Matt Cutts Announces Death of Cheesy Link Exchange Networks

I updated my SEO Book PDF today, noting among other things that Matt Cutts sorta hinted that an abundance of low link quality links could cause decreased importance in crawl priority.
Matt then went ahead and posted on his blog that some sites are completely removed from Google's index due to heavy reciprocal linkage.

The sites that fit 'no pages in Bigdaddy' criteria were sites where our algorithms had very low trust in the inlinks or the outlinks of that site. Examples that might cause that include excessive reciprocal links, linking to spammy neighborhoods on the web, or link buying/selling. The Bigdaddy update is independent of our supplemental results, so when Bigdaddy didn't select pages from a site, that would expose more supplemental results for a site.

I think that is probably the post that killed cheesy link exchange networks.

For those who recently said I was full of shit on my position on link exchange networks I am glad that Matt took the time to validate my position. :)

Can other people harm your site? Absolutely. The scalability of the web, and differences between living wages around the world created significant value in funneling around hollow PageRank to sell to naive webmasters which own sites which lack the qualities necessary to be citation worthy.

Knowing that having a certain percentage of shady links will kill your ability to rank in Google adds an additional opportunity cost to building shoddy links which. Things that were once "cheap" or "free" suddenly became expensive, and quality votes gained a bunch more value in the process as well.

This announcement of Matt's in combination with the search results reflecting this activity might be the single biggest thing Google has done in a while to improve the quality of information production across the web.

Fake it till you make it trading to the top still may work well enough in Yahoo! and MSN, but it is not a viable Google solution. If Google could plug some of their other holes they would be much harder to manipulate than most webmasters would like.

Published: May 17, 2006 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


May 17, 2006 - 9:19pm

I agree with Matt, Aaron, and others. If it's artificial, whack it!

Definition of artificial - Made in imitation of something natural; simulated

Case in point. Reciprocal linking directories are completely (in most part) automated, often show no real relevancy (like a poker site reciprocating with a pharmacy site), and many, many are ONLY set up to influence pagerank and rankings.

May 17, 2006 - 9:31pm

I wasn't disagreeing with you, it's definitely a new thing, and never in the past did having weak incoming links hurt a site. At worst the site wouldn't rank or deep index, being totally de-indexed is something new. Also the sites I showed you had no reciprocal links, but they had weak links, not reciprocated. So technically this would open up a whole new can worms, being that I could generate crappy links for someone else's site and hurt them.

But to make things more confusing I noticed another pattern with my banned sites, they all had my adsense id on them, sites that my girlfriend made, which were optimized the same way but with her id were not banned. So that sort of looks like I made friend who maybe was filing spam reports on sites with my adsense id.

But to continue with the more confusing aspects, about 50% of my banned sites are back in the index, so that makes even less sense.

My sites are quality though .... that means profitable, right?

May 18, 2006 - 1:51am

My sites are quality though .... that means profitable, right?

It depends on your goals and timeframe.

I think you are smart enough to work around whatever flaws there are in the market and make a boatload of cash, but I think many people who participate in some of the link exchange hubs don't realize they are paying money to have someone offer them a service that hurts them.

But to continue with the more confusing aspects, about 50% of my banned sites are back in the index, so that makes even less sense.

Matt mentioned that they were playing with the threshold on quality and that they loosened it up from where it once was.

I think off the start they were a bit aggressive with it intentionally for two reasons:

  • to send a message that they were heading in that direction
  • to blur the lines of where the limit they want the threshold to be adjustable so they can tweak it as necessary and so they try to scare people away from being anywhere near it.
May 18, 2006 - 2:40am

You know it may be true that lots of recips hurt you, but scrolling thru most of the sites in some of the link exchange hubs, they don't look too much like innocent victims, but you right it probably does happen.

Funny thing about Matt's blog in the comments section, Cygnus pointed this out on dp, he sort of contradicts himself

At first, it seemed like poor IBL would hurt you. Now, ( they are just ignored. At first, off-topic was considered poor OBL and could hurt. Now, it can continue to be off-topic, but must be non-spammy.

Its really unfortunate (for me of course) that they have decided to go this way, wasn't it great a few years ago when Google ate up reciprocals like candy and updated as fast as msn?

It does seem sort of funny that people aren't supposed to link to other people for the Google's sake.

Hope msn gains some real market share soon.

May 18, 2006 - 4:49pm

DP is down for me right now so I was surfing around looking for more information to absorb into that spongey tissue in my head...

Aaron, that quality threshold built upon a floating target may come back to bite G a bit -- WH webmasters don't tend to be nearly as nimble as BH. Normally that statement wouldn't mean anything other than the apparent obviousness, but with all the confusion being spun out of the IBL/OBL 3 year old reheated debate, I think this move is actually worse for WH. Some people will be so afraid to get links or provide a link, that they'll sit in SERP obscurity for a long, long time.

BTW ferret, I was just giving Matt a hard time. We went from any IBL being good before reading the post, to poor quality IBL possibly delisting a site in the post, back to neutral effect in the comments section (where I believe it should be, btw), to probably back where we started, given the effectiveness a few of my competitors have in blog spamming.

June 22, 2006 - 9:21am

Now if Matt could define a "cheesy" link. Guess an "easy" link is the same as a low value link.

Same as deeplinking is harder and therefore more valuable than a link to the top.

No such thing as a free lunch I guess.

May 18, 2006 - 9:57pm

LOL - I just spit a mouth full of coffee all over my monitor and keyboard when I read "For those who recently said I was full of shit..."
One of things I have heard over and over again - quality vs quantity, no link farms, no linking schemes. Can't imagine anyone saying what they said.

My knowledge about SEO can probably fill the tip of someone's baby finger - but all the good SEO tips keep repeating the same thing. It is like a basic.

Thanks for the good laugh.

March 19, 2007 - 5:12pm

"Some article sites (like ezinearticles and searchwarp) rank well in Google, and thus it could be assume they are trusted pretty well in Google. "

Indeed (and I know this is an old post), which kind of sucks. A competitor in a tough field is successfully spamming their way to the top by posting about 30-50 keyword articles a week to ezinearticles. It's hard to believe Google would lend that much weight to a chunk of links from the same site when so many low-quality articles are involved.

November 3, 2006 - 7:45pm

On the whole you have to look at not your own article, but what other types of articles are they accepting? Are most of them spammy and linking to spam sites?

December 9, 2006 - 1:11pm

It does seem sort of funny that people aren't supposed to link to other people for the Google's sake.

May 30, 2006 - 4:08am

i just don't know how google could know if a webmaster buy/sell link..

May 30, 2006 - 4:23am

Hi Samskpunk
If the algorithm was semi respectible the off topic spammy links on the footer of your site would be fairly easy to detect, IMHO

You have to remember that the engines have access to the web graph and most unnatural patterns stick out quite a bit. Many spam techniques provide abnormal points on the web graph that stick out like a sore thumb.

May 17, 2006 - 5:50am

It is nice to see or get more and more info from the SE's that is actually directed at assisting webmasters and site owners. When you think about it, one of the best ways to get clean results is to lay all the cards on the table. Most "good" sites are getting smarter in realizing that pulling traffic for unrelated stuff is just a waste of time and resources, so more and more site owners are just wanting to know what they need to do to get their site served when it is relevant... whether that's through on page, links, directories, site theme, etc. The spammers are going to keep doing what they do, whether you tell them not to or penalize them... so give the good guys the info they need to help in the fight.

I think cutting out the cheap links will be a good thing, the challenge though maybe who decides what is a cheap link... as we know, the web in all its color also has many shades of gray.

I haven't fully given it a full think through, but one concern may be at what point can only the biggest sites or bank accounts afford to play? Suddenly the quality of a site and its merit in the SERPs is based on what they can afford?

Are directories worthwhile any more? Who knows, but to get into even a few that are believed to be valuable starts to get expensive... even if it is a once in a lifetime fee-- who knows what the lifetime on the web is.

If reciprocal links become completely negated and worthless, you've now taken away the low end. Now you are looking at buying links, that don't smell anything like a bought link-- talk about prices climbing there.

Blogs have become the in thing, but again, as more and more blogs spring up everyday, it becomes even more clutter and the SE's will further tighten in what value is perceived there. And realistically, not everything needs a blog, not everyone has anything worthwhile enough to say without rehashing everyone else, or can afford the time or time=money to devote to that.

Perhaps a bit if a sidebar there, and not sure there are any answers... All kind of reminds me of old economics classes and the discussions on increasing minimum wage, how most people think that's always the best answer... help those out who need it most by giving them more... all good except for those who went from making minimum to drawing unemployment. Good or bad, it has to come from somewhere, at least in the short term.

May 17, 2006 - 12:54pm

Markets are created and markets die daily. It's just part of the WWW.

I don't think it is just a matter of better or worse, just different.

I do think adding a hidden cost to low quality links is a smart move to help guide focus towards quality content production though. AdSense created a glut of complete garbage content. This sorta helps balance that out a bit.

Not Gonna Say
May 17, 2006 - 3:35pm

To keep my anonymity, I have got to call out Cutts on this one. We have seen continuing fantastic spidering across scraper sites that only use "cheesy reciprocal linking". Sounds like more warnings to sound like they are doing something about it when they really are not.

May 17, 2006 - 3:40pm

I have seen some sites FALL HARD out of the SERPs recently...sites that SHOULD rank #1 for their terms (ie: niche website featured in all sorts of press like the WSJ, etc.), but were held back by cheesy reciprocal link directories on their sites.

May 17, 2006 - 4:15pm

I never participated in link exhanges or link farms, but I do post a few articles a week on the various article sites. The articles are each unique and mainly written to drive traffic.

Could the article sites be considered a "spammy neighborhood" since there is some abuse by others?

May 17, 2006 - 4:29pm

Some article sites (like ezinearticles and searchwarp) rank well in Google, and thus it could be assume they are trusted pretty well in Google.

On the whole you have to look at not your own article, but what other types of articles are they accepting? Are most of them spammy and linking to spam sites? Or is it useful content linking at some decent sites? And then look at how they got their link popularity. Do they have any legit inbound citations or are most / all of them from spammy sites?

this image really drives home the point pretty well


May 17, 2006 - 4:36pm

I don't think anybody should assume that ALL link exchanges are "cheesey" or even bad. I think there is a lot of link exchanges that fall in the Pure Crap category, but there are also a lot that make good business sense to both sites exchanging AND for the search engines to count them. Cutts comments don't really spell out what kind of exchanges are considered bad but my take on it is simply a reliance on more link exchanges than non-reciprocal links. If you're careful with your recips AND seek ways to get natural one-way links you should be clear of any penalties.

May 17, 2006 - 4:40pm

Just clarifying here...

I didn't say all link exchanges are cheesy or that the technique is completely useless. I state that the link exchange hubs are fairly useless or even a negative for SEO for Google.

Most the sites in the cheesy link exchange hubs are garbage. Some of them show the top link exchangers on the home page, and it is a rare day that any of those are quality sites.

May 17, 2006 - 4:55pm

unless those sites on the homepage are mine, then they straight quality

May 3, 2007 - 10:50am

Link exchange networks help users to find adequate link exchange partners. Link exchanges between sites benefit site visitors, even link exchanges between unrelated sites. When I have a site about horses but would like my visitors to know about a good webhost I am using, why would google or anyone have the right to value my recommendation less than from, for example, a cnet article, because its coming from an unrelated topic site? The hosting site can get as much interested users from my link than from the cnet article.

Besides that, all people talk about the importance of creating valueable content and people will naturally link to you. That's just theory on (Matt Cutts ;)) paper. The truth is you can have the best content on your topic, it may take YEARS before you are even establishing a handful links from blogs, forums and other web 2.0 sites, not talking about "authority sites", who all have lots of other issues to deal with than to add a link to your site.

May 17, 2006 - 6:26pm

Aaron, I think you're missing what Matt said... I see nowhere that he said "cheesy link exchanges" would hurt your ranking. He ONLY said that they "might" cause fewer of your pages to be crawled as frequently. Who cares? Not me...

May 17, 2006 - 7:25pm

I don't really see me as missing the point of what Matt was saying.

If you make income per pageview and have less pages in the search index invariably you will have less pageviews and less income.

He also stated:

The sites that fit "no pages in Bigdaddy" criteria were sites where our algorithms had very low trust in the inlinks or the outlinks of that site.

which means that some sites with cheesy link profiles not only had fewer pages indexed, some of them now have 0 pages in Google.

I won't say the names because that is not cool, but some of the people posting in this thread disagreeing with me have also asked me to review some of their websites which were recently removed from Google.

May 17, 2006 - 8:32pm

I know there's a Google Banned url tool that checks the backlinks on a site and see's if any are banned on Google. When sites are not crawled properly - (or the way we'd like them to be crawled) backlink quality and link exchanges may be a reason why.

May 17, 2006 - 8:36pm

I think Google wants to obfuscate the exact threshold some damaging links and sites will still stay in the index, at least a little bit, so there is no clean and clear threshold between good and bad. With that they will try to make people realize the whole "when in doubt" theory to approaching quality links and link building.

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