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Are Sitewide Links A Google Ranking Factor?

Is there cause for concern if your website is receiving sitewide links? Find out whether these links could potentially affect your site's organic search ranking.

Sitewide Links

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 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.

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The Claim: Sitewide Links Are A Ranking Factor

A sitewide 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.

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.

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:

“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 place 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.'”

In a more recent video, Google reassured website owners concerned about sitewide footer links.

Lizzi Sassman of Google said boilerplate links like “made by Squarespace” that come with website themes are not an SEO issue.

However, customized footer links should use nofollow and have generic anchor text. For example, avoid gratuitously keyword-rich links like “made by the best Florida SEO.”

[Recommended Read] → Ranking Factors: Systems, Signals, and Page Experience

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.

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.

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

Category SEO
SEJ STAFF Matt G. Southern Senior News Writer at Search Engine Journal

Matt G. Southern, Senior News Writer, has been with Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a bachelor’s degree in communications, ...

Google Ranking Factors 2023: Systems, Signals, and Page Experience