Mutual promotion of blogs/ websites can invite heavy penalties from Google. Is your website promotion safe?

Mutual promotion includes actions that are perfomed on different websites to promote one another. Such actions are taken by website owners/ bloggers and SEO guys to improve search ratings of the linked 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. People form communities and use members for cross-promotion of websites.

Well, all mutual actions are not bad. But search engines have burnt their fingers because unethical promotion of linked websites or blogs has been going on for years by unethical SEO experts to manipulate 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 who 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 mutual promotion on the website/ blog to the extent that it raises search engines' suspicion.

I am giving here the main pointers to guide how to avoid being penalised by search engines for promoting one website/ blog on the onther:

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 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 website/ blog.

SEO through cross promotion

In the diagram here, there are 8 websites, whose imaginary values in terms of search ratings are given in the red under the site name. The idea is to get links from all these websites to one website whom you want to promote, so that their values get added and the target website is taken by search engines as a very valuable website.

This trick used to work long back and it could work for a short time even now, but the chances of getting a slap are very high with this type of linking even if the links are natural. This is still in use, especially by link farms and PBN as explained below.

Unnatural, unrelated linking among websites is undesirable, even if it is very little.

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.

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

Internal linking (=linking resources on the same website) is desirable as it helps the visitor by bringing to his notice related content at one place. It also helps search crawlers to understand the depth of information on a topic on the same website.

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 a search engine takes internal linking as too much. So, it is better to be cautious and not indulge in too much internal linking.

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.

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 such things do not happen 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.

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 an 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.

Link farms and link exchanges are very 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 the members' sites get 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 search engines.

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 on 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.

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.

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

You might have received a message 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. The PBN network works like that shown in the picture above, but is much more complex and layered so that it can fool search engines into believing that the website is getting natural links from good blogs/ websites.

The guy who creates such PBNs offers links to 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 you must resist the temptation of joining a PBN for the sake of quick traffic.

Have you tried Mastodon, a distributed social media app?

Mastodon is the latest social media app that is making waves bigger than most of its siblings. That's for some valid reasons.

Before I come to Mastodon's features, which right now are slightly confusing for users of popular social media apps (Facebook, Twitter, etc), let me highlight where the app differes greatly from them. That is: it is a community-owned app, not owned by a commercial organization. To be more specific, it is 'open source'.

Federated microblogging: heard this?

In Mastodon, you don't opean your account on Mastodon's server. You choose one of the servers from the thousands that you see when you first open the app. Each server is like a node in a big network of servers. Each one of them is called an instance. So, if you open your account on XYZ instance, you become part of its local community and bound by its rules. In addition, you are free to interact with millions of other users on whichever server they might be. So, it is a decentralised way of social media in which thousands of server-owners moderate their own communities.

Since it is an open-source system, thousands of codes are available on the web in places like GitHub. If you own a server on the web, you can host your own instance for free and write your own code or use one available free on the web for sprucing up its features.

How instances network across Mastadon
The servers on Mastodon network use a protocol called ActivityPub that allows servers to communicate within the network. If you care, the server-side tech used in this network is Ruby on Rails and Node.js, and front-end languages are based on JavaScript (React.js, Redux).

Mastodon is a micro-blogging platform, like Twitter. The character limit here is 500, and some instances allow even bigger number. Meessages are toots here, parallel to tweets on Twitter.

Web media that is social, not commercial!

We have had many instances of big social platforms selling our data to analytical and other agencies, not keeping data safe and private, and serving us based on what serve their interests not ours.

Unliket them, Mastodon claims to be much safer. One, since each instance-owner moderates his community and there also are all-encompassing checks, trolling and abuse are less likely to occur. If they do occur, the platform is programmed to react faster and more in the interest of the community. Two, each message has a variety of privacy options, which allows the user a much bigger control on one's privacy than on Facebook etc.

There are no advertisements. In addition, what is served on one's timeline is non-algorithmic and not based on the platform's commercial interests.

Mastodon can be quite useful for organizations as they can have their own instances on which they can have internal communication in a social way.

Can Mastodon challenge Twitter, etc?

The platform was created in October 2016 and started operating with first few instances in 2017. In nearly 3 years, its membership has gone up to 2.2 million. That is a good critical mass but nowhere near the numbers of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. It is reported that a large number of Indians angry with Twitter's features have joined this network in 2019.

Mastodon has come up with many mobile and desktop apps. Some of these apps are available in local languages - giving it the opportunity to penetrate populations not comfortable with English. It has been coming with new features every few days thanks to voluntary contributions.

But is that enough to switch from other social media apps, say Twitter or Facebook? Frankly, unless you have people - whom you will like to interact with and/or follow - on the same platform, you might not like to make a switch. In addition, for a Twitter or Facebook user, Mastodon's feature of joining a particular (unknown) instance and the way they communicate look confusing.

However, the platform has its own merits as mentioned above (particularly privacy), and you might like to experiment with it.

My own take is that it is difficult for any platform to dethrone the big social media platforms becasue they come out for very interesting and useful features now and then. People get hooked to these features and demand more. So, however public-spirited and safe a new platform may be, people would not join it by abandoning the big ones. TikTok, even with a big Chinese company behind it, has not been able to dethrone any video-sharing sites; in fact, all the text+image sites now offer video. Whatsapp and Facebook have added e-commerce and money-transfer features in addition to many other. Telegram offers much bigger group size and claims to be safer than Whatsapp but the latter rules the chatting app arena.

However, some of the big social biggies are likely to collapse in the years to come (due to their size, legal issues or what?), and the time would then be ripe for open-source systems to flourish. In the meantime, such apps - including Mastadon - will create a niche for themselves, and would spring when their time comes. Well, if they do not become extinct like the elephant-like creature called mastadon. Haven't we actually witnessed many mighty apps wither away: GeoCities, Squidoo, Orkut, MySpace, Google Plus...

mastodon social media app
Mastodon screen on desktop app

The richest blogger shares social, environmental concerns.

Bill Gates, like only a few other billionares, is a thinker and philanthropist. The co-founder of Microsoft, he also is a regular blogger.

Bill Gates happens to be the richest man alive on earth (in some years, he has a tie with Jeff Bejos of Amazon). Just to put this blogger in terms of his net worth: His wealth is about $107 billion while the GDP of Ethiopia is $95 billion, that of Nepal $35 billion and that of Afghanistan $20 billion. 

On his blog, Bill often writes about social issues. In his two latest posts, he writes about these highly relevant matters facing the society.

1. Alzheimer’s Disease. This is how Gates himself describes this post: It features a clip from the excellent documentary Turning Point: The Quest for a Cure, which looks at why it’s so hard to run clinical trials that would help us develop treatments for Alzheimer’s. I’ve been talking to experts at that very subject, and I’ve even learned about some ways that each of us can contribute to stopping Alzheimer’s.

2. Energy and climate change. This one is part of a series he is running on the blog. This time I wrote about why buildings are so bad for the climate, and what we can do about it. It’s a sneak peak at one of the areas I’ll cover in the book I’m writing about climate change, which will come out next year. 
Buildings can impact climate: from Bill Gates blog