A link is a person in your neighborhood…

Filed in Link Building by Matt McGee on May 18, 2006 0 Comments

“Be careful who you link to” was the takeaway of my last post. The point: You can be impacted negatively by the sites you link to.

What about the reverse … can you be hurt by links to your site?

Yes, you can. It doesn’t seem right, since you have no control over who links to you. And on that point, I’m with you — if a shady web site decides to link to you, or if your competition adds a link to you on some shady web site, I don’t believe that impacts negatively on your site.

But here are a couple scenarios where you can be hurt by who links to you:

1. The well-known “miserable failure” search on Google — the most obvious case of a web page being affected by inbound links it can’t control.

This scenario has no relation to how you rank for your chosen terms, and it’s a scenario that would never impact most small businesses (simply due to the incredible volume of incoming links it would require). But it does prove that you can be impacted by links from other sites to yours.

2. More to the point of this discussion is the concept of the Link Neighborhood.

Think of linking as a neighborhood, and your neighborhood is made up of

a) the sites you link to;
b) the sites that link to you;
c) the sites that link to the sites that link to you;
d) the other sites that sites that link to you also link to
e) etc.

It’s like this: You own Site A. If you link to Site B, that site is part of your neighborhood. If Site B links to Site C, Site C is also part of your neighborhood.

So how can a link from another site hurt you? When you trade links with Site B, you become part of that site’s link neighborhood. If Site B — even if it’s a good site that’s very relevant to yours and helpful to your visitors — also links to a bunch of crap/spam sites, guilt by association comes into play. You are who you link to, and you are who your linked sites link to.

The impact of this could be any number of things, though Matt Cutts has made it pretty clear this week that one impact is your site could be crawled less often and fewer pages could be indexed. Are there other impacts? Don’t know, and don’t want to find out.

So … since your link neighborhood also includes Site B’s outbound and inbound linked sites, it’s worth checking Site B’s link patterns before you also link to it.

How do you do that?

I would recommend using Yahoo to check who else is linking to a site you’re considering linking to. In the search box, type linkdomain:example.com and you’ll see a list of sites (possibly not complete, but better than what Google and MSN offer) that link to the domain you typed. Example: here’s Yahoo’s list of pages that link to Small Business SEM.

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