Many people in the SEO business know about the detrimental effects that a link spike may have on a website’s Search Engine Optimisation, but many PR agencies, webmasters and even some Internet marketers don’t know what a link spike is and what harm it can be for your site.
Before we start talking about the negative effects a link spike may have on your website let me explain what a link spike is.
A link spike is a sudden jump in the rate of backlink growth to your site, followed by a sharp decrease in the rate of growth of links to your site. They say that a picture paints a thousand words, and in this case it really does. To illustrate a link spike is better than to try to explain a link spike through pages of text, especially since the name “link spike” comes from the illustrated version of the figures:
We can see from graph 1 that the rate of growth of backlinks to this site is steadily growing, but in week 11 the rate of link growth shoots up, nearly trebling the growth rate, and then quickly subsiding to the usual rate of growth.
An example to help understand the link spike in graph 1 is: your site usually naturally accumulates about 50 links per week in week 1, but the rate of accumulation increases by 5 links per week; so in week 2 the site is accumulating around 55 links per week, and in week 3 it is accumulating 60 links per week, and in week four it is accumulating around 65 links a week…. and so on. But in week 11 you decide to do a lot of link building and because of this your site is accumulating around 270 links a week. Then in week 12 you stop your link building and the natural link accumulation rate returns. This could be how you get the spike in graph 1.
It is worth pointing out in graph 1 that this is not a graph showing the number of links to the site, but a graph showing the rate of growth of the number of links. The graph of the link count is more likely to look something like this:
We can see in graph 2 that our “link spike” looks a lot less like a “spike” using the ”link count” illustration.
So, now that we understand what a link spike is, and where the term comes from let’s discuss what effect it will have on your website, and why.
Well, to cut a long story short a link spike is likely to have Google penalise, and maybe even exclude your site from its listings.
Why? You may ask – well back in the early days of Google, when the search engine began to put a lot of weight on the number of inbound links (backlinks) to a website for its search engine results, unethical spammers began to gather masses of backlinks using unsavoury methods, to put their spam sites high in listings for popular key phrases. Google then began to change its algorithm to provide better quality results for its users.
Some of the changes that Google made were: to reduce or nullify the benefit given by links from spammy websites; and qualify the importance of backlinks more than quantify it i.e. it was no longer just about the number of backlinks a site has, but also the quality of those links (hence the famous Google PageRank was born).
The other thing they did to prevent link spam was to flag up a sudden build up of links to a website. Google will see this sudden quick build up of links (the link spike) as someone trying to influence the rankings by building a mass of links to their site, instead of the natural accumulation of links that a website will get without any interference.
So now Google’s algorithm will automatically flag up a link spike as a possible problem with a website, which could later be combined with another problem to warrant a penalty, or the link spike will mean the website automatically incurring a penalty.
What do I mean by a penalty? A penalty may be Google pushing your website down the listings for your key phrases, so that it may move from 8th, on the first page to 26th, on the 3rd page. A stiffer penalty is a ban – this is correctly termed as an “exclusion from Google’s SERPs” (Search Engine Results Pages). This will mean that your website will not be returned in Google’s listings for any search terms.
When can a link spike be ok? There are times when link spikes go unpunished. This is usually when a website is heavily referred to in the news. An example of this could be a website that was about tsunamis. This site would have had a small link rate growth until Boxing Day of 2004 when the disastrous giant tsunami hit Asia. This site would then see its link growth hit the roof for a couple of weeks, until it returned back to normal towards the end of January. This would produce a massive link spike, but because tsunamis were a major occurrence in the news Google would realise that this is a hot topic, and so not penalise that site.
It is clear to see that these penalties are not desirable for any business that relies on the internet at all, and we know that search engine exclusion may even destroy your business. Cozy Digital will advise on how to increase your link count without incurring these penalties, and in the event that you may be unfortunate enough to have already incurred one of these penalties Cozy Digital is able to help you to remove these penalties.