From: Bruce L.

You know what's really funny with my site and Google? Google used to show the links pointing to me, but for the last month or so they don't show any links pointing to me even though there are some. I emailed Google about this but haven't received any type of response. Any idea why they have lost this very important piece of information on my web site?




~~~Jill's Response~~~

If you have a new site that has never had backlinks showing up and/or has a Google toolbar PageRank of zero, there's nothing to worry about. This simply means that Google hasn't had a chance to index your site yet, or it hasn't indexed the sites linking to you. There's no cause for alarm in those situations.

However, for a site that is well-established that had previously shown backlinks in Google, or one that used to show some decent PageRank but has seen it significantly lowered (more than one point), there may be cause for concern.

Before I go any further, I want you to know that the average Web site owner who designs a site and optimizes it through the techniques I discuss here every week -- writing keyword-rich content and creating HTML tags to match -- will not generally have to worry about their site getting inadvertently penalized in the search engines.

Oh sure, there have been cases where a site might have gotten caught up in some sort of "spam filter" even though there was never an attempt to spam. In these cases, it may take a month or so for things to get sorted out. But 95% of the time there's a technical explanation for why the site is no longer indexed correctly (see "Blackballed From Google"), or the site designer has purposely pushed the envelope with their search engine optimization. They may not admit it to anyone, but if they think about it a bit, they can generally recall what they might have done to get penalized. Sure, they may not have known it was a no-no at the time, but then they're simply not using their common sense.

When your backlinks totally disappear in Google (but your site is still showing up in the cache) you've probably done something that takes away from your users' visitor experience. These things include the following unprofessional SEO/design techniques:

* Creating multiple sites on the same or similar topic and linking them all together through visible or invisible links. Generally, these types of sites have content that is very similar or exactly the same. Often a site template is used and the specific keyword phrases for each site are simply inserted into the copy and tags. These sites usually have long lists of links to all of the other sites in the network. This is the *most common* reason I see these days for Google penalizations, and unfortunately, it's a technique still touted by many who haven't been caught yet. This is because it worked very well for many years.

Please note that this doesn't mean you can't have a network of related sites without fearing the wrath of Google. You absolutely *can* have a network of sites if it makes sense to have them and improves your users' experience. But you really need to have unique content on each and every site and not link them all together where it really doesn't make sense to do so. For instance, just because a person is interested in the gold jewelry selling on one of your sites, it doesn't mean they'll be interested in the low-cost loans you offer on another of your sites. It really doesn't make sense for those sites to be linked together, and generally the only reason they are linked is in an attempt to gain links and/or Google rankings -- not out of courtesy to the site visitors.

* Using automated software to submit your site or to check your rankings in Google. This includes any rank-checking software such as WebPosition Gold, AgentWebRanking, etc. (It's true that most software of this type has built-in safeguards so that you won't get caught performing automated queries. Google may or may not be able to track you down for doing this, but the bottom line is that it's against their stated terms of service. If you decide to do it anyway, you do so at your own peril.) Google has and does penalize sites for this, and there's no way to know for sure if this is why your site is penalized.

* Stuffing keywords and keyword phrases into your content at the top or bottom of your page, either visibly or invisibly. Or stuffing your Title and Meta tags in a similar fashion. (C'mon...does this really add any value to your visitors' site experience?) It used to be that this junk was simply ignored, but Google is on a real quest to provide high-quality pages and will automatically penalize it when they can.

That said, we all still see lots of really "spammy" pages in Google that continue to rank highly. (Do a search for "email marketing consultant" and you'll see some blatant spam.) Obviously, Google hasn't quite gotten their spam filters in tune yet. It's got to be quite difficult to figure out ways to penalize the bad without hurting the good. But just because you see others "getting away with it" doesn't mean it's a good idea to use those techniques on your own pages. Certainly not if you have any long-term goals for high rankings.

* Linking to sites that have very poor quality (or that spam the search engines), and which offer no value to your visitors. I have to laugh when people ask me if they should link to a certain site just because the other site linked to them. Or they ask if it's okay to bury their links page so that real people won't find them. Seems to me that if you have to ask...

Again, as with everything I've been talking about today and always -- your site visitors are key. Do you really think they benefit from those links to poor-quality sites? If they're so beneficial, why do you feel the need to hide them?

So...given all of the above, I headed out to take a look at Bruce's site. Many times when I check out sites that have been hit with an apparent penalty, it's not readily apparent what the problem might be. Usually, some digging and probing is necessary. However, this was not the case with Bruce's site. In fact, I was surprised that Bruce is actually a subscriber to my newsletter, because he apparently has not been paying attention! This site is breaking nearly every obvious rule in the Google best-practices book. I can't even imagine how Bruce could not realize this, but then I suppose maybe he read the wrong forums, or talked to some unprofessional SEO who was still partying like it was 1995. I really don't know.

The home page of his site had no content to speak of, only links to inner pages. This in and of itself is certainly not spam, but it's not good SEO either! What *was* spam, however, was the bottom of the page where there were links that said "mirror1, mirror2, mirror3" etc. could someone not realize this was spam? Any up-to-date search engine optimization reference site would tell you this. Even old-time spammers know better than to be so blatant! What was even more amusing to me was these mirror links lead to sites that were each spammier than the next! Keyword-stuffed text that was partially hidden, and more links to additional spammy "mirror" sites. The Title tags of all the sites were miles long, and overrun with keywords. Basically, I was looking at classic search engine spam of the worst (stupidest) kind (because it's just so cheesy!).

When I emailed Bruce to tell him that he was a very baaaaaad boy for using these techniques, his answer was simply that he had been given some bad advice. No, I'm sorry, that just doesn't cut it. Sure, in 1995 that excuse might work. Maybe even in 1997. But there's certainly enough good SEO advice in existence right now that ignorance of this magnitude is really inexcusable. Now, I'm not saying that this is true for all the sites that have found themselves penalized. There are definitely some penalizations happening that are not blatant spam...more like "pushing your luck" kind of spam. But the spam at Bruce's site was so darn pitiful and obvious that any site visitor would spot it.

[LOL...okay, now this is funny. While I was working on the rest of this newsletter, I noticed one of the many, many email spams that came in was selling products just like the kind that Bruce sells. So I opened it up out of curiosity. Guess what? It was Bruce's company! Why am I not surprised? I'm only sorry that I wasted my time emailing him personally in an attempt to help at first.]

April 17, 2003

CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ,, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.

Search Engine Guide > Jill Whalen > Missing Backlinks in Google