Linking With A Millstone

Stephen Brennan

I've been engaging in reciprocal linking with other websites for some time. I've always been aware that a single incoming link from a high PR website is worth far more than many links from low PR websites (the actual ratio is known only to God). I've also always been aware, at least over the last couple of years, that incoming links from non-relevant websites is not only valueless but can, in fact, have a negative effect on your Search Engine ranking (*as opposed to PR).

I've written previous articles about linking, one or two of which have been specifically about the practice of requesting and accepting links from anybody and everybody. However, I've never been armed with any 'hard evidence' with which to support my plea for some sensible thought about the way in which some people handle their linking practices. This time around, I have this little offering from Google, the people who are responsible for the whole 'PR' caboodle.

"How is PR effected if you have text links on a page that is irrelevant to the website? - Links from a non-related site will still pass PR, but will have little or no effect on the SERPs. Too many of these might even have a negative effect on SERPs. Remember, PR matters when all other things are equal, but that is never the case. You are much better off getting back links from a relevant PR4 page (and site) with targeted anchor text than getting back links from an irrelevant PR6." - Ref:

There you go. You may not have heard it here first, but it is out of 'the horse mouth', so to speak. I don't know how long this particular piece of information has been available at Google for all to see (I don't spend much time in Google's 'support' pages) but it's there now and I hope that it becomes common knowledge very quickly.

To some it may not be a revelation. It won't be of any great concern either, because like many, they have always been a little particular about the 'relevance' of the websites from which they accept or request reciprocal (or incoming only) links. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about being 'tight' or 'mean' about linking with lower PR websites. I have always agreed to link with any website that has relevant content. Provided the website has the same (or related) subject matter, I don't care about the PR.

You see, that's what it's supposed to be about - supplying worthwhile links and even alternatives to your users and making your website available to users of other related websites. How is this purpose served by supplying users with links to (and accepting links from) totally unrelated material? Google, along with the rest of us, tends to think there is no purpose served at all, hence the possibility of negative effect on your SE rankings for thinking otherwise.

I know there are many thousands of websites, which use software to manage their 'Linking Programs'. Some of this software is 'automated' and allows links from anyone who is willing to fill in a form and post a link to their website first. This type of 'Linking Program' has turned many websites into 'Mini Directories', with pages of categorized links which have absolutely nothing to do with the theme of the website whatsoever.

What good is a high PR if it doesn't help your SE rankings, or even hurts them?

I know this will be disappointing for those who have spent money on these facilities (especially recently), as well as those who have had them installed for some time. I feel for those who have been doing what they have thought to be, or have been advised is the right thing to do. But I'm sorry, it's very clear, judging by Google's own advice, that these programs have been in the very least, achieving nothing for the SE rankings by collecting so many irrelevant links and it's also possible that in so doing, they have been "tying a millstone around your necks" and your website may well have been penalized for it.

That's not to say that the programs have somehow not done their job. I believe they are for the purpose of improving 'link popularity', and this is exactly what they have done. However, link popularity ALONE is not a consideration in the SE ranking algorithms when the PR has been established with unrelated links. Remember - "Links from a non-related site will still pass PR, but will have little or no effect on the SERPs".

Every day, I still get emails requesting a reciprocal link from an unrelated website, in which the sender informs me that "reciprocal linking is a very effective way to increase your website's PR and SE rankings". I hope now that we can all realize and agree that when it comes to linking for the purpose of improving SE rankings, it only works if it's done properly. This means, as with everything else, there is no quick way and no 'automated' answer. You have to check each website that you are considering linking to, in order to ascertain if it's relevant and consequently, of value to your users (and your site to it's users) and the Search Engines.

I wonder if there's a software program that can quickly and effortlessly remove incoming links from unrelated sites? I seriously doubt it, considering it would involve removing content from websites belonging to others. I feel that for most, this will be the most difficult problem to deal with as once they are there, they are there to stay. How do you undo so much hard work?

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About the Author
2004 All rights reserved
Stephen Brennan, Sydney, Australia

Stephen Brennan runs the 'Home Based Business and Affiliate Center', publishes 'Home Based Biz' newsletter and is the author of 'The Affiliate Guide Book' The Definitive guide to becoming a successful Internet Affiliate (at little or no cost) available at

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