knew we had passed some sort of milestone two years ago when a woman responded to my request that she would not give me a link because she looked at my site and did not see a link to her site!

I have some hilarious stories to share about a particular link exchange directory that I manage. I do things a little differently though. :)

When people understand that links are worth something, they start to see link request emails as spam.

I think you can blame two entities in this instance; Google and the Automation of Link Requests.

Can you believe it?! He explicitly asked for a link on a page with a minimum PR!

Standard M.O. for most link requests. These people are clueless.

The point is that with all this link request activity, the average site owner now understands links are worth something and therefore much less likely to give links to requestors they donít know.

Actually, they (the average site owner) are a bit late to the game. This particular fad of exchanging links is dying a slow but sure death.

Itís a shame, but the success of link building activity has poisoned the well.

No, automation, greed and cheap labor (link monkeys) have poisoned the well.

aleksl




msg:3455962
 2:09 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

There are 10 billion websites out there 9 billion of which are for-profit or created for the Search Engines

of course it's tougher to get links, if 9 out of 10 websites are created either to make money (i.e. they hardly link back) or to beat The Algo (so they don't link back at all).

Arhh, the good old days when websites were built for people...

"We" poisoned the well? Hardly. Search Engines relying mostly on links Algo did.

cnvi, you may had a good post...didn't read it though. buddy, learn how to present your thoughts with a lot less words. Your websites will greatly benefit. You will greatly benefit.

buckworks




msg:3455975
 2:25 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

No, automation, greed and cheap labor (link monkeys) have poisoned the well.

None of those would have poisoned the well if they were used only to make relevant, well-targeted link requests.

It's the utter brainlessness of most link requests that's poisonous.

sunny_kat




msg:3455976
 2:26 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

londrum

How would a webmaster know "what link text would you prefer for your website"?

pageoneresults




msg:3455982
 2:32 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

None of those would have poisoned the well if they were used only to make relevant, well-targeted link requests.

How do you produce relevant well targeted link requests in an automation environment? No wait, don't answer that, what a can of worms that would be.

95% of the link requests I see come from a particular region in the world. "They" are responsible for the current link trend. Yes, I said it. I'm not going to name a specific country as we have many members here from that country. But, you know who the hell you are.

Personally, I'm sick of the whole link exchange business. It stinks from all angles no matter what way you look at it.

Next time someone sends me a link exchange request, I'm going to send them a picture of a chain link along with a listing in my Clueless SEO Directory with all the others.

buckworks




msg:3455992
 2:40 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

How do you produce relevant well targeted link requests in an automation environment?

You use automation in limited ways, NOT for the whole process.

"They" are responsible for the current link trend.

The people hiring them and tolerating shoddy work are responsible.

pageoneresults




msg:3455997
 2:45 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

You use automation in limited ways, NOT for the whole process.

I have a confession. I've never had the need for automation in this particular area, ever. There is nothing to automate.

My tools: Search Engines, WhoIs, Yellow Pages, the Telephone and good ole email. Plus I pay real close attention to referrer activity and am somewhat active in the industries where I might be pursuing this type of engagement.

Why link building is so much harder now

For me, this is a good sign! The old fashioned methods of doing business still reign today.

europeforvisitors




msg:3456019
 3:01 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think there's another reason why it's harder to get links (and why, for example, I'm slower to give links):

With so many sites out there, the bar is higher than it was a few years ago.

Take the travel sector:

In the 1990s, I'd link to Web pages for [city] vacation apartments because most users didn't know they could rent furnished apartments for a few days or a week in [city], and if they did, they had no idea where to go. Nowadays, any user can find hundreds of listings with a Google search, so--except for grandfathered links from years ago--I'll link to a [city] apartment site only if:

- I've stayed in the apartment and am writing an article about it, or...

- There's something so cool or unique about the apartment or the owner's Web site that it merits a link.

Similarly, it wasn't so long ago that a useful site about Widgetberg or the Whatsit Islands was hard to find. Today, there are any number of perfectly adequate sites about those places, and a site that wants my attention (and a link) needs to be better than the ones I'm already linking to. I'm not interested in spending my days linking to any and every site about Widgetberg or the Whatsit Islands, especially when the content for so many new sites is little more than filler for pages of AdSense ads.

The Web is like any other business: If you're late to the party, you need to offer something that existing businesses don't. Being "as good as" (or, worse yet, merely being a copycat who doesn't even bother to be "as good as") isn't good enough.

oodlum




msg:3456024
 3:07 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

...an irrlevant link from Harvard, is... just as irrelevant. uh, er, no, actually it's worse, for it'll flag you until you gather enough trust, relevance to counter that link... as if you could

...and the root of all -950 rankings.

...Irrelevant links ie. the *source* is NOT related to the *target* won't go nowhere + kill your rankings for life.

So a single irrelevant PR9 link can bomb a whole site unless that site has the equivalent in relevant links? It sounds like an easy way to sabotage a competitor.

Or do you mean many such links?

I was under the impression that dubious incoming links would only ever be devalued, rather than actually hurt a site.

centime




msg:3456026
 3:09 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

The law of diminishing returns applies to almost everything

pageoneresults




msg:3456055
 3:21 pm on Sep 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Why link building is so much harder now?

If you're doing it via email, my guess is that your deliverability rates are very low.

If you're automating the process, my guess is that your success rate is determined solely on volume due to the email issues above.

Link building is no more difficult for me than it was 5 years ago. Its the same process I've used from the beginning. I'll be damned if I'm going to sit and chase links. Nah, I have better ways of garnering those things. ;)

I was under the impression that dubious incoming links would only ever be devalued, rather than actually hurt a site.

Many of us are. But, there may be some merit in the idea that a competitor could sabotage a site if the dubious links can somehow be tied into an existing link profile of the site being sabotaged. Guilt through association. ;)

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