Can you predict what the future holds for your inbound links?

Almost five years ago I wrote an article about predicting a site’s future and using your expectation to decide whether you should pursue links on that site today. Much has changed in the search engine optimization (SEO) landscape since then so I decided to expand and update my original article.

Sometimes, what’s old is old

It’s interesting to run into sites we’ve worked with in the past and compare their previous and current metrics. Lots of things pop up like:

  • Old links are still live but the host page is full of new links whereas it wasn’t before.
  • Pages that once ranked well no longer do so.
  • Articles with links that were not originally there have been added.
  • And sometimes everything is the same, though, if not better!

A look into the past

It’s easy to determine what a site looked like in the past and compare it to the current site by using Archive.org.

You may notice a lot of changes such as good and bad redesigns, deleted links and entire articles removed. Occasionally you may notice whole sites deindexed in Google:

Due diligence

When starting a link campaign, it is important to go through a number of steps or perform “due diligence” using checklists and guidelines you’ve established.

It may be impossible to check every page but try to do as much as possible so nothing is overlooked. Here are some issues to check for:

  • Is the site indexed in Google?
  • Are there any spammy hacks on the site that haven’t been fixed?
  • Is there contact info on the site?
  • Does the site rank for its brand and major keywords?
  • If you’re placing a link in an existing piece of content, does that page rank for its title?
  • Is the site free from links and ads for gambling, payday loans, drugs, and porn?
  • Have you checked to make sure the content is original and not scraped or duplicated?
  • And always, always…does it look like your link would be a natural fit and get clicked on here?

There’s more depending on the industry and individual website but notice it’s pretty uncomplicated common sense stuff.

So how in the world can you predict what’s going to happen after you finish working on the site?

How do you know the webmaster won’t fill the site up with spam, sell the domain, let it expire or sell the site to a private blog network?

There tend to be signs, both good and bad.  Let’s start with the bad signs.

Bad signs

Here are a few red flags to look for when negotiating for link placement:

  • The webmaster gives you a list of 50 other “great” sites he has.  While some people just own a lot of sites, it is doubtful the other 50 will be as good as the one you sought out.  Look carefully.
  • The webmaster asks if you mind if he gives your information to “friends” who own similar websites. Watch for heavy interlinking with the friend sites — they may possibly even be owned by the same person who’s just using aliases.
  • Traffic on a site has dipped dramatically in the past, even if it’s good now. If the dip was five years ago and everything has been good since then it should be OK but if you see lots of dips, especially in the past few years, that may be a sign a new drop will happen soon.
  • They openly advertise that they sell text links.  Big red flag here; you do not want to work with a site that is basically asking for a Google penalty.

Good signs

Now let’s look at a couple factors that distinguish sites where links live for years and everything is still looking great.

  • Traffic is fairly steady (or continues to increase) through the years with no major dips.
  • Articles are well-written, guest or sponsored posts are identified as such and don’t appear to be full of someone else’s links.

Notice the good list is shorter than the bad list. That’s because you never know what will happen. Is everyone going to eventually get hit in some way since the algorithm changes constantly? Maybe.

Disavow madness

Don’t forget some people disavow like crazy, and they don’t just disavow single webpages — they disavow entire domains, because it’s easier.

I know of sites who want to disavow upwards of 75% of their links when they don’t even have a penalty or they haven’t been negatively impacted by an algorithmic change!

Honestly, when it comes to links, anything can happen. You never know when a site will be penalized, and it’s possible for them to get caught in a wide net and not deserve it. I’ve seen unfair penalties many times and seen sites suddenly drop in rankings and never get back to where they once were, even if they did nothing wrong.

You can’t predict what will happen in link building or SEO. You can make some very educated guesses but change is the only thing you can really guarantee.

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