You have probably been to a site that had a section called a "Guestbook". Many sites ask you to "sign their guestbook", and many of these guestbooks also permit HTML code in the guestbook comments, meaning you or I or anyone can visit guestbooks on web sites all day long and systematically create links back to our sites from hundreds of other site's guestbooks.

Naturally, some web marketers (probably the ones that think exit pop-ups are useful) think that by signing guestbooks and adding links by the hundreds they will improve their link popularity scores at search engines. Before you get excited and do a Google search on the phrase "sign our guestbook" (1.9 million BTW) and head off like a link monkey, here's my take on whether guestbook links are valid, ignored, or penalized, and if they have any impact on the success of a web site's link popularity.

Guestbook links are really no different than FFA links, if you think about it. FFA (Free For All) pages are pages where a link can be obtained by anyone (even a script) without human intervention, meaning no person even looks to see if the requesting site has any decent content. Such link lists are obviously useless. Ask yourself when was the last time you went to a FFA link list to find a useful web site. How about never?

And since ANY site owner could do the same thing--sign a thousand guestbooks-- how much credibility can such links truly have? None. If I run a site that sells snake oil I can spend my days signing the guestbooks of the best sites on the web and leech some link popularity from them? Nope.

The real question here is do search engines know about this scam yet, or do they count guestbook links as additional links for poplarity rankings? My hunch is that since guestbook links are not in any way an indication of content quality, then they do not matter at all.

If ANY search engine currently gives any credit or rankings impact for guestbook links, this impact is only because the engine hasn't yet figured out the guestbook trick, and soon will. In fact, since the majority of guestbooks pages have the word guestbook in the URL string, it would be absurdly easy for the search engines to simply ignore any link that appears at any URL with the letters guestbook in it.

And I'll bet you if they don't already ignore them they will soon.

My last point is more philosophical. If the reason you are seeking a link is because a). The link can be obtained automatically or in bulk numbers and b). You are trying to inflate links for SEO purposes, then the bottom line is it's all garbage, and no matter if the engines figure it out today or next month, the tactic is based on a lie and shouldn't be done.

Until next time, I remain,

Eric Ward,
The Link Mensch
April 11, 2003

What is link popularity? How do you get it? In several ways, none of which are easy. There are no shortcuts to the process of building links. Eric provides credible information about the art of link building, and dispels/debunks the many claims and rumors regading link popularity, especially as it relates to search engine rankings.

Eric Ward founded the Web's first service for announcing and linking Web sites back in 1994, and he still offers those services today. His client list is a who's who of online brands. Ward is best known as the person behind the original linking campaigns for Books, The Link Exchange,, Rodney Dangerfield, WarnerBros, The Discovery Channel, the AMA, and The Weather Channel. His services won the 1995 Tenagra Award For Internet Marketing Excellence, and he was selected as one of the Web's 100 most influential people by Websight magazine in 1997. Eric also writes the Link Building column for ClickZ, the NetSense column for Ad Age magazine, and is a 4-star speaker for iWORLD, Fawcette, and CNet.

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Search Engine Guide > Eric Ward > Link Popularity and the Myth of the Guestbook Link