When attempting to achieve high Google rankings, there are lots of different factors to take into consideration. For most keywords, you won't get anywhere near the first page unless you have a user-friendly website that is technically sound, loads quickly, and contains excellent content that is ultra-relevant to the topic in question and ultra-helpful for your site visitors.
If you've ticked all of those boxes, congratulations, but the bad news is that you're still not guaranteed a prominent position in the SERPs. There's another ranking factor that still carries a huge amount of sway: links.
How search engines use links
To search engines like Google and Bing, links from one website to another are like votes of confidence. If somebody links to you, then as far as Google's bots are concerned, they're effectively saying 'I endorse this website and believe that it is interesting, helpful and/or entertaining'. Even if the link was created because somebody was trashing your company on a forum, the link itself will still pass 'juice' to your website and therefore improve your chances of ranking in search results.
Of course, it's not quite as simple as 'more links = better rankings'. For one thing, some links are worth considerably more than others - you might have a hundred links from obscure blogs and local businesses, but if a competitor gains one link from a well-known, high-authority website (think BBC News, the Financial Times, a government page), they may well blow you out of the water overnight.
Furthermore, certain links can do more harm than good when it comes to your SERP rankings. Google's quality guidelines warn against creating manipulative links - this means that your website may be penalised (i.e. lose its rankings) if:
- You pay for links on other people's websites (adverts should be marked with a 'nofollow' tag so as not to pass link juice)
- You build a lot of links from websites that aren't relevant to yours in any way
- You deliberately create links for the sole purpose of affecting your organic rankings
- You participate in shady link exchange schemes, private blog networks (PBNs), etc.
Your rankings may also be adversely affected if you have a lot of links from spammy and/or low-quality websites. For instance, you probably don't want any online casinos or pornography sites linking to you (although this may not apply if your own website falls into one of these categories).
Why not just create a whole bunch of websites and link to yourself?
Genuine organic links from high-quality websites usually don't come along on their own, and link outreach (contacting other site owners to ask if they'll link to your page from theirs) is a time-consuming task that is by no means guaranteed to get results.
With that in mind, it's not hard to see why some webmasters - and some SEO/marketing agencies - have the following thought:
"Why bother begging other people for links when I could just create a few websites of my own and link to myself?"
Here's an example: if your main website is an online store that sells laptop computers, you might set up a blog on a different domain, write a couple of articles about how to choose the right laptop, and cleverly include a few links to your main site - your 'money' site - in the body of each post. You might then repeat this process a few times so that you end up with a number of different domains all linking to your laptop store.
From one point of view, this is a sound enough strategy. Whereas you can spend hours researching and emailing link prospects that you may never hear back from, it doesn't take long to create a simple site using Blogger or Wordpress, and you're guaranteed a new link at the end of it. But is this really an effective way to bolster your link profile and boost your organic rankings?
We'd argue that no, it isn't. Here are three reasons why:
1. It's potentially manipulative - and thus leaves you open to Google penalties.
At time of writing, there's nothing in Google's guidelines on link schemes and unnatural links that specifically forbids creating new websites and linking them to your main site. However, here's what they do say:
"Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site."
This statement is deliberately vague - it puts the onus on you, the webmaster, to judge whether your link creation tactics are manipulative or not. If you participate in any questionable linking practices, you're potentially opening yourself up to present and future Google penalties, and as anyone who saw their rankings fall when Penguin and Panda were first brought in will tell you, that's not a risk worth taking.
There is no doubt that the tactic of creating new websites for the express purpose of building PageRank-passing links to your 'money' site could be classed as manipulative. The new sites will likely add no value whatsoever to the web, and the links themselves will probably be a dead giveaway, making it clear that your satellite websites were set up for unnatural SEO purposes and not to serve any particular need.
2. The links will be practically worthless anyway.
Broadly speaking, it's good to have inbound links from a variety of different domains, and it's true that creating a dozen simple Wordpress blogs and giving each one its own unique web address is a quick and easy way to grow your list of linking domains. But here's the thing about links: quantity is less important than quality. As mentioned above, a single link from a high-authority domain is worth more than a hundred links from low-authority websites, and a brand new blog that was created in a hurry and doesn't contain any real content is about as low-authority as it gets.
In other words, you can spend weeks setting up new websites and linking to yourself, but any positive impact on your rankings will be minimal - you're better off spending that time looking for genuine link/collaboration opportunities that will actually benefit your website. (At least then you won't be at risk of getting hit by a thin content penalty!)
But okay - let's assume that you're taking a slightly more considered approach to this. Instead of creating a basic blog page, publishing one or two keyword-stuffed posts containing over-optimised links to your main site, then repeating these two steps ad infinitum, let's imagine that you've taken the time to create a high-quality website that really does add value to the web. You've written a lot of genuinely useful, insightful content; you've given the site an appealing design instead of just using a template; and you've only linked to your 'money' website where it's actually appropriate to do so, perhaps scattering a few other external links throughout the new site for balance. Maybe you've even done such a good job that several other people have linked to your new website, thereby boosting its reputation in the eyes of the search engine bots.
But here's the thing...
3. Why not put all of that effort into your main website?
Creating good content and building a website's reputation is extremely time-consuming, and if you're prepared to do all of the above to ensure that the links on your satellite site(s) will actually have a positive effect, it rather begs the question: why aren't you prepared to do that on your 'money' site?
Instead of using your time and resources to convince Google that your linking site is legitimate, it's surely better to create high-quality content for your main site that will drive more traffic and increase user engagement in the place where it actually affects your company's bottom line.
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One final clarification: what we're not necessarily saying here is that you should never link between two websites that you control. If you own two separate websites, each with its own independent reason to exist, then it's fine to link between them as long as there is a natural reason to do so.
For instance, if you have one website that sells laser printers and another that sells toner cartridges, it may well make sense to link from one to the other - not only will this potentially benefit your Google rankings, it will also provide a better online experience for your users (since someone who buys a printer will naturally want to know where they can buy toner for it in the future).
Worried about your website's link profile? Not sure of the best way to climb the Google rankings? Our SEO specialists can help - contact Designer Websites today to discuss your requirements.