Digital Insights

Why Spammy Backlinks are Still Ranking Websites

Published: November 18, 2014

Despite the fact that Google has rewritten the rulebook on acceptable link building practice, there are still thousands of sites on the web that continue to enjoy high rankings in the search results with irrelevant links from low quality sites. This is like a slap in the face to every webmaster who tries to play fair by following the rules.

Some of these spammy websites may be outranking your own site, stealing traffic that by all rights should be yours. It’s a frustrating situation to say the least, and it makes you wonder why you should even bother trying to do the right thing.

How Google’s Penguin Updates Affects Link Building
The Penguin update first rolled out in 2012, and was specifically designed to devalue those sites that appear to be gaming the system though unnatural link building techniques. Through the Penguin update, Google is taking a hard look at

  • Keyword stuffed content that was obviously written solely to gain search ranking instead of providing valuable content.
  • An unnatural appearing inbound link profile that suggests that links have not been editorially earned.
  • Inbound links coming from spammy directory sites with little or no editorial oversight.
  • Inbound links that have no obvious relevance to the website receiving the link.
  • An unnatural appearing anchor text profile with no diversity from one link to the next.

Is Google’s Ranking Algorithm Broken?
Assuming that Google’s ranking algorithm is working properly, how are so many websites with spammy links continuing to rank?

One reason could be the amount of time it takes for Google to check after an algorithm update refresh. There are over 510 million active websites on the web, with an estimated 48 billion web pages currently indexed by Google. Depending on the website, it may take several months for Google to revisit every page of all those websites in order to gauge compliance with algorithm guidelines.

Some black hat SEO practitioners rely on what could amount to a six month time lag to create a simple money site, nuke it with a ton of spammy links, and crank out profits until Google catches on. When one website disappears from the search results, it’s simply replaced with another. It’s a short-lived strategy, to be sure, but it can definitely generate profits for those who can live with the ethical questions it raises.

Another possibility might be other individual website ranking factors that are compensating for spammy backlinks. We know that links are an important ranking factor, but there are another 231 factors that could outweigh the effect of bad linking practices.

Trust Rank Could be the Missing Ranking Element
According to Moz, a web page with a considerable disparity between rank and trust usually performs poorly in the search rankings. Google simply likes web properties that it trusts, and rewards them with better rankings.

You can improve your trust factor by tweaking your on-page optimization. Link out to authority sites. Make sure that your site has a comprehensive privacy policy and terms of use page. Reduce your bounce rate as much as possible.

Off-page tactics you might want to consider include having a comprehensive about us page, maintaining a solid social media presence, and using brand name anchor text. Send Google a signal that you’re here for the duration by registering your domain name for at least a 2 year term, and don’t hide behind a private whois domain registration.


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