9 ways of mutual promotion that can invite penalties from Google, other search engines

Mutual promotion includes those actions that are perfomed on different websites to promote each other. In terms of SEO, such actions are meant to improve search optization of all such websites.

Mutual actions can take many shapes. Many websites may be involved. Actions can range from just an occasional cross-link to brazen cross-promotion. A community may have formed for cross-promotion of content.

Well, all mutual actions are not bad. But search engines have burnt their fingers because unethical promotion of linked websites or blogs vitiate the search results. So, they are wary of any suspicious action beyond a very low threshhold and don't hesitate in penalizing websites. Innocent bloggers are mostly the ones that are badly impacted as they don't know what wrong they had done to invite the punishment.

Search engines try to go by the intent of the link: whether it is for giving a valuable cross-reference or to just promote the linked website. In reality, people may have the intent of genuinely providing value to the visitors but they might end up in taking actions that look suspicious. So, the idea is not to do anything on the website that raises search engines' suspicion. Mutual promotion comes high in the list of suspicious actions.

Let's see:

1. Too much cross-linking is bad SEO, no questions asked.

This is obvious. When there are too many and too frequent links among two or more websites/ blogs, it means there is some hanky-panky between the involved sites. The sites could belong to the same person/ firm or to friends or community members, or there might be some other mutually beneficial arrangement among them. Whatever the reason, such cross-linking - beyond some point - distorts search results and the search engines punish by devaluing such websites in their indexing/ ranking systems.

Some bloggers have the impression that they would benefit in terms of search if they open more than one blog and link them with each other. Sometimes they open many blogs and try to link their posts to one primary blog. These tricks used to work long back and they could work to a small extent even now, but the chances of getting a slap are very high even if the links are natural.

2. Unnatural, unrelated linking among websites is undesirable, even if it is not too much.

When you link your blog or website to another one that is not related to your website's topic, search engines take such links as unnatural. So, a link of a website on beef  given on a website on bed covers is not something natural and search engines deprecate such links. 

A few links on unrelated sites can be ignored and would lead to loss of that link's juice, but search engines would get alerted if such links are excessive and for no reason.

3. Too much internal linking with unrelated posts is a no-no.

Internal linking is desirable as it helps the new post, old content and also the visitor by referencing all relevant content. It also helps search crawlers to understand the depth of information on a topic on the same website.

desirable SEO
Only ethical SEO works in the long term.
There are many ways people link resources on the same website, e.g. by giving proper links, by categorising and displaying posts with the same label/ tag, by giving a list or thumbnails of related posts at the bottom of new posts, by having an index or archive of old posts, and so on.

All the above-mentioned ways of internal linking are ethical. However, excess of good things too is bad, and we don't know when different search engines take internal linking as too much. So, it is better to be cautious and not indulge in too much internal linking.

4. Irrelevant outbound linking loses worth.

Not many people realize that even when you put a link of an authoritative source on our website, that can be a positive signal for search engines - because you are guiding the visitor to a good reference material. 

Search engines are supposed to know when to take an external link as a positive signal and when not. Millions of websites have links to Google for one reason or the other - sometimes just because they have used a Google code on their website - and that would not give any points to the website. But if you have a blog on earthquakes and you have links to scientific resources on earthquakes on reputed international journals, that would matter. Moreover, it would give a better signal when such a link is part of the post than when it is part of a list.

The opposite of this too is true. When you give links to shady websites - those indulging in unethical SEO and hacking, trolling and online abuse, aggressively pushing products, pornography, etc - there is a fair chance that search engines would suspect you of promoting anti-social and other bad acts. 

5. Too specific links may look unnatural, particularly when too many.

Cross-linking between websites becomes more suspect when specific anchor text is used for linking and is repeated many times. It is because there is a high probability that this has not happened naturally. 

A related action would be linking to a specific page of a website too often.

It is therefore a good practice to give different anchor texts when we have to link our other websites. When the other resource is really relevant to a discussion elsewhere, it is good to link the relevant expression to the related page, but resist the temptation to link them more than once within the same page/ post.

6. Cross posting of content causes 'duplicate content', shows unwanted traffic intent.

When the same content is posted at more than one places, search engines have difficulty in deciding which of the available versions is original and which duplicate. So, in one round of crawling, the search engine might index one version while in the second round, a different one. That reduces the value of both the versions.

In addition, posting the same content again and again with no or small change is a bad practice because it is artificial way to promote the same content. It also irritates visitors when they happen to find that the blogger/ content creator has himself copy-pasted his article in more than one place.

7. Link farms, link exchanges are too bad for SEO in the long run.

Link farms are not natural groups/ communities that develop among people with the same interest. They are created with the sole intent of linking and liking other's websites so that they get 'link juice' from other members of the community. Sometimes members are forced to like a few given websites so that whether they get the link advantage or not, the chosen ones get hundreds of links. There are many shady ways that the promoters and moderators of such communities adopt to help themselves. 

As a member of such a community, you may get some amount of traffic and likes, but that is worthless as the visitors are not the ones really interested in your content; in addition, you have the risk of your website's reputation going down.

All types of communities that promote unnatural link-building, are bugbears for all search engines. 

8. Badges give useless links. Use them only if they serve a purpose beyond linking.

We often create badges that we give to others for being part of our community or for participating in some competition or achieving a milestone. 

Badges are generally linked to the website that issues the badge. Therefore, the websites are not often on the same topic, and the link does not have a meaningful anchor text. For search engines, this type of links are either useless or undesirable.

We at ITB keep issuing badges for the two directories that we compile every year. We discontinued issuing badges last year when we felt that in the eyes of search engines, we were indulging in an unnatural activity. But then, we received many emails and comments from bloggers whose blog figured in the directories asking us to continue issuing badge. So, we have again started issuing badges even if it hurts us. Hope, Google finds no bad intent in that!

As a blogger who puts badges on the blog, it is not a big SEO issue, but too many badges, especially when not from good websites/ blogs, mar the reputation of the blog and they also clutter the blog.

9. PBN and other one way links to a single website are highly undesirable SEO techniques.

You might be getting occasional messages on your email offering you huge traffic to your blog by becoming member of a private blog network or PBN. 

PBNs are created by buying obsolete blogs that used to have good standing. These are then used for sending links to a target website. Search engines are thus fooled into believing that the website is getting natural links from good blogs/ websites.

The guy who creates such PBNs then offers links to other website owners and bloggers with the promise that the website or blog would get a jump in search ranking. Naturally, the website that gets links from the PBN gets an initial high ranking due to good links but the reputation plunges when the links are found out to be from a PBN. To avoid being caught, PBN operators keep buying more old blogs. 

PBN or similar link-building methods are frauds meant to cheat search engines, and there is no other reason for their existence. Therefore, the penalty for being part of a PBN can be very heavy and one must resist the temptation of joining a PBN for the sake of quick traffic.