Reciprocal linking scams have increased immensely during the past year. Initially we thought that this problem only related to Maniagol gambling and casino related websites but an audit of our commercial link partners suggests that it is a serious problem within the broader online community.
Over the past eighteen months, we noticed that our page rank was slowly declining despite the fact that we were continually adding new link partners to our link directory. We had slipped from a five down to a two before we finally identified the exact cause of the problem.
Out of the first 100 links on our anchor site, only seven were still being reciprocated.
We recrawled the sites where no link was found with a second spider and got exactly the same result. Then we started manually checking the sites where no link back was found and started discovering patterns of deliberate link fraud.
The scams in order of popularity amongst the scammers –
1. The link on the home page to the link directory remained but clicking on it or specific directory links produced a template style page with a few casino banners or simply a page with no directory content – This scam was most popular with the owners of multiple domains with the .co.za and .co.uk suffixes
2. The link on the home page to the link directory remained but clicking on gambling or casino related links returned a list of links to sites owned solely by the same person or company. The worst offenders in this group preferred domain extensions of .biz, .us and .md
3. The link directory index page remained but the link directory had been severely pruned and most remaining links were to the site owners other sites or to casinos. This one is common across all suffixes.
4. Links not clickable – links to the directory and various pages within the directory remained intact. At the time of their link exchange campaign, their links were clickable but at some stage after that the code that makes the link clickable was removed and the site name was placed in bold text so at a glance it appeared to be a legitimate clickable link. This scam is most favored by sites that place a miniature screen shot of the index page of your site beside your back link.
5. A variation of the previous scam. When you run your mouse pointer over the page, the ‘links’ change color but no URL displays in the search bar at the bottom of your browser window. Right click has been disabled on the page so that most people looking at the page cannot see the code. If you use Dreamweaver MX or later, highlight the part of the page you want to look at and then using Control C copy it to the clip board and then use Control V to paste it into the design side of a basic Dreamweaver page. When you click on code you can see what they were attempting to stop you seeing. It may work in the later versions of similar authoring programs. Worst offenders are a poker room and a media company operating out of India.
6. One way link exchanges – usually you are contacted by a search engine optimization company or the SEO person for a large group of websites offering you multiple one way link exchanges with half of their sites if you will link back to the other half of their sites. After a few weeks or months the links to your sites are deleted. The worst offender in this group is a prominent search engine optimization company located in India.
7. Your link starts out on a page with fair page rank usually attached to a domain with high page rank. But after a few weeks is moved to a boon docks page with no page rank that will never be indexed. – common amongst higher PR sites.
8. The link directory is on another domain with no page rank. When you click on the link to the directory on the home page, always watch the bar in the bottom of your browser window and see that the link you clicked is in fact on the domain with which you are exchanging links – watch especially for domain names that are very similar e.g. one letter different in the spelling or a .net instead of a .com and link pages that are hosted on the domain of a link management company. Also watch for redirects. If suspicious go back and click the link again. Often the redirected URL flashes up for only an instant or it just takes an inordinate time for the page to load compared to other pages on the site. If in doubt search for a site map – very popular with some owners of multiple bingo sites.
9. Sub domains of domains with no page rank. Sub domains are supposed to always rank lower than the parent domain. (Of late I have found a few sub domains with up to PR3 attached to a domain with no page rank) If the parent domain has a page rank of zero then link pages attached to that sub domain will almost always be zero so why trade a good link for a dud link?
10. We have never fallen for any in this group but many novice webmasters do so regularly. Beware of high PR sites offering you a link exchange on one of their inconsequential internal pages with the same PR as your index page in return for you placing a graphic link to their index page on your index page. This is a deliberate attempt to steal your hard earned traffic. A variation of this one is they have a number of new sites listed on their index page each month and visitors are encouraged to vote for the site they consider to be the best and you are asked to ask your visitors to vote for your site at the high ranked domain. The purpose is still the same as in the first example in this group.
11. We no longer trade links with sites using Linksmanager unless the link to our site is to be on a hard coded page. You can search in their search box for their link to your site and if they are still linking to you, your URL and site description will be returned but no information to show which page your link is on. Google usually indexes only a few pages in each category of dynamically generated link directories. If your link has not been added to an indexed page, it is unlikely to ever end up on one. When we had a large number of indexed back links, no link manager links were ever returned in a back link querry.
12. Be wary of link exchange requests from webmasters using anonymous e-mail addresses because when they delete your back link they also delete the anonymous e-mail address.
13. Beware of webmasters with PR 5 or above sites offering you a link exchange with a high PR site and an inspection of their link directory suggests that your link will end up on a non indexed page i.e. a useless link that is unlikely to ever improve. If the link exchange was with a PR 2 or 3 site there is at least reasonable potential for the PR of the page to increase if the link directory has been fairly constructed.
Reduce exposure to link scams
To reduce your exposure to such scams it is essential to carefully vet all potential link partners in the first instance. Enter link back partner details in a database. As an absolute minimum, enter their URL, the location of the link back on their site, the page rank of the page on which your link is located, the date of the link exchange and a real e-mail address for the contact person.
Use a good link checking program monthly and contact offenders as soon as you find your link is missing from their site. This is now essential to keep link partners honest. This problem is a direct consequence of the current page rank system and fierce competition for top rankings. It is easier to retain existing link partners than to continually find new ones.
Points to look for when Assessing Potential Link Partners
Before trading links, look carefully at the other site –
1. If there is no link to the link directory on the index page -Reject. You will get no traffic from that site.
2. Look at the structure of their link directory and count the number of clicks from their index page to where their link to you is likely to be located and then deduct that number from the PR of the site’s index page. If that page is PR3 and there are three clicks to get to the page on which your link will be located, that page will have a PR0. That link will be worthless unless the site gets a minimum of a PR4.
3. If you have not already done so, download Google’s tool bar. If the page rank bar is grayed out, when you are looking at a site, never trade links with that site. The grey bar is said to indicate that the site is banned by Google. I do not know if that is true but I have only ever seen two sites produce grey bars.
4. A growing number of sites with dynamically generated link directories have no page rank on any link pages even though the directories are often constructed in such a way that you would expect the page to rank to be 2 points below the home page. I do not know how most are achieving this. The visible way is to have multiple folders and index pages leading to the links pages and the number of clicks from the home page destroys any potential page rank for the link page. A rare method is to add a no index command for the link directory in their robots.txt file.
Just remember links to such sites are one way links from your site to their site. You give them a good link and they give you a worthless link. A link on a page with a PR0 is a non indexed link and carries no value regardless of the page rank of the index page of the site to which it is attached. When you do a back link check on your domain in Google, you will notice that very few links to your domain that are on Google indexed pages with a PR of less than four are returned in your list of back links. This is why I and others consider that Google now discounts the value of such links.
For indexed pages, count the number of links on the page. The first factor in determining the value of the link is the page rank of the page on which it is located. The second factor is the number of links on the page. The value of the link to you is roughly the page PR divided by the number of links. Of course no one outside of a chosen few at Google knows the actual formula but that is a rough approximation and the reason most webmasters will not trade links with sites with more than 40 links to a page unless the page has a very high PR.
A link on the bottom of a good content page is always better value than a link on a directory page as more people are likely to click on it.
When on the receiving end of a link exchange request, do not hesitate to ask for your link to be placed on a specific page and do not hesitate to reject link requests from sites that do not adhere to basic acceptable linking practices.
When considering link requests from new sites, look at any other sites that belong to or have been built by the webmaster proposing the link exchange. Most importantly, look to see if existing link pages have been indexed and the structure of the directory. This will be a good indicator of what to expect for the new site.
When you create your own link directory, consider a hand edited directory with the links at the same level as the rest of the pages on your site. That way your link pages will be only one point below your index page and you will attract more link requests because of that. Many high PR sites will not trade links with you unless you can place their link back on a minimum of a PR4 page. That way you can start shooting for the top once your index page makes a 5 as opposed to a 7 with the way many link directories are set up.