Google's Internal Linking Penalty?

Jan 10, 2013 • 8:43 am | comments (35) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

anchor textA WebmasterWorld thread has one webmaster who runs about 150 web sites. Three of those web sites noticed a ranking decline in Google around the same time. He said, the only common factor amongst those three sites and not the other 147 sites were how they used anchor text on the home page to link to the home page.

The webmaster said he believes those sites were penalized because they use generic anchor text on the home page, pointing to the home page, for the site's topic.

The webmaster wrote:

Of the 150 of so i am managing currently, 3 were hit a couple of months ago, and the only thing i can see in common is they all have a home page link on their main keyword to home.


Cats - anchor text to home page.

Window cleaning - anchor text to home page.

Many agree that this can cause the home page to not rank for the keyword being targeted in the anchor text being used internally.

To me, it sounds a bit strange and too simple. But hey, most of the webmasters agree with this.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.

Previous story: Google's Database Tiers - Searching Deeper


John Britsios

01/10/2013 02:00 pm

Hard to believe that it has been the case, since navigation elements are boilerplates. Well, lets see what others have to say.


01/10/2013 02:18 pm

So, the guy studied how to use basic CMS and stole content to fill 150 domains. Now he is a webmaster and you, Barry, spread his unique professional experience. Thank you very much for such an interesting topic )

Aaron Bradley

01/10/2013 03:23 pm

Well, it "sounds a bit strange and too simple" by far. In the thread speculation is rife and data is very scarce indeed. Google's going to smack down a site because its algorithm determines that the site links its home page with the "wrong" keyword? What I found somewhat sad about the thread are the number of people that suggested the best way to link to you home page was with the anchor text "home" or "home page", because other than that - gasp! - one might kind of, possibly, sort of, under some circumstances, according to some people, risk the ire of Google.

Aaron Axelsson

01/10/2013 04:20 pm

I think that the OP is just a bit unclear with what he means, and that just follows through the thread. I'm pretty sure he means that he has a link in the text of the home page, pointing to itself, with the main keyword for the page as anchor text. If I'm right in that, it's for sure a high risk of getting hit by something. The discussion later in the thread, about using Home or a similar word, is rather about the navigation, and that makes sense too.

Lord of SEO

01/10/2013 04:36 pm

Hmm I can see them doing this, I'd wager a bet half their algo is made up of ridculous rules and weightings. Like more than two keywords in page title is one filter, internal over optimized anchors another, repetition of keyword x time in body below fold, another...


01/10/2013 04:37 pm

Once, a long time ago, I administered a company Email server. I used a keyword based spam detection component to block unwanted emails based on keywords found. One day we got a complaint from a client who was not able to email us. I soon found the cause of Mr. Shitabata's being blocked because I had a rash of spam emails with the word "Shit!" in the email. I blocked shit (wildcard) and also inadvertently Mr. Shitabata. This was the 90s or early 2000s so heuristics weren't that great. Anyway, solving a social problem (spam) with technology always has its shortcomings. This sounds like one of them. After all, it is an exact match keyword in a link.

f goog

01/10/2013 04:48 pm

The only safe thing to do is make sure Google profits from you. Little by little they will close any loophole out there and cut off the "free" traffic. Google needs a serious competitor


01/10/2013 04:57 pm

Yeah, I found this article very confusing, too. It sounds like he is linking a page to itself with targeted keywords, which doesn't even make sense from a user's perspective. Why link a page to itself? Understandably, a website is going to have a link to the home page in the logo (which has no anchor text) and probably in the top nav bar with the anchor text "Home." But, if you try to manipulate that and have the home page link in the nav bar say [my keywords] instead of "home," you might, indeed, be hit with an over-optimization penalty. Or, is he saying that in the textual copy of the page, he is linking the page to itself with anchor text? Like I said, very confusing.

Tyson Stevens

01/10/2013 05:46 pm

Has anyone noticed any penalties arising from exact match anchor-text in content internal links?

Aaron Bradley

01/10/2013 08:03 pm

I'll pass on further speculating on the possibly self-referential link, possibly keyword over-optimized link that might possibly be "hit by something." But as to the advice concerning using "Home" or your TLD as the link to your home page that makes sense - if it makes sense in the context of your site. If I have a site that exclusively sells car parts, and I link to my home page with the anchor text "Car Parts" I'm hardly doing my users (particularly those that arrive laterally on the site) a disservice. In fact, I might not even know anything about SEO and do that purely for usability reasons. Might Google "penalize" me for this? In order to do so they'd have to compare my site-wide anchor text against an algorithmic blacklist of keywords they consider to be the "main keyword" for a home page and smack me for that. Or they might spank me because I had the audacity to link to my home page without an innocuous, somehow approved navigational label like "home." I consider either of these scenarios unlikely, but I suppose they are possible. But without data "unlikely" and "possible" are both about equally valid justifications for a piece of advice one might make about home page anchor text use one way or the other, IMHO. Hmm ... how should Home Depot link to their home page? Or HomeSense? Or home dot something? ;)


01/10/2013 08:38 pm

Is it possible that Google is bounce the homepage and internal page? This has happened to me before. Said homepage ranks page one, then drops. Then internal page shows up on page 6 and within time, moves to take the place of the homepage link. I did not read in full detail, but unless this has been going on for over a month, Google is probably just decided which page is more relevant to serve up on a query.

Peter Watson

01/11/2013 12:00 am

There was nothing confusing about this post by Barry. The webmaster in question was using black hat to try and spam Google by linking the home page to itself using targeted anchor text. I seen this a lot 4 - 5 years ago.....Not so much now for obvious reasons.


01/11/2013 06:35 am

EU to force Google to change listing of search results


01/11/2013 08:46 am

In my ecommerce site the first link in the breadcrumbs points to the homepage using the keyword that the site is about. It seems natural to me and it is on thousands of product pages... But what he did was bit unnatural. Pointing a page to itself on three occassions using three different words...


01/11/2013 09:00 am

Noam, I recently changed my breadcrumbs to stop doing this. I changed the "home" breadcrumb to the name of my site (previously the "home" breadcrumb was keywords). As far as I know, Google had not penalised me because of my keywords in breadcrumbs, however in light of Google's latest changes, I felt it was a high risk thing to continue doing. And let's face it, is not great for the user. My traffic has stayed constant so I was not getting any benefit from it anyway. Regarding this topic, the webmaster was trying to game the system by linking a page to itself with exact match keyword anchor text. I don't know whether this caused the ranking drop or not, but I doubt it was making any positive difference anyway. He ought to stop doing it.


01/11/2013 12:14 pm

I think you should vary the terms, if all your links are on the word "Window cleaning" or "Cat" then it is pretty obvious that you are manipulating links. try some variations.


01/11/2013 01:20 pm

But, if you try to manipulate that and have the home page link in the nav bar say [my keywords] instead of "home," you might, indeed, be hit with an over-optimization penalty. You do not have anything to do with SEO, do You?

Erica Tevis

01/11/2013 01:40 pm

I had my "ah-ha" moment when reading this and the accompanying forum posts at WebmasterWorld. We did a site redesign in August 2012 and at the time were ranking #1 for my main keyword. We've been consistently between 1-5 on Google for this keyword since August 2007. Suddenly on September 27-28 (same time as the OP in WebmasterWorld) we dropped - first to 7, then to 8, then to 9... we stayed at 9 for a while. I thought the drop was due to not pushing out enough unique content and possibly not diversifying my links enough. I had even spoken with Danny Sullivan about my drop and he seemed to agree that I needed to continue to build a stronger link profile and the drop had nothing to do with my site or structure as we were always ranking well and we had no major changes. Based on his suggestion, I started to build more links by obtaining interviews with some major sites such as YFS Magazine, AMEX Open, etc ... in mid December we moved back to 7. I thought we were doing well. Then around Christmas, we started to see a drop again, 8, 9, 10 - then today to 11. I then realized that in late August, early September my webdesigner had programmed into my site something called a "product keyword tagger" that would find every instance of my main keyword in my products and link to my homepage from it. Since I am e-commerce, that could be roughly 6,000 items pointing to my homepage! It would make perfect sense that Google saw this as manipulating and over optimization and dropped me because of it. I immediately turned the feature off last night. I also began to re-write my context for my section pages and remove any links within them to stop pointing to my home page using the anchor text. I also removed two links which were contained in my homepage text which looped back to my homepage with my anchor text. I am hoping that by making these changes and by continuing to build a stronger more diversified link profile we can recover and get back to the top of page 1. Years ago using your anchor text on subpages and pointing to the page you wanted to rank for was standard and a common practice. I wish I would have figured this out in September so I could have addressed this issue earlier. I hope it's not too late to fix.


01/11/2013 05:12 pm

Wow and here comes our mind reader Anti-SEO and assumes that the content was stolen. Thank you for this well researched and professional comment of yours.


01/11/2013 06:46 pm

Hey, "don't feed the trolls".

Jason Mailley

01/11/2013 07:18 pm

Links from the homepage to the homepage using anchor text. Hmmmm.... I'm suprised they ever ranked with that scheme. Sounds like one of the worst strategy for SEO.


01/12/2013 12:24 am

And what do you assume ? That guy wrote/bought 450 unique texts to have at least three unique pages on every site ? Otherwise, it could be manufacturers descriptions, spin texts, aggregated content ... in all these cases no doubt he lost rankings. I can even predict, that other 147 sites will loose rankings as well soon. He is SE spammer and deserves to be penalized. This has nothing to do with links. Or do you really assume he has unique content on every of 150 sites ? Then ask Barry, how is it to get content for even one site )


01/12/2013 12:37 am

Well, just imagine you write an article every day. It would take you only 1.5 years to create this network of 150 sites. But thanks for your answer, I like how you went into explaining your assumption in details (instead of personal attacks). Thank you.


01/12/2013 12:37 am

James said : " this site has scraped the entire Flickr database " And obviously you assume, that only you know who scraped ))


01/12/2013 12:45 am

And what's the point to smash these articles between 150 sites ? Common Andrius, lets be honest ... There is no Matt Cutts around ))


01/12/2013 01:10 am

we can tell anything, but real fact is - content is not important. At current time important only how good you understand what google want you do with your site (adapt it completely for their taste) and some unique content (after it). It clearly show what google is not anything@engine, it just a websites (not articles) choosing engine who love only big brands & adwords.


01/12/2013 01:11 am

google now unable to rank websites. It rank only websites created by special way to pleasure google panda. It what is google right now.


01/13/2013 02:17 pm

So if we sell new cars on our website, it would be safer to link to the homepage using anchor text such as trucks, etc. Basically, what we have to do is confuse the hell out of our visitors in the same way that Google's algorithm confuses webmasters. This is a game of smoke and mirrors. Behind the scenes at Google the SERPS are being adjusted often to further squeeze the average webmaster in an effort for Google to make more money. Take buyer keywords for example. Why would Wikipedia show up #1 for product queries? Might it have something to do with "dummying down" the organic listings to make the paid ads look even more appealing? Google once said that webmasters should create content for people and not search engines. When you read posts about internal linking penalties and the like, it's pretty safe to assume many webmasters are now creating content for the search engines. For most, who lack any real marketing budget, search engines are their sole source of traffic. And without first pleasing Google, these people will never have any visitors. Now if Google really cared about spam and manipulating the search engines, they would not be ranking multiple tumblr, blogspot, etc. listings stacked together on the first page in the SERPS. It should be an easy enough task to handle. After all, the sheer number of DMCA requests I have to send to these places for stolen content should be a red flag in its own. But if Google were to do that, they would have to penalize one of their own businesses (blogspot). Even with so many webmasters sending valid DMCA takedown requests, blogspot blogs still rank well even with an algorithm that supposedly penalizes sites that receive so many of these notices. There's a lot of bias in the SERPS these days. Unfortunately its hard to separate fact from fiction when Google's actions are profit driven and not in the best interest of end users.

danik bax

01/13/2013 03:35 pm

thx for posting. very intersting.. google panda sucks :\


01/14/2013 10:17 am

I know of a site that has a footer keyword link to the homepage for a fairly competitive term... still ranking number 1 though.

Revax media

01/24/2013 10:07 am

Linking from homepage to homepage for a chosen keyword as anchor text barks the question what possible way could this help the user? it wouldn't so the change in attitude towards this internal linking is a good sign Google are starting to become more aware of spam tactics. Let's also not forget that it's normal standard practice to link your logo to your homepage using anchor or alt text, is this different?

Scott McKirahan

02/12/2013 05:01 pm

I'm not sure at all that I even understand this question. I write about SEO (often times as a ghost writer), manage quite a few websites' SEO and believe I have a pretty solid grasp on it. I guess that means I have "something" to do with SEO (although I doubt I really deserve the god-like stature you have given me with the capitalization of the pronoun, "You"). I don't control the algorithms, though, if that's what you mean. - LOL


02/25/2013 09:48 pm

"So if we sell new cars on our website, it would be safer to link to the homepage using anchor text such as trucks, etc. Basically, what we have to do is confuse the hell out of our visitors in the same way that Google's algorithm confuses webmasters." NO. What this guy was doing was putting links on the HOME page, like in the content or more likely the side nav and footer, with the anchor text, and linking those back to the HOME page - the same page they were currently on. This is not good for users, because it's confusing as Hell for users to click a link that says "Cars" and instead of being taken to the Cars category, the home page refreshes. I say he deserves the down ranking for pulling that.


02/25/2013 09:50 pm

Masterfully done.


02/25/2013 09:56 pm

google love only lsi & wikipedia. but it secondary, because current google search engine purpose to MAKE MONEY FOR GOOGLE ONLY

blog comments powered by Disqus