Ghost Links AKA Backlink Echoes
Backlinks are used by Google to decide if a site should rank high in the search engines.
The links act as a vote and sites that have more quality links are thought of more highly as building authority and trust with Google.
Therefore the more quality backlinks pointing to your web page, the more likely to get a coveted first-page rank.
But backlinks can be lost or deleted as domains expire or large publishing prune older content.
Many SEOs thought that once the hyperlinks were gone, so too the power that they gave also went.
But from vigorous testing, it is not what you would predict – as the link echo effect keeps web pages ranking until the next big algorithm update (which can be months later).
In our guide to the ghosting effect of backlinks, we provide evidence web pages retain their ranking value after backlinks are removed which means that even temporary links with a link echo effect can help boost your rankings in the search engine results pages long term.
- What Are Ghost Links?
- Do Ghost Links Work?
- Why Rankings Remain Even After Links Disappear?
- Leveraging Ghost Links With Backlink Rotation
- The Risks of Ghost Links
- Does Link Loss Always Still Pass Link Juice?
- Ghost Links vs Backlinks
What Are Ghost Links?
Ghost links are backlinks that no longer link to your site, but still pass power historically through Google. This is often referred to as the “echoing effect” or “ghosting effect, and is often discussed by those in the SEO and digital marketing industry.
The importance of ghost links are therefore overlooked by many, but are they as effective as what people say?
Do Ghost Links Work?
Ghost links do work, based off of the extensive link tests carried out by many marketers across the world.
There has been countless case studies on ghost links (sometimes known as link echoes), highlighting that many of the rankings they’d achieved from links had stayed put even long after the link had dropped off.
And based on our own experience, we’ve found links that we’d built continue to have a “ghosting effect” long after the link had been removed.
Why Rankings Remain Even After Links Disappear?
It’s believed that rankings remain after links disappear because of Google’s algorithm continuing to provide value to a site from its link even though the link has long been removed.
Links that are from a powerful domain, get genuine traffic and impressions and aren’t toxic can have a wonderful effect on anyone’s site, and are seen as the holy grail in terms of backlink quality.
So even when a link like this is lost, it’s believed that these types of links can have a longstanding effect site-wide.
Here is a great video from Rand Fishkin from Moz many years ago first explaining link echoes:
Although the video is over a decade old the principals still remain in July 2023.
As opposed to just doing a single link test, Rand ensured he looked at multiple links in his testing, and found that ghost links do seem to in fact still carry the power through.
If anything, we’re seeing more and more studies about link ghosts in 2023 than ever, highlighting just how overlooked this has bee for marketers everywhere.
Here’s some of the other reasons why rankings may remain after links pointed to you are lost:
Your Website Quality
In some cases, the quality of your website itself may be the main determining factor as to why rankings have not budged.
For example, if your site naturally has considerably more authority in the SERPs than your competition, and if you are seen as one of the authority websites in the search engines, you should find that your site continues to rank well despite the odd dropped link.
The SERP Itself
Additionally, if the SERP itself is a good parameter of why you may be continuing to rank even after links are lost, because in some easier search engine results pages, backlinks may not even be required to beat out the top spot.
If you continue to rank after a links disappeared but for a not very competitive keywords, it’s likely that this is simply as a result the weak SERP.
The search engines therefore are a great way of checking if you’re only ranking due to how easy the SERP is, as opposed to any link echoes.
This is applicable to other search engines other than Google, too.
Another technique worth mentioning is leveraging ghost links with backlink rotation.
Funnily enough, this is actually how we initially came to see the value of ghost links firsthand.
Here are the steps on how to setup the backlink rotation URL:
- Create an amazing article on a subject related to your niche
- Purchase guest posts and niche edits to power up the URL
- As it ages, build more links (SAPE, PBNs, and 301 redirects)
- Now you have a powerful URL ready for link rotation
Google loves the freshness of content and new articles in the SERP that are newsworthy on upcoming topics or trends.
Create a new article on a highly authoritative domain like newsdirect or outlookindia to leverage the power of the domain.
Here are the steps on how to leverage backlink rotators:
- Now your news article on the parasite website has been created
- Redirect your backlink rotation URL to the fresh new article
- All the link juice filters through to the new article and sees amazing results in the SERP
- Send Engagement Signals from Signal Boy to the new article on the parasite domain
- Send Engagement Signals from Signal Boy to the aged 301 redirect URL
- The power of the backlinks, the freshness of content and engagement sends signals the post has gone viral on Google
Your powerful URL that has power, age, and historical data can now be rotated to the latest parasite articles.
With this process, the idea is to only redirect your URL to the article you want to rank whilst people are interested in the news or event you’re promoting. By doing this, the article will have more chance of generating the traffic you want it to.
Once your event has finished though, it’s likely that significantly less people will be interested in your trending topic. As a result, it’s best to then swap the 301 to a new newsworthy or trending article to push the power elsewhere.
When we carried this technique out, we found that our original article STILL ranked highly and generated traffic for 6-12 months the 301 was changed, highlighting that the ghosting effect had certainly continued positively influencing the rankings.
The Risks of Ghost Links
Whilst it’s all well and good discussing the positive factors of ghost links (sometimes referred to as link ghosts), it’s always worth discussing why ghost links may not be something to be striving for across the entirety of your site.
As many of us know, link loss across the board isn’t a great signal to be shouting out to Google.
With ghost links essentially being lost links, the odd few is fine, but what you don’t want to be doing is resting on your laurels and allowing all of your links to be removed, and hoping for the ghosting effect.
Despite this, the studies suggest that the odd link that’s lost can still carry it’s power long after it’s removed, so just keep an eye on your backlink profile and don’t allow too many links to slip away all at once.
Does Link Loss Always Still Pass Link Juice?
Link loss does not always still pass link juice for several reasons.
Firstly, you may find that the link you had previously had a lot of power, but was from a spammy website.
In this case, you might even find that that link was having a detrimental effect on your website on a whole, and ironically, the link being lost has given improved the site in general.
Additionally, links that have no power to being with won’t be passing any regardless.
Generally speaking, only the higher quality links will continue to pass any link juice once they’re lost, and as a result help you to sustain rankings in the search engine results pages.
It’s worth mentioning that whilst links can still pass power even once the link is removed, it’s much better to not have the link removed in the first place.
In any case, it’s better to have 10 high quality links that are still visible to Google, than it is to have had 10 high quality links that are now removed.
Despite this, the studies around ghost links suggest that individuals shouldn’t be as concerned with the odd lost link as they may have been in the past, however if you find yourself in a position of mass link loss, then it’s a different story.
As a result, regularly monitor your backlink profile, and if you do find yourself in a situation where you have lost a large quantity of links, it may be best to look to acquire some fresh relevant links from a professional such asSearcharoo.
Companies like this can help with link reclamation, and ensure you build up your backlink profile with high quality, relevant backlinks.
So to summarise, ghost links (or backlink echoes) certainly are a factor worth considering when analysing both your backlink profile and rankings, as links of a certain calibre can do much more than you think for your website, even when that link no longer exists.
At the end of the day, Google is trying to judge websites based on how reliable they are about a certain product, service or topic, as well as how much authority they have in their particular niche.
Having a backlink from a trusted, reliable and powerful source pointing to your site for an extended period of time is a serious sign to Google that you should be taken seriously, and it seems increasingly likely that these links continue to have a significant effect even after they drop off.
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