Looking for ‘Bad Guys’ – Discovering Networks of Sites

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Creating networks of (interlinked) sites is a widespread tactic of PageRank and ranking manipulation. To own a lot of websites is perfectly OK but to own a lot of websites for the sake of “link juice” is not good (per Google at least). The line is not always easy to define algorithmically therefore most often than not Google frowns upon any interlinked network it can spot.

Not so long ago Google was much worse and slower at identifying networks; that accounted for the tactic extreme popularity. Really, that’s an appealing idea of owning a number of established sites ready to pass link juice rather than spending weeks link building and baiting.

Consequently, Google got very aggressive towards networks blacklisting all sites suspected of being involved into a network. Therefore, the ability of spotting a network of websites is very useful for several reasons:

  • you should always make sure your site is not associated with a network:
    • avoid linking to a site being part of a network;
    • avoid buying getting a link from a number of such sites (yes, in this case incoming links may also be harmful);
  • finding your competitors‘ network is another valuable way to explore their SEO tactics.

Of course, that’s not very easy to spot a network (and besides, some networks are perfectly legit, like b5media for example). Anyway, if you are able to find a network, be sure Google will do that too; so that must be not a very good neighborhood to join. Here are a few ways of identifying a network of sites:

  1. Check for similar/same sidebar/bottom/sitewide outbound links;
  2. Visit each site and search for similar/same templates, contact information, ‘about’ pages, etc;
  3. Check for similar/same IPs (here is a handy tool to do that);
  4. Check for similar/same Whois data;
  5. Check for similar/same backlink patterns.
Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
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  • Fabio Uncinotti

    http://www.touchgraph.com/ can be a lot of help in identifying the connections and how a site is related to others. The king of the “mini net” is Michael Campbell he had several white hat techniques about mininets, maybe if it is done properly it can still be an effective method…

  • Tony Lawrence

    Why do you say b5media is legit? Do you mean because they don’t hide the fact that they are a network and interlink between members?

    Google should still penalize them, shouldn’t it? Really, what’s the difference between an open network trafing links and a hidden network doing the same?

    It’s still artificial linking, isn’t it?

  • Matt Longley

    Hi Ann,
    Great post about link networks and how to uncover them, but you may want to be careful about condemning link networks. You may find that some of your buddies at searchenginejournal go home, dim down their lights, and slip on their grey or black hat. =)
    All kidding aside, I personally like to search for link networks for two reasons:
    1. When I find a good link network, I may want to use it.
    2. When I find a bad link network, I may want to expose it.
    It’s always funny to notice a competitor come out of nowhere and to find out that they did it by using some proxy network or some spammy network. In a short period of time they disappear, especially if google gets some help finding the network. =)
    As far as creating networks, I think it is best to try to remain anonymous and not to interlink your valuable properties. Right now using web 2.0 properties is a great way to remain anonymous while creating effective link networks.

  • Lesley

    “if you are able to find a network, be sure Google will do that too”.

    Oh how I wish that were true.

    I’ve never tried reporting networks to Google. Is it worth it?

  • Jaan Kanellis

    Is Cnet’s network of websites legit? Do you just have to big and important to allow interlinking between your website? Obviously they have link to all their properties in the footer of all the website they manage.

  • Ann Smarty

    “Do you just have to be big and important to allow interlinking between your website?”

    Obviously, yes 🙂

  • Jason Forthofer

    Maybe Google says these things to “scare” everyone but never intend to actually do any penalizing.

    If it is true, and a link is a recommendation, we can no longer talk about ourselves?

  • joshtalbot

    I want to no of your badguys can come to my home today of taht ok with you in im a badguy to im 17 want do you live at tine you can fine me I live in bsdc beatrice nebraska in bing all your badguys

  • John

    I think Google is to busy counting their money to care a hack of a lot about all
    of the millions of small web sites.The are the real revenge of the nerds, I say they are laughing all the way to the bank. This guy Matt Cutts does he ever see daylight,it seems like an inside joke , here is our official ,unofficial , spokesperson .
    They say never speak when you can nod , and never nod when you can Wink.Thats Matt motto

  • Eric Blair

    I assure you one day all of us will live in daily FEAR of the company Google Inc.

    and it will be nothing to do with websites or blogs… you have been warned!

    Febuary 2010