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Does Google Slap Sites for Questionable Internal Links?

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Google's Panda Update It seems there’s a healthy amount of lore being generated online in SEO circles these days. Gone are the days of surefire ranking power with an arsenal of software – now there’s much more at play. Google’s Panda algo made on-page linking a very risky proposition, and although some in the SEO biz swear their linking strategies are failsafe, the reality is that no one knows for sure what to do… except Google, of course.

The only real way to figure out what works and what doesn’t in this ever-changing search environment of ours is to test, test, and test some more. However, all this being true, some SEOs nevertheless insist on fighting with one another tooth and nail to defend their chosen internal linking strategies.

According to a recent post from Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Roundtable, one such debate went down on the popular forum Webmaster World the other day. In this particular war, the topic du jour was internal linking on a website’s homepage.

Let the games begin.

The Question that Started the Madness

The original post that started the thread was a question about internal linking:

The replies to the post were innocuous enough at first, with fellow webmasters agreeing that they’d seen similar scenarios play out with sites of their own. A couple offered the suggestion of varying the anchor text on internal pages that linked back to home. However, everyone seemed to agree that using one main keyword term to link back to home consistently throughout a website is bad news.

Then, other webmasters began to chime in, adamant that anything besides anchor text such as “Home” or “Homepage” was manipulative. Then, one member made an excellent point that seemed to put the whole debate in perspective:

Another reply made a great point as well – that anchor text should indicate what a page is instead of what an SEO may want it to be. Fantastic food for thought all around, but then a couple of clashes inevitably emerged as the thread wore on.

Queue the Squabbling

The argument ensured over a difference of opinion about pages that have multiple links to the same location elsewhere on the same site. One member claimed there was an SEO theory stating that if there are 10 or so links on a page and almost half point to one single page, then the page in question would lose 30% of its link juice. In response to this theory, another member countered:

Ouch. In his reply, the member went on to reference quite a few reliable reports from webmasters indicating that nothing but the first link for a page pointing to a target counts in Google’s eyes. The rest, he continues, are wasted effort at best and – at worst – possible spam triggers.

The topic of the fight had detoured from the original discussion, centering around an issue that is miniscule at best when looking at a website’s overall linking structure. This is often the case in both webmaster forums and the comment sections of SEO blogs. Why? Although pockets of SEOs have “proof” that a certain change or implementation “works,” the unfortunate truth is that no one really knows why or how Big G tears down or reinstates websites. It’s a matter of colloquial advice, so implement suggestions at your own risk.

Best Practices in Uncertain Times

So, what’s a webmaster to do with all this conflicting information floating around the ol’ interwebs? Use a little common sense, first and foremost. If something you’re thinking of trying on your site feels artificial, don’t do it.

The advice to change keyword-stuffed links on internal pages that point to the homepage does, however, make sense. However, whether you use “Home,” “Homepage,” or your website’s name, you’re most likely in the clear. Don’t try to link home – simply do it if the content merits such a link.

Case closed.

But wait… we’re not done yet! There were also a couple of other good tidbits to take away from the thread. One SEO pointed readers to a forum member’s summation of Google’s Spam Detection Patent elements. According to that post, the member explained that the wording indicates G scores websites based on a variety of factors, including:

Trying to engage in any manipulative practices such as these is SEO suicide at this point. Of course, most webmasters have moved on from practices such as these, but another member said some have taken things way too far:

In a nutshell: fix links to your homepage if you’re using keywords as anchor text. In addition, it’s probably a good idea to nix any keyword-stuffing you implement on your pages. Times are a ‘changin, and the algos are becoming increasingly sophisticated as the years wear on. Make sure your website has a central focus and a set of keywords to go with it, but don’t spin your wheels trying to fit each one into every square inch of your site. Instead, use keywords naturally as you create your website content. If you do, your chances of keeping your spot in the SERPs will dramatically improve.

  

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