New Links: Does Google Use a Dampening Filter?

There is some evidence suggesting that Google has started to use a dampening filter on new links to websites, so that any new links to a website are not immediately reflected in its PageRank. The theory goes that Google’s algorithm causes this delay to discourage wholesale link purchasing. Such a change would require a major rethinking of strategy by everyone who optimizes their websites for the search engines. Wayne Hurlbert discusses whether this filter exists, and the good SEO practices necessary for getting around it.

New incoming links are much sought after by every website owner. It’s generally agreed that having abundant relevant incoming links provide a boost to a site’s search rankings. Conventional search engine optimization wisdom, coupled with experience with incoming link power, would seem to bear out that fact.

Search engines, led by link-obsessed Google, value incoming links very highly, at least so we think. Some search engine optimization experts have started to place some very important caveats on the incoming link power theory. Instead of automatically assuming the more incoming links the better, other factors may have come into play. The constant evolution of search engine algorithms, they say, may have morphed past the value of incoming links.

The dissenters from the link power concept believe, as do most modern SEO professionals, that link relevance is very important. As a victory of quality over quantity, that idea makes good logical sense. There are other ideas that have also cast some doubt on the value of links, including a dampening filter on new incoming links as part of the latest Google algorithm.

The thought that Google may be employing a dampening filter on new incoming links is not new. The idea has been given serious consideration, especially as part of the “sandbox theory” discussions. Advocates of the new link filter theory believe that Google does not give immediate full credit for an incoming link.

The theory says that Google provides a partial immediate credit, by running new links through a dampening filter. Only as the link ages, and remains linked to the site for a given period of time, does the full value of the Google PageRank and the link popularity receive its complete credit level. That total link value and PageRank credit is also measured for link theme relevance, making the process of link building much more difficult than in the past.

What the theory contends, in short, is that new links don’t provide immediate benefit to the receiving website. The link popularity and Google PageRank benefit is not passed in its entirety from the date of discovery and indexing of a new link. In effect, the theory postulates the existence of a sandbox for new links.

Much like the sandbox itself, there is evidence in support of this dampening effect theory. Also like the sandbox theory, there is evidence that the phenomenon doesn’t exist, or is simply one of mistaken identity.

As with all potential filters, their possible existence must be taken seriously. If there is indeed a filter in place to dampen the value of new links, steps must be taken to reduce or eliminate its effect. If there is no such dampening filter, the same sound practices will provide additional benefits as part of a well designed link building program.

No one can say with any certainty that any new link dampening filter actually exists. The evidence for such a filter is anecdotal, and may not reflect the overall Google search algorithm, or Google’s intentions. There is a possibility that a new link dampening filter might not exist, or might only affect certain site themes. As to its real motives, Google isn’t talking.

In any case, there are ways to prevent most new links from being dampened. Instead of worrying about new link filters, develop a sound linking policy, and any potential problems shouldn’t affect the vast majority of websites. A good linking program will bypass most if not all possible filters, real or imagined.

A linking strategy should concentrate on developing natural incoming theme relevant links as its ultimate objective. While that goal is a bit idealistic for many website owners, it certainly has the potential to avoid any filters. By providing precisely the type of link Google prefers, it is far less likely to trigger any dampeners, if at all. Because they are added gradually over time, relevant natural links are highly unlikely to be sandboxed.

To receive this type of natural incoming link, strong theme relevant content must be developed for the website. Good informative content for website visitors attracts links. The problem is that natural linking is a slow process, and the real world SERPs need faster attention.

Link buyers would be well advised to space out their link purchases over a period of several months. If volume links are potentially sandboxed anyway, a spread out purchase plan could save money for the buyer. Instead of buying links, only to see their value filtered anyway, smaller purchased lots over time could potentially avoid any filtering problem.

Add one way directory links. Google’s spider crawls the major, and even minor directories, on a very frequent basis. Categorized directory links, especially from human edited directories, are very relevant and theme oriented. As incoming links, they are far less likely to be filtered than links from other websites. It’s widely thought that a link from the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) provides an almost immediate boost to the indexed website.

Keep link exchange programs confined to theme relevant sites. Avoid exchanges with websites that have little to no topic relation to your site. Entirely non-relevant links are much more likely to be viewed with suspicion by Google, and possibly filtered. We already are quite certain that Google passes along more of a boost to PageRank and link popularity from theme relevant sites, than from topically unrelated sites.

When making link exchanges, space them out over a period of time. Instead of doing all of the link trades in one week, use a two to three month time frame. A longer time lag will give each link a full opportunity to be integrated into the Google system, and avoid being dampened. If a link is going to be dampened, it may as well be delayed.


Many search engine optimization professionals believe that Google has implemented a dampening filter for new incoming links. The alleged filter is thought to depress the link popularity boost and the Google PageRank transfer of newly added links.

Not everyone in the SEO community supports the concept of a fresh link dampening filter. There is really no absolute way to determine whether it exists, one way or the other.

As with the controversial, and somewhat related sandbox theory, there are techniques to avoid the filter’s impact, one way or the other. Fortunately, good SEO practices are the best route for a cautious website owner to use as prevention.

A good relevant theme oriented linking program is the best method to keep any filter to the absolute minimum.

A good linking plan is a great idea at any time; whether a filter on new links exists, or is simply a mirage.

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