If the current indications are correct we may be looking at the end of reciprocal linking as a method of building rank and link popularity, at least as far as Google is concerned.
The latest 'Google Dance', nicknamed 'Jagger', has caused major concern by those suffering loss of position on the top ranks of the search engine's listings. So we decided to take a close look at what is happening and see what we could learn.
We have a few small websites that have a limited number of links. These sites are used mostly for research and testing of our primary business in Web Analytics. By analyzing these sites, we were able to quickly get an idea of what is happening in Google's Jagger Update, which is still in progress at the time of this writing.
By using our web analytics tools, we were able to look at the history of visits by the bots and the links to these small sites. We had to go back as far as January in order to build a picture of Google's actions. Our software also allows us to look at all links from the SEs, not just those shown by using the browser's 'link:' command. G only reports some of the links to your site, not all.
Here is what we have seen:
Like many other sites, we noticed a sharp drop in rank in our test sites around the first of July. They lost about 40% of their previous link popularity and moved down sharply in rank. Also, duplicate links on a single site disappeared. We now only showed one link from each linking site.
As Jagger started, unlike many others we have seen complain about G's actions and timing, our sites stayed rather stable. Evidently they had already suffered their major losses. However, there was a small increase in the number of links. This caught our attention. We had expected that, like many others, we would experience further disruptions to our link structure.
But when we examined these links, we were surprised to see that not one of them had been listed with Google a few weeks earlier. Not one. Our research showed that these links had been live in G's archive, but none had shown up publicly before now. It appeared that there was some sort of 'aging' process taking place, but this may just be coincidental. It is more likely that older links disappeared because the host site was lost in the shuffle and our links no longer appeared 'relevant'.
The other thing we noticed was that not one of these new links was listed on our reciprocal links pages. In other words, all reciprocal links had vanished. We think that this is because G is down-grading or eliminating reciprocal links as a measure of popularity. This does make sense, actually. Reciprocal links are a method of falsifying popularity. Sort of a cheap method of buying a link, if you want to think of it that way.
If your web sites have suffered from the latest 'dance', you may want to take a look at the type and source of your links. If they are mostly from link exchanges, you are probably looking at the reason for your move down the list on the search engines.
During the second week of the Jagger Update, a few of our reciprocal links did come back up. However, we also noticed that these were from places where we had highly relevant content. They came from articles where we discussed our area of expertise: Web Analytics, or from forums where we had relevant threads. So we feel that these links came back because of content, not linking.
The other group that came back up was one-way inbound text links, regardless of the originating web site. These links also had strong relevance to our web analytics business. In other words, they contained keywords and/or phrases related to our site and its business.
This research has us now re-evaluating our linking strategy. We urge others to do the same.
We are now concentrating only on building strong one-way inbound links. We are focusing on publicity, articles, directories, and other direct methods of building our image and consumer awareness.
In addition, we are also looking for associated but non competing firms like web developers, Search Engine Marketers, SEOs, web site owners and designers to partner with us to build direct business relationships and the resulting inbound links. This strategy may not be the fastest method of building links, but we feel it is rock solid and within the spirit of good business practices. The best thing is that it is search engine independent.
We will no longer worry about chasing (or beating) the search engines and their ever changing algorithms. That is a fool's game we are sure to lose.
Instead, we will focus on building rock solid links and popularity with the group that counts: our customers. By focusing on beating our competition and providing a top quality product, plenty of educational information and relevant content, we are sure to move up and stay at the top of the search engine rankings.
It's something to think about.