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What's a bad link and what's a good one?

Since Google first appeared and started ranking sites based on citations (links) the market for links has become skewed. This page attempts to recognise good links from bad ones. Why?

1. When buying links: If you spend any marketing money on buying links it helps to know which links are a good buys and which aren't.

2. When buying a site, part of the price you're paying is for the accumulated "link juice". Using the link: or linkdomain commands in Yahoo and Google will give you some idea of the site's IBLs (incoming back links). But are you paying thousands for worthless IBLs?

The general rules are that links that look obviously like they were designed to impress search engine algorithms are bad and links that were created to be of use to visitors (and preferably voluntarily) are good.

Top five bad links:

1. Sitewide or Run-Of-Site links. These links are generally placed in footers but sometimes appear in sidebars or headers and, as the name suggests, the same link appears on every page of the site. They're bad because their intent is so obvious.

2. Links on pages called link.htm, resources.php etc. If the name of the page suggests it was created just to post outgoing links it could be part of a "link exchange" campaign. Some sites have whole directories of link pages! The preference should definitely be for links from "normal", content pages rather than a page.

3. Links designed to be seen by human eyes only and blocked from search engines' use via the nofollow tag, robots.txt disallow command, a meta tag directive, javascript / CSS shrouding, or other "trickery". Or vice-versa.

4. Links bought exclusively for SEO purposes (like Google Page Rank). They often appear in the left/right column and some - arrggh! - even under a dead giveaway notice like "Sponsored Links" (which, believe it or not can be understood in context by search engine computers!) These links often have no relation to the subject of the page. Other links in this category would be "link exchanges", sometimes called three way linking by smart-asses who think they devised a genius plan to dupe search engines.

5. Bad: Links bought per month. Nothing says bought link as obviously as one that disappears after exactly 30 days. (Caveat: Links bought for their direct traffic benefit rather than SEO reasons can be worthy exceptions).

Top five good links

1. Links in quality directories and in the right category, with a proper description, and sitting with links to other good sites in that category. It pays to be in good company.

2. It also pays to get links from that company i.e. competing sites in your sector.

3. Links from within the body of relevant content. An article on widgets mentioning your site within the article suggests your site is a good link for widget information.

4. Links from highly respected sites like the BBC, Harvard University, or this one (Hmm!)

5. Links from pages that aren't cluttered with too many other outgoing links.