SEO Q&A: Is Cross-Linking Between Websites a Bad Practice?

Question: I have multiple domains that are all related. Should I be cross-linking between them to boost each other’s signals, or should I avoid cross-linking entirely?


When we say “cross-linking” we’re usually referring to the act sending links back and forth between two or more websites, either habitually or as a static element on each website. Cross-linking is often seen as a type of search engine manipulation, but there are times when cross-linking can be a valid technique.

We know from Google that linking 20 domains or more together will often be seen as a cross-linking scheme. But anyone would likely see that 20 domains is excessive, especially if they are low quality sites. When it comes down to two or three sites, it’s a different ballgame. When properly used, cross-linking can be used to shift an audience from one related site to another, such as the way The Onion, The A.V. Club, ClickHole and Onion Studios all link together into a single network. This is unlikely to produce any negative results, either from a user experience standpoint or a search engine optimization standpoint.

Ask yourself why you want to cross-link your sites. If you’re trying to cross-link for the purposes of increased PageRank, it’s probably not altogether helpful to cross-link (though you might want to send users from a high authority site to a lower authority site that you’re currently boosting). After all, if you’re cross-linking between two sites that don’t have any PageRank to begin with, you’re netting to the same end result. But if you’re trying to cross-link to improve user experience, directing users to information that is truly helpful to them, that’s another situation entirely.


Answer: Cross-linking between sites sparingly and when relevant is not harmful. Cross-linking between a multitude of websites (20 or more) could be harmful. Use discretion, but don’t shy away from it entirely when it’s needed. 

 

SEO Q&A: How Can You Quickly and Safely Remove Pages From Indexing?

Question: We have tons and tons of posts and pages from years ago that we believe are harming our search engine ranking. We don’t want to just remove them because we’ve heard that can hurt SEO. What should we do?


As always, a common misconception has within it a kernel of truth. Broken links hurt SEO — but simply deleting pages does not. You can delete the pages anyway you like, you just need to make sure that you don’t break your links when you do so. You have two solutions: you can either just delete them or remove them from crawling through Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Deleting them entirely. Usually the best solution for a significant amount of content; you can just delete the pages off your server. Run a broken link checker and delete the links to those pages, then log into Google Webmaster’s Tools and request that your entire site be recrawled. Easy, but you do lose those pages forever.

Deleting them from search engine results. If you have only a minor amount of content that you want deleted, you can submit the url to the “Remove Outdated Content” tool in Google’s Webmaster tools. You can also submit entire directories (such as if you want your /img/ directory to remain uncrawled). But you shouldn’t submit dozens (or hundreds) of individual URLs to this tool, as it generally looks like suspicious behavior. A side effect, though, is that the pages remain in your site and available to readers — they just aren’t indexed.

Of course, just because something doesn’t directly hurt SEO doesn’t mean that it can’t indirectly hurt your SEO, by reducing the usefulness of your site. Test your site before and after to make sure you haven’t lost valuable content.


 

Answer: As long as you don’t leave behind broken links, removing pages from your site should not directly hurt your search engine ranking. You can remove them either manually or through the Remove Outdated Content tool provided by Google.

 

SEO Q&A: What Exactly is “Duplicate Content” and How Badly is a Site Penalized for It?

Question: I’m worried about duplicate content on my site. If I place a blog post on multiple sites, is that going to harm my search rankings? Will it be marked as spam?

 

Placing a piece of content on multiple sites isn’t always a good idea, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think. There is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty. Google does not penalize sites for having duplicate content. And Google does not consider duplicate content spam.

Google does take action against sites that seem solely scraped from another site; in effect, the entire site is a duplicate of another site. But that’s really another issue entirely, and not likely to be one that you will casually encounter.

I occasionally see marketers avoiding quotations out of a misguided fear that it will show as duplicated content. Google looks for pages that are identical in content, not paragraphs of quoted content — so this is unnecessary. There are many situations in which a quote can be used to add value to content, so this would be disingenuous on Google’s part.

So why is it bad to have duplicate content? Google will generally combine multiple copies of a page into a single entry, and the entry that has the greatest PageRank will be the only one shown. So it’s not really bad for SEO, it’s just kind of pointless. The other listings will only be shown if the user specifically asks to be shown all the listings, which really only happens when someone is desperately searching for an obscure tech support issue.

But it is bad for the overall user value of a site to have multiple pieces of entirely duplicated content, so that’s something that needs to be considered. For the most part, a carefully curated outbound link is probably more usable and useful.

 

Answer: Duplicate content being considered “spam” is actually a myth. Duplicate content does not lead to any site-wide penalties. Google will group together duplicate content in the search engine page, so it isn’t great for SEO on an individual basis, but it doesn’t hurt the domain.

SEO Q&A: How Does Geographically Targeted Content Actually Work?

Question: How do search engines connect content to geographic locations? Is it just based on keywords, or are there other indicators that the algorithms use?


 

There’s a lot that goes into geo-targeting; it’s not enough to simply stuff content full of location-based keywords. Search engines today look at a myriad of signals, including Google Place pages and Google Maps entries, which are linked to industries and services related to the query. On a purely content level, it’s often best to write about a place rather than just write a generic article and throw the place keywords in later on. Remember, you’re not just trying to hit keywords — you’re also trying to achieve relevancy for the reader.

Obviously, geo-targeted content is only used by the search engine if it’s relevant. If you search for something like “flower shops,” search engines are going to identify what you’re really looking for — regional flower shops — rather than trying to return to you basic information about the existence of flower shops. But if you search for something like “hip dysplasia in golden retrievers,” search engines aren’t going to try to give you local information because it’s not a locally relevant query.

There’s a broader geographic question, too — which websites are returned based on which country the user is in. For many search queries, Australians see vastly different search results from American citizens. In the past, a UK-based company might always want to use a .co.uk address, as this would be more likely to return to a UK user. Today, .com domains are being returned more often for virtually all nations, but there are still some situations in which .au, .co.uk, .ca and other country-based domain names are preferred.

In Webmaster Central, webmasters can specify which country their website is targeted at. But as Google Webmasters cautions, splitting your focus can actually be harmful to your website. If you list your website as relevant to the United States when it’s really an Australian-focused website, you may have the side effect of getting fewer Australian hits.


Answer: To ensure that your content has been properly geo-targeted, it msut be submitted to the appropriate directories in addition to having highly geographically specific content.

 

SEO Q&A Does the Age of Your Domain Matter for SEO?

Question: How does the age of a domain name affect SEO? Is it better to purchase an older domain or a newer domain?


It’s a common myth that the older a domain name is, the better it will perform in search engine rankings. It’s very easy to see why this myth would become popular: the older a domain is, the more content it’s likely to have — and, thus, the better it will perform in terms of SEO. Even worse, some domain services themselves have touted the benefits of having an older, well-seasoned domain, especially services selling already registered domains.

According to Google, there’s really no difference between a site that is two years old, three years old or five years old. It’s all about the actual content on the site. Additionally, Google doesn’t use whois data to determine the age of a website — they use when the website was first crawled by them or when they first saw a link to the domain.

However, Google has stated that website age doesn’t matter “as long as the site is two months, three months” old. So that indicates that very new sites may see some form of penalty initially — though not a significant one. This could either be intentional or just a by-product of the algorithm not having enough information yet on how to place the site.

Finally, when considering the purchase of older domains, don’t forget that a domain can carry baggage. If the domain has had black hat SEO techniques used by a webmaster before, there might still be some harmful links out there just waiting to hurt your new site’s search engine rankings.


 

Answer: After the first few months, the age of a domain does not affect it significantly in terms of SEO. It’s better to worry about the quality of a domain than its age.

SEO Q&A: Do Meta Descriptions and Keywords Actually Matter for SEO?

Question: We spend a lot of time optimizing our descriptions and keywords. We think we see an improvement when they are better optimized to suit the keywords on our site. But do they actually matter for the purposes of SEO?


The “keywords” meta tag has existed since 1995, when it was used by the first generation of search engines, such as AltaVista. At the time, the keywords meta tag was used as a self-reporting method of search query relevancy. It was most definitely useful back then, but it’s easy to see why this type of tactic doesn’t work (or exist) now.

As of 2009, we can be certain that Google no longer takes into account the “keywords” meta tag. Yahoo still indexes the “keywords” meta tag, but gives it the “lowest ranking signal in our system.” You might be inclined to think “Well, that’s still something,” but it’s really not — the ranking signal is lower than just putting the keywords in the text of the site. So it’s basically worthless.

What changed with Yahoo’s ranking algorithms is that while we still index the meta keyword tag, the ranking importance given to meta keyword tags receives the lowest ranking signal in our system…. it will actually have less effect than introducing those same words in the body of the document, or any other section.

Further, some point out that including your keywords directly in your site will give your competitors insights into the general thrust of your advertising campaign. If you’re running a campaign based primarily on the keyword “custom 3D printed widgets,” a competitor could buy you out of that space without having to guess.

As for the meta description tag, it does nothing for SEO — but it may be displayed on the search engine results page, so it still has value. Descriptions should be carefully written for user comprehension, rather than search engine optimization. In other words, it should be human-optimized rather than search engine optimized.

Of course, the meta description tag isn’t always displayed on the SERP; Google tries to generate a result that is most useful to the user, pulling from a variety of sources, including both the meta description and the page content.


Answer: No. Meta descriptions may be displayed to the user but does not affect SEO — keywords should be avoided. The meta keywords tag does nothing on Google and almost worse than nothing on Yahoo.

 

 

SEO Q&A: Does Purchasing PPC Advertising on Google Help Your Search Engine Ranking?

Question: Does purchasing paid advertising help with organic search engine results? I know Google says it doesn’t, but have there ever been any tests to determine whether that’s truly the case?


It isn’t just Google that says that paid advertising has no affect on search engine results — Moz agrees, too. That doesn’t mean that PPC campaigns SEO don’t work great together. As Search Engine Watch points out, PPC campaigns give a marketer a lot of additional data to work with.

And there’s a correlative effect, too; marketers who are willing to spend money on PPC campaigns are more likely to have spent some time on their search engine optimization and site quality.

It’s easy to see why this myth keeps coming back. But a few moments of thought should make it really clear that this wouldn’t be ultimately beneficial to Google — or to anyone.

  • It would lower search engine quality as a whole, reducing the amount of control they have within the search engine industry.
  • It would be extremely obvious; marketers would notice it very quickly and thus be able to game the system.
  • If it wasn’t obvious, marketers wouldn’t be aware of it, and thus it wouldn’t help them.

The final reason is perhaps the most obvious. It’s silly for Google to promote PPC advertised sites in their organic search and then deny doing it, because that invalidates any reasons they might have for doing it. By promoting advertised sites in organic search, they would actually lessen the importance of PPC ads.

Funnily enough, this has actually led to a competing theory: that Google actually sabotages websites that invest in PPC advertising, so that they need to pay for more PPC advertising. But, again, that makes no sense — marketers crunch a lot of data, and this would just incline them to believe that PPC advertising had a negative effect on SEO somehow and should not be used.

But that’s not to say this is an entirely paranoid or naive thought. Companies like Facebook sabotage marketing efforts all the time — and Facebook is a big company and they make a lot of money in advertising. It’s worth it to be skeptical. In this particular situation, though, neither the numbers nor the logic add up.


Answer: Not directly, and certainly not as any initiative through Google. But there are indirect results of a PPC campaign that can help with organic search queries, such as improved data collection and site quality.

 

 

SEO Q&A: Search Engine Optimization, Sub-Domains and Sub-Directories

Question: Are sub-domains on a website considered to be part of that domain? Is there any advantage to using sub-domains over sub-directories, or sub-directories over sub-domains? Will it hurt my website to move one from the other?


The question of subdomains vs. subdirectories is a great example of SEO voodoo. According to Matt Cutts, using a subdomain is, to Google, materially identical to using a subdirectory. There’s no advantage to using one or the other except for purposes of ease-of-use or simple preference.

Yet many marketers will swear up and down that subdirectories are better.

In fact, the thought leaders at Moz go so far as to imply that Matt Cutts is lying by omission and that Google really does rank sub-domains differently from the domain.

“I think the important word you used in describing Matt’s video is “implied.” He’s very careful not to speak in specifics, and often, I think the truth is buried in that non-specific language, rather than in the broader implied phrasing.”

Because why not trick the people you’re trying to educate? Just for kicks.

The example Moz uses is moving a guide from http://guides.moz.com to http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-SEO.

But that’s not comparable at all. A comparable move would be from beginners-guide-to-SEO.moz.com. They moved their guide from one non-optimized URL to an optimized URL; of course this would make a dramatic difference. It has nothing to do with domain structure.

It’s often repeated that subdomains are looked at as entirely different sites from the main domain. We know, from Google, that this is just not true — and there’s truly no reason for Google to lie about this. And many marketers state that they’ve moved content from a subdomain to a subdirectory and seen an incredible increase in traffic. But it’s very likely that this is due to some other change that they’ve made — or simply due to the fact that the content has then been up for longer.


Answer: Google has stated subdomains and subdirectories are materially identical. Others in the industry agree. It’s a persistent myth that probably has much more to do with voodoo than fact.