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Are Sitewide Links A Google Ranking Factor?

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Are Sitewide Links A Google Ranking Factor?


Inbound links, ordinarily considered a positive thing for SEO, may cause problems if too many come from the same domain.

But are sitewide links to other domains – are they a negative ranking factor?

That’s what some people believe in SEO.

Is there cause for concern if you are on the receiving end of sitewide links?

We’ll answer those questions as we investigate the theories about these potentially problematic links and their impact on SEO.

The Claim: Sitewide Links Are A Ranking Factor

A site-wide link refers to a static outbound link that appears on every page of a website.

They’re usually placed either in the header, footer, or navigation menu.

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Depending on how many pages a website has, one sitewide link could create hundreds or thousands of outbound links to another site.

Having a disproportionate number of inbound links from the same domain is said to be interpreted by Google as a sign of unnatural link building.

In addition, the fact that sitewide links appear without context has led to claims that they carry little to no value.

For these reasons, SEO experts claim sitewide links send negative ranking signals to the domains they’re pointing toward.

The theory behind sitewide links as a negative ranking signal started around the time of the seventh update to the Google Penguin algorithm, known as Penguin 4.0.

This update made Penguin a permanent component of Google’s search algorithm, running in real-time.

Previous to Penguin 4.0, link spam was demoted and/or penalized on a per-update basis.

That meant sites could get away with spammy/risky link building tactics until the next manual update was rolled out.

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After hearing these claims, you might be worried about discovering sitewide links pointing to your domain from other websites.

However, another claim suggests that sitewide links may be considered a positive thing.

The theory behind that is, simply, that more links pass more link equity.

You could also argue that a sitewide link from a reputable website creates a stronger signal than one or two links on their own; it’s as though that website is extending its highest level of recommendation to the other domain.

But is there any truth to this?

The Evidence For Sitewide Links As A Negative Ranking Factor

Google confirms sitewide links, when they occur organically, are not a negative ranking signal.

John Mueller of Google states that sitewide links are not automatically interpreted as an unnatural linking pattern or an attempt to spam.

There’s no reason to think they count against a site, he says:

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“In general, if these are normal links – organic links – that are happening that are pointing at your content, then I would just let them be. That’s the way the internet works. People link to your content.

If your students have blogs and they think, ‘Oh, this is actually a teacher that knows what he’s talking about,’ then that’s a good link. That’s not something you need to disavow just because maybe it’s a sitewide link or in the blogroll.”

When site owners are placing a sitewide link, Google recommends using the nofollow attribute in order to 100% avoid unnatural linking signals.

Mueller states:

“…if you want to put your footer link there, make sure it has a nofollow link there, so that this is something that people could click on if they’re interested, but it’s seen as something that is not an editorial link by the webmaster.

It’s not something that you’d have to worry about later on and say, ‘Oh, my god. I put all these links on this website. Now Google will think I’m building an unnatural link pyramid or something crazy.’”

Sitewide Links As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Sitewide links are clearly a possible ranking factor because, in the end, a link is a link.

We know Google uses links as a ranking signal.

Sitewide links do not have a negative impact on search rankings in and of themselves.

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There’s no reason to disavow sitewide links or ask for them to be removed, except under one condition.

If you’re working on a website that has a sitewide link pointing to it and its search rankings are struggling, it may not be the link itself causing the problem.

It could be the anchor text.

Overly optimized anchor text is much more likely to cause a problem for SEO than a sitewide link.

For example, if the anchor text is something like “best SEO services in Toronto,” then the links might get flagged as spam.

When linking to another company, the recommended best practice is to use the company’s name as the anchor text.

Then it looks like a legitimate recommendation, as opposed to an attempt to manipulate search rankings.

Google understands there are instances where sitewide links occur organically.

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Sitewide links aren’t automatically indicative of an attempt to manipulate search results.

When it comes to placing sitewide links, Google requests the use of the nofollow attribute so that they aren’t seen as editorial links.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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Link relevancy trumps volume for SEO

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Data speaks Link relevancy trumps volume for SEO

30-second summary:

  • Earned media coverage is more valuable than ever for your website
  • Digital PR is just as important as technical SEO
  • A large volume of links is the goal, what’s stopping someone from picking the most newsworthy idea, even if it has nothing to do with your client?

In 2022, it’s impossible to deny the benefit that digital PR as a tactic has on an organic growth strategy. Earned media coverage is more valuable than ever for your website. You could be doing everything right for SEO, but if you’re not building links, you’re still missing out on the increased search visibility, organic traffic, and brand awareness that backlinks bring to your business.

Last year, Google’s John Mueller finally weighed in on digital PR as a tactic and confirmed what we’ve all known for a while now: that it’s just as important — if not more — as technical SEO.

As digital PR is still a relatively “young industry” that’s only just sprouted up in the past 10 years, many PR pros have relied on “viral” campaigns to boost the backlink portfolio of their clients. These viral campaigns are often celebrated but are often created with little regard to how relevant, or “on-brand” those ideas really are.

After all, if a large volume of links is the goal, what’s stopping someone from picking the most newsworthy idea, even if it has nothing to do with your client?

In 2022, link volume is no longer the goal (or shouldn’t be)

While many PR pros’ were evaluating their success around this one key metric (link volume) others in the industry have suspected for a while now that the relevance of linking coverage is a key factor Google looks at when assigning “value” to links.

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Once again, John Mueller has settled the debate about link volume vs link relevance,  coming out in 2021 and saying that ‘the total number of links’ doesn’t matter at all.

This clarity has helped refocus the digital PR industry and forced PR pros to re-evaluate what metrics and KPIs we need to be focusing on to drive true organic growth.

It’s no longer enough to be ‘popular’ you also need to be relevant. Not just in terms of the publications you are targeting, but the keywords you want to rank for,  audience interest, and most importantly, brand alignment to the story you are pitching in.

Google is continuously looking to become more intelligent through its use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. It wants to understand web content as a human, and therefore through its use of natural language understanding, it is likely to not just be looking at the anchor text of links in third-party articles, but it is also wanting to understand the wider context of the article that a brand is placed in.

How to ensure your link-building activity is relevant to your brand

The first steps to coming up with relevant content ideas for your digital PR campaign are to:

  1.  understand your client, and
  2.  understand your client’s audience and their needs.

Every good idea will flow from these two pillars.

If Google’s main objective is to show the best content to users through search, then your job is to create content that either supports your client’s product or service or supports their customers.

It is more important than ever to not only create relevant and on-brand content in the written form but also ensure that any supporting assets created (video, images, audio) are also relevant to the target keywords and services or products that the brand sells.

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In addition, it’s important to create content that engages people, to drive further buzz and positive sentiment around the brand, all of which contribute to greater brand awareness and affinity among your potential customers.

How to measure the relevancy of your backlink profile

We now have the technology available to us to be able to understand and assign quantifiable metrics to the relevance of linking coverage (or indeed the relevance of any text-based content) – which allows us to be much more data-driven and targeted when developing digital PR, link creation activity and competitor and marketplace analysis.

For example, natural language understanding tools like Salient, measure the relevancy of both off-page and on-page content. Tools like this help to understand how a search engine is viewing a brand’s content, it not only enables us to identify the gaps in our client’s backlink profile.

At Journey Further, we use this proprietary tool to measure the relevancy of both off-page and on-page content for our clients.

Measuring the relevancy of your backlink profile

We can use this tool to understand how a search engine is viewing a brand’s content, it not only enables us to identify the gaps in our client’s backlink profile but also aids us in optimizing its content on-site. The outcome of which – is a much more focused, effective, and measurable digital PR activity that is better aligned to SEO objectives and that delivers better ROI for clients.

Looking ahead to 2023

Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, it’s likely that Google will only continue to develop better technology to understand web content.

All digital PR campaigns should reflect this, and where possible, be multi-faceted, not just relying on a single press release to get cut through. We need to be thinking as marketers, not just SEO practitioners, and ensure we are driving as much ROI as possible. Taking a brand plus performance approach to SEO and digital PR will therefore be key.


Beth Nunnington is the VP of Digital PR and Content Marketing at Journey Further, leading Digital PR strategy for the world’s leading brands. Her work has been featured in The Drum, PR Moment, and Prolific North. Find Beth on Twitter @BethNunnington.

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