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Google and the Dangers of Link Networks: Anglo Rank

It’s sometimes easy to think of Google as a bit of a sleeping giant: a titan, to be sure, but even so, it seems a fairly faceless and unknowable entity most of the time.

For the average Internet user, Google is an always-there tool for doing research about literally anything. For marketers, Google is a set of more-or-less automated tools to use for marketing purposes.

Every once in a while, though, Google stirs and reminds us that it’s not only far less passive than perhaps we’d like to think, but also has honest-to-God human beings at the helm. The most recent example is a tweet from Google’s Matt Cutts in reference to a story that, if you haven’t heard of yet, you soon will.

Said Cutts: “‘There are absolutely NO footprints linking the websites together.’ Oh, Anglo Rank.”

The story the tweet refers to is likely to have far-reaching consequences for a number of websites. Let’s get to the bottom of it.

What’s Anglo Rank, and What Did They Do Wrong?

Anglo Rank is/was a service that provided paid links. Their website boasts of having “worked long and hard” to hand-pick quality sites with authoritative and curated content. The goal was to create networks of links, all in service of boosting the Google rankings of their clients. They’re hardly the only company that offers such services, but it’s generally considered poor practice, particularly by Google, to buy or sell low-quality links in the name of search engine optimization. This was the reason Anglo Rank was put on Google’s radar as a potential spam network.

The Anglo Rank website also features the now-famous claim quoted by Cutts in his tweet: it suggests that, thanks to their use of purportedly private networks, there was nothing actually linking Anglo Rank’s clients together: no “footprints,” as it were. Google’s anti-spam procedures eventually targeted Anglo Rank, its dubious link networks, and questionable SEO techniques.

Anglo Rank’s owner, who goes by Bluematter on the BlackHatWorld forums, insisted shortly after the story broke that the problem was isolated to only a few of Anglo Rank’s link sites, and as a result the majority of their customers would not be affected (read: penalized by Google). As the story has unfolded further, the reality of the situation seems just a little bit different from what Anglo Rank originally claimed.

So What’s the Real Story?

Several Anglo Rank clients have reported that they have received notifications in their Google Webmaster Tools consoles, indicating that they had received link penalties. Cutts’ tweet outing Anglo Rank as a spam network, while accurate, would seem to have been somewhat premature, with many of Anglo Rank’s clients still unaware of the situation as the notifications rolled out to all of the affected sites.

Despite very clearly worded guarantees on Anglo Rank’s FAQ page, assuaging clients’ fears that buying backlinks is considered a “blackhat” technique under Google’s definitions, Anglo Rank leadership has been changing its story regularly since the news broke. Despite supposedly “insuring the safety” of their clients, Anglo Rank now claims that their clients should have known the risks from the beginning.

In their own words, Anglo Rank is “not concerned about bringing more business in” right now, and is focusing their efforts on “sorting out” their affected clients. Where they actually go from here is still a subject of debate.

Also up for debate: how it was that Google’s anti-spam team was tipped off about Anglo Rank’s practices in the first place. There are a number of popular theories, including a particularly funny one that points out that people involved with Anglo Rank had been using Gmail addresses as payment accounts for their link-buying transactions. Frankly, that seems like an unnecessary and borderline foolish risk to take.

Regardless, the damage is done. While the dust settles, it’s worth taking a look at the SEO lessons that the Anglo Rank debacle has stirred up.

A House of Cards?

Probably the best metaphor for describing shady link networks is to compare them to a house of cards. While links are hugely important for building and maintaining a strong site ranking, link networks represent not just lazy corner-cutting, but also a potentially dangerous way to increase your number of links across the web.

The process is actually quite simple, which should be reason enough to doubt it: by dealing with a company like Anglo Rank, you could, literally overnight, have hundreds of links for the keyword you need to rank for.

To be clear: a link network is not an inherently bad thing. Plenty of websites out there are parts of a network: you may very well see badges displayed that identify a particular website as (for example) a “proud member of the Gannett network.”

However, you might also come across a page that lists dozens of other sites as partners. This is a good indication that the website in question might be part of a less-than-reputable network.

Just like Anglo Rank, the owners of these networks will swear up and down that the sites don’t have any footprints linking them, but even a cursory examination will prove this to be false. Other evidence can include: similar templates used on many websites, the same Google AdSense number, and the same IP address across many different sites.

So what are the consequences of doing business with one of these link networks? Quite simply, your website could potentially be deindexed and your links devalued. As a result, taking part in a link network is not unlike building your SEO strategy on a house of cards. If one linked website gets penalized, the rest of them could fall as well. The monetary losses that follow Google penalization could prove significant, leaving the affected sites struggling to regain the lost ground.

Too Good to Be True

The bottom line is this: if something seems too good to be true, it almost always is. Doing business with a link network might seem like a quick and convenient way to make some money, but the risk just isn’t worth the gain. You’ll have to exercise your own judgment when it comes to deciding whether a network is “good” or “bad,” or if it constitutes an acceptable risk.

At the end of the day, though, there’s really no substitute for simply putting in the hard work and improving your site rank the honest way.

About the author

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Adrienne Erin

Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer and internet marketing blogger who is always looking for new ways for businesses like Ritacco Disability Lawyers to succeed on the web.

27 Comments

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  • This trend has been obvious for over a decade, and it seems like willfully wishful thinking (at best) for people to have assumed otherwise.

    SEO is not only dead, but has become an infectious zombie out to kill anyone near it. “Braaiiiinnnns!”

    At this point, you’d have to have no “brains” to sign up with one of these link networks. Does this service mostly provide links to other sites? Then it’s robbing Google’s users of valid results, and will be treated accordingly.

    The secret of online success is: there is no secret. Provide engaging, authoritative, in-depth, original content, and provide great usability. That’s it; that’s all.

  • Many hosts offer a shared hosting service with unlimited domain/sub domains, bandwidth and storage. There is no reason someone can’t have hundreds of websites on the same ISP. So if each site links to a dozen of our other sites, does that make us some kind of spam network? Are we supposed to be afraid to link to our own sites?

  • I have burned my fingers many times using these networks, and I still do, but to do manually link building to quality sites is such a pain in the a.. so finding the right networks or a combination of these is what works best, only a certain number of links from each network and you will be pretty safe, but then again no one can tell the future and doing links the easy way will always be in risk, face it and live with it, this article don’t really tell anything new 🙂

  • So we do need to be careful in building links.
    Do not let the website that we finally got up to fight again even not in the index by google

  • Great article but your website could potentially be deindexed and your links devalued if u do not pay proper attention on your site structure!

  • What gets me, is that the whole internet is full of tactics to fraud SEO, and it’s beyond me that unless you pay big dollars for these particular links that most websites will sit in on the bottom pits of the ocean. Maybe, it’s time for Google to not even take LINK keywords into consideration because the good people who don’t join these link networks that actually suffer trying to compete with these blackhat techniques.

  • It amazes me that a site on SEO has a popup as soon as the page opens. Usually I just close the tab and keep going. but I have been here before and have found some good reading so I stopped to post this. And the popup speaks volumes.

  • I now realise how lucky I am not having taken links from coompanies who offered my the earth moon etc. I did my own hard work SEO and learnt as I went. People and articles like this one have been my guises and I must say thank you to all of them.

  • Hi,

    We are not aware of the quantity of times search engines has to put down ban hammer for people to recognise that will drive button web optimization does not work nowadays

  • Good to hear Google are deindexing ranked sites using link networks, giving more room to the legitimate sites that provide quality contents 🙂

  • We have a few niche related websites maybe 5 in total some on shared hosting and some not.

    They all have a link or two to each other but I have no followed all of these.

    In no way are we doing anything wrong as the links are all helpful.

    Question is: Would google see this as a network and are we safe by no following the links?

  • Be wary of seo service proposals who use public email accounts like gmail, yahoo, aol etc. Ask yourself why they target you. You might discover that the proposals are coming simply because your site has good serp.

  • Nice article! It seems like the extinction of these link farms will be a welcome change. I would equate this practice to speeding. Plenty of people do it and know it could get them in trouble, so when their website gets pulled over and ticketed they really shouldn’t be that surprised.

  • So at the end of the day you still need to buy links. Just much more expensive ones, which G considers “not a junk”. So will Google really stop selling/buying links. I really doubt…

    • Ha ha! You hit the nail on the head. You HAVE to buy Google’s “links” only! Which is why, when shopping for products, you are always taken to the “big boys” – the Walmarts of the web that can afford the insane pricing of Google!

  • I was naive when I developed my web site Oasisoftheseasaluureoftheseas,com. It is a clear experiment: all original content, unique photos and videos. No link building techniques. I tired to do everything naturally. Result: after 5 years (yes, 5 years of hard work!) my web site is on the 3rd page for ‘Oasis of the Seas’ but my competitors with 1 page about Oasis have better rankings!
    I don’t trust Google – all their articles are for good people who follow direction. Reality is totally different: all the bad guys enjoy better rankings.

  • With all of the changes in the Google algorithm, in the long run the most effective way for SEOs to guarantee rankings for their clients is to have control of the links themselves.

    This can be done through building professional relationships with site owners and webmasters of related websites.

    For many the temptation will be to use private networks of sites, and it’s no surprise that link schemes pop up to take advantage of that.

  • Funny Google, they put a very high value on links and wonder why afterwards people try to exploit this. Google is the wrongdoer since they totally ignore content quality and only look at links and the so called “authority” which is a joke by itself because it is used extensively in a cheating behavior by the big ones in almost every sector. This can be solved immediately by giving much less value to links and authority plus increasing content value and visuals such as pics and vids.

  • Web masters should make the links only theme based and relvant otherwise their Sites will get down in Search Engines.

  • The internet is a link network. Google owns and operates the biggest link farm of all, just look at their PR! How come they don’t penalise themselves? We all know why; they are on the board of the council on foreign relations and members of the bilderberger group, project for a new american century and all the big time cabal groups, but they were started and still run by the CIA!!!

  • Nice Article. Its preferable to build links manually with quality websites rather then buying high PR paid links.

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