Google's Matt Cutts has put out a new Webmaster Help video discussing something that's probably on a lot of webmasters' minds these days: what if you linked to a good piece of content, but at some point, that content turned spammy, and your site is still linking to it?
In light of all the link warnings Google has been sending out, and the Penguin update, a lot of webmasters are freaking out about their link profiles, and want to eliminate any questionable links that might be sending Google signals that could lead to lower rankings.
A user submitted the following question to Cutts:
Site A links to Site B because Site B has content that would be useful to Site A's end users, and Google indexes the appropriate page. After the page is indexed, Site B's content changes and becomes spammy. Does Site A incur a penalty in this case?
"OK, so let's make it concrete," says Cutts. "Suppose I link to a great site. I love it, and so I link to it. I think it's good for my users. Google finds that page. Everybody's happy. Users are happy. Life is good. Except now, that site that I linked to went away. It didn't pay its domain registration or whatever, and now becomes maybe an expired domain porn site, and it's doing some really nasty stuff. Am I going to be penalized for that? In general, no."
"It's not the sort of thing where just having a few stale links that happen to link to spam are going to get you into problems," he continues. "But if a vast majority of your site just happens to link to a whole bunch of really spammy porn or off-topic stuff, then that can start to affect your site's reputation. We look at the overall nature of the web, and certain amount of links are always going stale, going 404, pointing to information that can change or that can become spammy."
"And so it's not the case that just because you have one link that happens to go to bad content because the content has changed since you made that link, that you're going to run into an issue," he concludes. "At the same time, we are able to suss out in a lot of ways when people are trying to link to abusive or manipulative or deceptive or malicious sites. So in the general case, I wouldn't worry about it at all. If you are trying to hide a whole bunch of spammy links, then that might be the sort of thing that you need to worry about, but just a particular site that happened to go bad, and you don't know about every single site, and you don't re-check every single link on your site, that's not the sort of thing that I would worry about."
Of course, a lot more people are worried about negative SEO practices, and inbound links, rather than the sites they're linking to themselves.