As we’ve noted time and again, not all backlinks are created equal. In fact, some types of links can do more harm than good if you’re looking to rank a website in online search.
While most of the focus for bad links revolves around the quality of the publisher websites in guest posting, the quality of the publisher may not be the only thing weighing down your rankings.
One oft-debated area for link quality is the presence of sitewide links from other websites.
Simply put, a sitewide link is a backlink that appears on most, if not all, of a website’s pages and/or posts.
Sitewide links typically are included in things like footer menus or sidebar menus. They will look something like this:
In the pre-Penguin update days, many anchor text specific sitewide links appeared on blogrolls, ensuring that with each new blog post a new outbound link would be given to those included there.
In the days before Google’s release of Penguin, obtaining 24K+ links from a single source with exact match anchors would likely have lead to elation.
The Google Penguin update really put the hammer on unnatural link building in SEO. Sitewide links were a component of that update.
As an oft-abused link building tactic, sitewide link building was a strategy used to game Google’s pre-Penguin reliance on anchor text as a more primary driver of relevance for a page.
But, does it really look natural if you have 24K+ sitewide links using anchor text that includes “payday loans?” Hardly.
In today’s world, sitewide links are weighted much differently in the overall linkgraph. They’re not only discounted in the weighting factor, the total quantity of the anchor text can serve to work against you if they are keyword and not brand-specific.
Not always. Here are some instances where a sitewide link may be considered very natural:
The short answer is “yes,” but it is somewhat nuanced. The worst types of sitewide links typically look like egregious attempts to either pass link equity from a high authority site to a new site or try to rank for a particular keyword or both.
Unnatural sitewide links that could eventually cause you to incur a penalty, might look like the following:
It is easier than ever for Google to spot sitewide links that are being used with an attempt to bolster rankings unnaturally.
Google doesn’t have to perform manual penalties to catch and punish perpetrators. The algorithms will do that for them.
Here’s a direct client example in the legal SEO space:
In a matter of hours, the client’s website amassed over 100K links from four separate sources in the legal niche. Each site that linked to them had a domain authority >70 and was linking with anchors that did not look natural.
Neither we nor the client initiated this.
And here’s the subsequent and resulting fallout to keyword rankings:
At its peak this website ranked for some 75K terms with over 1K terms in top 3 positions. Luckily, some defensive maneuvering has helped the site to recover, but not without eight months of lost revenue due to the lost rankings and a massive amount of stress and work.
Beware: if you’re not careful and vigilant, sitewide links can have a significant and immediate negative impact on your website.
I’m going to keep this short, simple and to the point:
Continue to monitor your backlink profile in Google Search Console, Moz, Ahrefs or all three. Pay attention to what others might be doing to ensure you can get ahead of sitewide link issues before they hurt you.
While sitewide link building for SEO may be a dead tactic, it still remains worth discussing.
Ignorance to best practices may come back to bite you hard, even if you had nothing to do with creating a sitewide link with unnatural anchor text to your website.