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Not all websites are looked at the same, and not all networks are analyzed the same by Google. But I would say that in the game of risk vs reward, the SEO you know is probably playing more on the side of risk.
Once any of the websites ranks consistently, you might get human inspection from Google and competitors. :)
[edited by: tedster at 7:09 pm (utc) on July 29, 2009]
In fact, I would say its more of a problem if Google penalised such situations. A consumer of such services might like to be able to roam between gaming sites, comfortable in the fact they are all run by the same operator, presumably an operator they trust.
Its only when you start sneaky interlinking-for-SEO that the big G should aim their counter-measures at you.
Similarly, don't try to give your sites an artificial boost by interlinking. How you balance these two is up to you, but I'd err on the side of "if its good for my user, its good for me".
Golden rule: EVERY LINK YOU HOST, MUST TO TO AN ON-TOPIC SITE- preferably an on-topic page
That means if I own 100 domains and think that Domain #101 fits in
If GOOGLE thinks it fits, analysis of similar situations suggests you should be fine, but there are caveats.
First amongst them is that each of those sites should enjoy a independant backlink profile, and that Site101 should have links other than from Sites(1-100). Homogenous backlinks look spammy.
Otherwise, if its done above board, you are unlikely to get penalised. The links probably will have less pop than other links, but actual penalties are unlikely.
A "penalty-like occurance" may be evident down the line. That's because the links will likely be fully counted to start with, then the association discovered, links devalued, ranking lowered. Not a penalty- your site is higher than if the links were never there, but lower than if the links were independant. Removing the links hurts the site further. I suspect this phenomena is behind the vast majority of "my site just got penalised" stories we get.
Disclaimer: The above is speculation. It fits with my experience, though I appreciate it is not SEO Orthodoxy. YMMV. Forum advice is no substitute for personal experience.
If in doubt, test
my competitor dominates the SERPs for serious keywords, based on a pyramid of themed sites spread across only 4 or 5 servers
Google.co.uk by any chance? Big thing over here. One guy in the legal industry actually has each site as a different keyword in the navigation panel for each website. A network of 22 domains all with practically identical navigation panels linking to each other.
Amazing! Ranks just under us for most but above us for some. That's impressive considering that it took 3 years and 10,000+ backlinks for us to get to that spot whilst he's just tailored the 22 domains with 100 backlinks to each to cover the same ground as our 1 site.
Manual inspection? Maybe in the US where such things get media attention ... doubt there is a UK inspection team ... our results are the biggest load of spam you've ever seen.
doubt there is a UK inspection team ... our results are the biggest load of spam you've ever seen
They certainly are. Obvious (and surprisingly small) networks of 'directories' and 'blogs' being used to get 1st place trade/professional town/city rankings all over the shop.
Google.co.uk by any chance
I've saw similar in the UK, where there's a 'main' site with the brand name, and brand-location child domains.
Out of 1100 backlinks shown for the main site, hundred's are the child site, which are on the same class C and obviously the same 'entity' creating the site (a couple of dozen per IP). They rank fairly well too, for a lucrative market. To be fair they're a large company, but on the other hand one site would've been just as practical for users.
From the human POV, it can 'seem' less spammy when it's a well known brand or big industry player.