Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Reasons NOT to link to a website

An approach from a major art website has prompted today's post about reasons NOT to link to a website.

First the letter. Next and my response.
Finally some of the reasons why it's not a good idea to link to a website
....and finally - what Google thinks about schemes to swop/trade links and why they are a bad idea.

The 'request to link' email and my response

I've removed the name of the gallery website and the link to it - because I won't be linking to it! Everywhere you can see "a gallery" below was originally the name - and a link to the gallery
Dear Webmaster,

I’m the webmaster of "a gallery" [description of project]. We receive millions of visitors monthly. Our database of Fine Art images and articles is in the millions and we continue to grow daily. We are a nonprofit organization. This is your opportunity to take part in our project.

I visited your website earlier today and wanted to congratulate you on a creating a well presented and informative site. I would like to add a link to your website from ["a gallery"] and wanted to know if you would be kind enough to link back to us.

Adding a link from ["a gallery"] to your website will greatly increase your Search Engine Ranking in Google, Yahoo, Bing and other websites. A link from our site to your site will mean that your site will ranked HIGHER on these search engine results pages which will translate to more visitors and better exposure.

If you are interested let us know, and I will get back to you with the exact link information that we would like you to use. Please also let me know what description you would like us to use when we link back to you.

Looking forward to hear from you,
Webmaster ["a gallery"]
This is a standard letter. It wasn't tailored to me. An identical letter will have been sent to all the artists they have approached - and some will have been flattered by it.

I reviewed their site to find  the section where they include the links from artists' websites. In a section called "Recommended Art" there was
  • a completely undifferentiated list of links to artists' websites and blogs
  • The list ran to some 39 pages and on each page there were 50 links
  • That makes for a list totalling nearly 2,000 websites
  • It wasn't alphabetical
  • It wasn't differentiated in any way in terms of type of art produced, media used or subjects favoured
  • It was just a long list of people who were flattered by the email.
I searched for the name of one or two well known contemporary artists - and their websites did not feature in the list. On the other hand I did see the websites of people I know of who I thought had more sense.

That's when I decided to respond - and to write this post.

Below is my response to the gallery.
Dear "a gallery"

I don't believe the way you reference other sites actually aids their search engine ranking in any way. An undifferentiated list of the sort you use is in fact one of the things which Google highlights as a strategy for linking which it condemns.

Perhaps you have a recent reference to your link strategy which suggests Google endorses it?


Katherine Tyrrell
Somewhat predictably I didn't get a response.

Reasons NOT to link to a website

All about links

A link is a way of connecting one piece of text in an online file to another online file. The hyperlink allows you to see it or follow it.

Here's what Tim Berners-Lee - the inventor of the Internet - had to say about the myths surrounding Links in a note he write back in 1997.
On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective - like speaking but with a paper bag over your head.
In summary:
  • a link is neutral in principle - in principle it does NOT imply:
    • a recommendation 
    • or a suggestion that another person created the content within the link
  • you can link to anything online which is public - if it's online and you can read it then you can link to it and the owner can't stop you
  • It's not an infringement of someone's privacy to make a link to their website. If they want to be private it's best not to have a website.
We know from the way the Internet - and Google in particular - works that some links carry more weight than others. However that depends on the reputation of the website generating a link and the value of the content it covers.

For example if a leading national newspaper linked to you and cited you as a leading example of a particular trend in painting you might expect to get a lot of visitors (see this article in the New York Times on 23rd February 2006 about Postcard from Provence by Julian Merrow Smith and his wife Ruth's blog post "Sold Out" the same day).

However this sort of link doesn't happen that often - but it doesn't stop artists thinking it might happen to them too!

The real reasons why people link to a website

In general, people link when:
  • they know they can link without permission (ie the email above is all about getting me to link to them - not them linking to me!)
  • they find the content to be of value - either temporarily (for a project) or as a website they like to keep visiting over time (e.g. in a blogroll)
  • they're pretty sure they want to find the site again in the future
  • they'd like to see more from that site - because they're so impressed by what they've seen so far.
  • to boost their website - BECAUSE they think you'll link back and that will help how their site ranks (but they might be wrong on both counts)

Links that don't work

People aren't interested in creating links for sites that:
  • might be stuck in a pile of what looks like your "for filing" tray from a year ago i.e. there's no way to find your link without looking through a long list of other sites which are not grouped or categorised in any way
  • are of little relevance right now
  • practice deception when trying to generate more links
  • don't generate any traffic.
If you've ever linked your website to one of these websites that promises you lots of benefits, you might want to check your statistics to see if you ever get any traffic from it. My guess is there will be none.

Links that are really bad news

Anything that resembles link trading and/or a Google Link Scam is really bad news for your website.

I've seen a number of websites build their profile by asking and/or offering "perks" to get other artists to link to them. It's a very easy and quick way of gaining rank - but the only website that benefits is the one that hosts the links - UNTIL Google sniffs out the link exchange.

Google does NOT like link trading. If you indulge in link trading it does your site more harm than good.

In Link Schemes, Google states its views about the use of links to improve the way your website ranks in Google

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results:
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
  • Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site
This is what Google would prefer you to do
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.


  • Create good content so people will link to you
  • Link to sites you like and want to visit again
  • Link to sites you'd like to share with other people
  • Don't link to a site because somebody says you'll get a benefit - it's almost always a con.
  • Don't link to a site which practices deception.


  1. Excellent overview of this often misleading topic. Artists are susceptible to these offers especially in a slow economy when they are encouraged to explore all possible marketing on the web. Time is precious and if linking and social media posting is pursued at the expense of studio time and developing supportive written material it can be very disappointing. Thank you for the research and information, I have received queries like this and thought they sounded too promising.

  2. Good points! I've been around so long that I remember when Google was not the #1 search engine. Now it is so important we worry about it's rules.

  3. Very good,

    All in one use your brain and common sense.
    What about Tagging? ... much more intrusive in my mind.

  4. Great work Katherine! I got that a while ago and thankfully did think it was exactly what it was (otherwise I would be blushing now!) I love that you write back to them, because these sort of sites fill up the web with more rubbish which in its turn makes it harder for quality to shine out!


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