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Are Links Hurting Search Relevance?

According to conventional SEO wisdom, link building is the key to a successful search engine ranking. The rationale is simple; with more links pointing to your site, your site has a better chance of getting noticed by search engines as they crawl the web populating their index. Because search engines are thought to value links, site owners have been scrambling to acquire links pointing to their web presence. However, has this mad dash to acquire links also damaged the importance of links as an indicator of relevance? Or has it damaged the quality of Internet content has whole? Some think both scenarios have occurred.

Has the quest for links damaged the quality of content on the Internet. Do unscrupulous link building methods have an effect on search engine results? Discuss these and other thoughts at WebProWorld.

Search engines seem to value inbound links related to the content of a site. For instance, if you run an e-business site that sells blue widgets and you have links pointing to you from sites that offer online gambling services, search engines may not consider the links as valuable. However, there is also a more pragmatic approach. Jill Whalen offers these thoughts, “a link, is a link, is a link (as Debra, our link building mod always says). It doesn’t have to be related, although it’s better if it is.”

Because search engines have responded favorably to sites with high number of inbound links, link building has become what a SearchEngineWatch poster refers to as “the new sport”. The quest for links has given birth to a number of spam techniques designed into tricking search engines into giving higher rankings. Doorway pages, link farms, keyword-rich generated link pages, and duplicate content under different domains have all risen from the desire to capitalize on the value search engines place on links.

IHelpYou (Doug Heil) feels that link building may have damaged Internet content as a whole. This much is indicated by his statement, which says, “This link exchange stuff has actually ruined the internet. This is why you are now seeing a “De-emphasis” on links coming in from Google, and from Yahoo, and you will see that the new MSN will not be putting much stock on linking as well. The link stuff has been ruined by SEO’s…”

This discussion serves as a good indicator of where differing sides stand on the subject of link building. Some believe it’s completely necessary to make a dent in SERP ranking, while others like Doug feel that it damages the quality of content available on the Internet. Doug supports his beliefs in a thread on IHY where he says, “I simply don’t buy into this link stuff much at all. I have many sites ranked with very few links. Those links are “high” quality however. SEO is much more than simple links.” Unscrupulous link building may also contribute to the decreasing quality of search results.

Some feel that the quest for link exchanges may have damaged the relevancy of content on the Internet. These fears are shared by Mike Grehan, who says, “Just as search engines looked for a way to remove the basic ability to manipulate rankings as they did by changing the importance and parameters of “on page” optimization, the same applies with linkage.” Mike feels that there are two issues concerning the effects of link building:

“1) The filthy linking rich are being aided and abetted by the search marketing community, so we are actually creating the artificially inflated linking environment of the commercial web to its detriment.

2) Just as search engines looked for a way to remove the basic ability to manipulate rankings as they did by changing the importance and parameters of “on page” optimization, the same applies with linkage.”

Because of the growing concern that link exchanging may be damaging search results, some feel that it’s only a matter of time before search engines reduce the value they place on IBLs (inbound links). The fallout from link exchange may also be what is causing search engines to pursue community-valued relevance.

Andy Beal discusses this concept in an article from last month’s Web 2.0 conference. While speaking to a board of search engine executives, Andy suggests; “the past 3-4 years had seen inbound links as the main driver of relevancy. I pointed out that this system had been proven unreliable over the past few months. What did they think would be the next variable measured to determine relevancy… Jeff Weiner (of Yahoo) said that with personalization, they could also start using data they collect to determine relevancy. Weiner did say ‘linking relevancy is flawed as the sites that sit at the top of the search results, tend to get linked-to the most and end up staying at the top’.”

Although, to say all are wary of link building and how search engines are beginning to view them would be incorrect. A poster from the SEW discussion offers this, “I think the future holds that RELEVANT links will rule and irrelevant links will fall by the wayside, knocking a lot of the current wholesale linking into the dustbin.”

Comment on this article in WebProWorld.

Chris Richardson

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