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We have two separate business sites: .US and .AU which are pretty similar, but we actually don't operate the .Au site content or upkeep ourselves.

When I'm checking backlinks (in Google Webmaster Tools) we see that our sister Australian company site is linking to our US site over 50,000 times. When I analyze the links that GWT is showing me, they all look to be some odd variation of an RSS/Search hybrid URL:
http:// www.Australiasite.com.au/search/keep+away+from+heat/feed/label-not-cut-red-light-on/feed/rss2/widget-pro-pro-300-support GWT is saying that, that URL is sending backlinks to one of our pages on the US site, thousands of times.

When I do a backlink test on the AU site, with various online checkers, there really isn't any backlinks to the US site at all.

My main question is: Does anyone know how this would happen? Or What might have caused this?

2nd question: What kind of authority do you think Google considers these? Or how important would something like 50,000 RSS feed links be?

  • FWIW I doubt that a "backlinks tool" would ordinarily be looking for links from RSS feeds? – MrWhite Jan 14 '15 at 0:00
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Please please please do not rely on these online back link sites! They are God awful!! If you really need to know what is going on, you will have to do it yourself.

I suggest that people keep http://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/ in their arsenal/tool box. It comes in handy. I do not recommend too many tools, in fact, I tend to avoid it, but this is one that everyone should not only be aware of, but at least keep a current download of on their hard-drive if it is not installed.

You may have to pay for a license for a site your size, but you can at least try it before you buy and the prices is not huge.

Screaming Frog is a spider that does direct highly detailed analysis against a website for the price of some entries in your log file. It sounds like a necessary tool in your case. Having 50,000 links between sites especially to one page/resource will catch up to you and cause you heart-burn and regret. It can cost you your rankings in the SERPs potentially so this is a very important problem to solve as quickly as you can. This tool should find the problem for you and perhaps others you are unaware of very very quickly.

[Update]

It occurred to me that a little explanation is in order. It has been a decade or more since I have had to explain this part of search, but this seemed like a good time to do so. So if I do not do as stellar a job as you and I like, please forgive an old man who has not had to think about this topic for a very very long time.

In search, there is the term realm. A realm is a simple concept to understand. Examplea.com, www.examplea.com, ww4.examplea.com, suba.examplea.com, subb.examplea.com, and subc.examplea.com are all one realm. Simple huh? It is essentially all sites that belong to a single parent domain. In the case of a realm, you have one set of contacts within whois and one owner of the site. You can draw a cloud around this. Links within a single realm follow patterns. It would not necessarily be a bad thing if there are numerous links from examplea.com to products.examplea.com. But consider this, links would again follow certain traditional patterns. 20,000 links from examplea.com to products.examplea.com could fit this pattern if it is a site-wide templated link in the navigation, header, or footer. This would make sense. There is a reason why I mention this.

Examplea.com and exampleb.com are two separate realms even though they share the same contacts and owner. This would be two clouds, however, since the whois data is relatively if not exactly the same, the search engine can draw a strong link between the two realms as being related.

Keep in mind that link patterns are machine learned. Any machine learning must be seeded, ie. taught (AI artificial intelligence). This is done with human intervention and the seed data can be removed at any point once the machine learning has begun. So for link patterns, a great number of sites and realms have been evaluated and some human intervention (teaching) is given to mark some of these patterns as being indicative of something.

If exampleb.com has 20,000 links to examplea.com then a red flag is raised. However, since there is a linkage in contacts and ownership, a different set of patterns is used to evaluate the links than sites within the same realm. In this case, exampleb.com is branded similarly as examplea.com and the links are in the navigation. Okay. This fits a traditional but slightly unusual pattern. It makes sense, however, the phenomenon is noted.

But lets say that panther.examplea.com also has 20,000 links to examplea.com. These links are evaluated. They are all to the same resource and are not linked in areas/ways where machine learning has noted as traditional. A red flag is raised. Since this is an unusual pattern, the two realms are further evaluated for link patterns.

Let's say that this is all that is found and no linking scheme is determined. Okay then. The two realms remain within the system to be further evaluated for a linking scheme until the trigger is removed that raised the red flag.

In the case of examplea.com and examplexxxlinks.com these are two realms with no relationship. Why did I bring this up? Simple. Examplexxxlinks.com as made 20,000 links to examplea.com. This is a problem. However, search engines have in the past years noted who does this form and other forms of linking and has put them into a category of a sites to be understood as something. Search engines do make some distinctions. An outbound linking pattern is developed for examplexxxlinks.com and it belongs to a group of sites that creates outbound links unrelated to the sites that it links to. Okay. Understood. It is not the fault of examplea.com that examplexxxlinks.com has created so many links. Forgiven at least within a limit. Simple enough. The search engine will keep both realms within it's system to be evaluated.

But now we look at examplea.com, exampleb.com, examplec.com, exampled.com, examplee.com, examplef.com, and exampleg.com. These realms have different whois data, but past registration information does link them by one contact e-mail address. Huh. Interesting. Now they all have private registrations from a company known for not vetting the whois/customer data for validity. Because of the one e-mail address, a link is made between these realms. Because of the nature of the link, the link is marked as suspect. There are 20,000 links between these sites. A red flag is raised. It is determined that these links follow a pattern that indicates a rank manipulation scheme. Problem.

But what has this last example have to do with our earlier example? Simple. Both are in the system and constantly being evaluated. We do not know what triggers there are and when a pattern is considered enough to mark a realm as being manipulative. If a realm is determined to be suspect, then the realms will see their links lower in the SERPs. However, if the realm is determined to be more than suspect, then the realms may not see SERP links at all.

And this is why the 50,000 links must be understood, evaluated, and potentially removed if they do not make sense.

  • Thank you very much for the Screaming Frog idea. I did use it, and these "links" are not showing in SF either. Very weird. To go into more detail: Let's call the US site: #1 and the AU site: #2. We're actually in the process of transitioning #1 and it's content into another one of our US sites: let's call that #3. We will work to get as much of the current backlinks that #1 has - pointed to #3. If all these crazy links were normal, I'd say that it would be important to try and redirect them over to #3, but I'm thinking we probably just won't worry about them. What do you think? – Anthony GP Jan 14 '15 at 23:09
  • @AnthonyGP It is funny (not ha ha funny) that SF did not find them. Perhaps Google has completely lost it's mind and is reporting the back links in error? It sounds like your plan is a winner. Ignoring the back links could clean things up while you scratch your head over what has happened. Once you figure it out, then perhaps you can re-add the back link(s) as it should exist. These things get complicated sometimes don't they?? – closetnoc Jan 15 '15 at 0:14
  • You're not kidding! Certainly complicated, and just weird in this case. Thanks for your time. Truly appreciate it! – Anthony GP Jan 15 '15 at 15:02
  • @AnthonyGP Anytime! I am here everyday and I do this for fun! How sick is that?? – closetnoc Jan 15 '15 at 16:39
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Q1: Within WebmasterTools, you should be able to drill down on those links. On the "Links to your Site" section for your US site, simply click on the referring domain link (in this case the AU domain), then click on the any of the links that contains the /feed/ part in the URL.

This will (or should) show you the pages on the AU domain that contain links to your US site. Visit any of those URLs (you may have to change your user-agent to googlebot) and CTRL/CMD-F for /feed/ on the source code to see where these links are coming from.

Q2: If it's a hyperlinked URL (e.g. contained within a valid anchor tag) then it would/should pass link equity. As for how much, that depends on the number/nature of those links - anchor text, relevance to linked content, authority of linking page etc etc.

  • The point you are missing is 50,000 links between two sites and especially two sites you control is a very very bad thing and Google will penalize the site at some point. This is not a slap on the wrist. This will be a full-on beat down if left too long. Since this is clearly in error, this should be fixed immediately. – closetnoc Jan 14 '15 at 15:45
  • @mikehudson Thank you for your reply! Yeah, when I do drill down on these "links", and click to visit the URL, I'm just taken to the AU sites' search page. It's all very odd. – Anthony GP Jan 14 '15 at 22:53
  • @closetnoc - It's not as black and white as that - network links on large/enterprise sites are extremely common and have no negative impacts at all, the reverse is often true. Large amount of links between low-authority links is where we see issues arise. – Mike Hudson Jan 16 '15 at 0:12
  • @MikeHudson With respect. I have worked on and been the principle agent for some of the largest websites for global telecoms earning $250 million a month. I know enterprise systems and I know them very well. 50,000 back links to a single resource from one site to another both owned by the same company is a huge red flag as far as Google (principle word here) is concerned. It is that simple. It is not fuzz math. But is Google rather forgiving? Yes. Does the problem need to be fixed? Yes. So in that regard, you are right. But make no mistake, it is something to be concerned with. – closetnoc Jan 16 '15 at 1:17
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    @MikeHudson It occurred to me that you and I are on the same page but looking at things from different points of view. I updated the answer with a bit of an explanation of how this stuff works and why the links are a concern. You are right to a point. It may be nothing. But I assure you that authority has nothing to do with evaluating link patterns. Ask J.C. Penny to start with and some of the major sites hit with Panda. It is about links having patterns that are either good or bad. Any pattern not understood can cause a problem. – closetnoc Jan 16 '15 at 3:01

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