Web Marketing Today

How Not To Build Links For SEO

If you know what search engine optimization is, you also likely know that links to your site are required to achieve rankings. This has been the case since Google introduced its famous PageRank algorithm in 1998. However, what you might not know is that how you accrue links will impact your SEO.

Google and other search engines use links as a measure of a website’s popularity along with citations for local businesses, social media buzz, check-ins, and other factors. But, links have been the most influential of signals for quite some time. The search engines consider that a link can be a sort of an endorsement which directly recommends a website. Links can also inform a search engine as to what the web page it points to is about – the text label of the link is often a descriptor of the linked page.

Since links have historically been so influential that individuals have explored a great many ways to exploit them by using shortcuts to getting many links, as rapidly as possible. To fight this attempt to artificially manipulate, the search engines have continually employed a wide variety of means of detecting link exploits. Google is particularly sophisticated at link analysis and at automatically devaluing “bad links.”

Unfortunately, many webmasters, developers, and marketers are not familiar with the historical progression of link analysis and they frequently will initiate naïve link development tactics, thinking that they can trick the search engines into giving them undeservedly higher rankings. Good, solid website development and promotion can be an expensive prospect, requiring a consistent progression of marketing activities over an often significant period of time. In our fast food, immediate-gratification culture, individuals often attempt perceived shortcuts.

But, where links are concerned, Google and Bing can easily detect most link exploits. If you’re doing something tricky and Google catches you, its algorithms may just automatically halt the flow of link value (PageRank) from accruing for your page and site from those links. Or, they might penalize your site pages, rendering them unable to rank in the first 100 positions.

What Not to Do

Here are common bad link practices to avoid.

  • Link exchanges or reciprocal links. Offering to give someone’s site a link in return for one on their site for you will cancel each other out pretty rapidly. What’s more, if your site describes a link exchange in text, that description could also be found by Google policing algorithms and/or employees, and Google might choose to penalize you on that alone.
  • Webrings. Webrings are similar to link exchanges, but they involve more than two sites. They’re essentially a club of sites that are associated by a common subject matter topic, and they link to each other in a ring. These are no longer popular, but they should be avoided.
  • Paid links. There can be many forms of paid links. Essentially, whenever you request a link in return for some sort of material incentive can be deemed to be a paid link. Don’t buy links unless you’re buying it as an advertisement – in which case, it should be clearly marked as an ad or sponsored link for consumers, and it should be using rel=”nofollow” in the A HREF tag in the page to signal to Google not to count that link for ranking evaluations.
  • Link farms. Setting up a lot of sites just to link to the sites you wish to help rank better is very easily detected through link analysis. Make sure you create sites and pages for humans, and not for manipulating search engines.
  • Comment spamming. Comment spam is when you add a comment to a blog post or a forum just to obtain a link back to your site. This is especially deplorable when the comment has no thematic relation to the blog post and it adds nothing interesting to the post or comment thread conversation. Spammers are using software to submit these link comments in comments across thousands or millions of sites. Blogging software now commonly has links in comments set to be nofollowed, so this tactic has little advantage. Further, spamming software often is configured to produce mistakes and patterns which are easily detected by search engines.
  • Directory submission software. This software sometimes also performs comment spamming. On the surface it sounds okay, since there are many free directories and one could rationalize that the software is just facilitating the link submission process. However, most of these services may be submitting to hundreds and thousands of sites that have very poor quality. Search engines can identify that this sort of software has been used since they will link from thousands of sites that would not otherwise link to sites. Google can also detect when sites abruptly increase links, such as when this type of software is used. Either way, this can produce suspicious patterns and get you penalized.
  • SEO “link building” services. There have been quite a few link-building or link-development companies that offer to help you rapidly grow inlinks to your site if you hire them. In fact, there seem to be no end of such services offered at very cheap rates, based out of India and other countries. It’s very tempting — what could it hurt? But, these are the very companies that have set up thousands of link directories, link farms, and link exchanges. You should run away. If you pay them to build your links, they’ll use all these crapsites they’ve set up as well as link submission software and comment spam software; you’d be paying them to ruin your site’s reputation. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

Use Google’s New Disavow Tool to Address Linking Mistakes

Just this week, the head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts, announced that Google has released a new link disavowal tool, which will enable penalized sites to request that specific links not be counted against them. So, if you’ve used bad linking methods in the past, there is a path to get out of the mess. The first step is to attempt to remove those bad links — either take them down directly if you can, or request webmasters to remove them. Once you’ve removed as many as possible, you can then use the Disavow Link Tool to request that Google not count the remainder.

Read more at “A new tool to disavow links” on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog.

Summary

Avoiding these practices can help ensure your site doesn’t get penalized, since Google has become even more aggressive at policing these sorts of things. Just this year, the Penguin update — see the “Google Penguin” Wikipedia entry — penalized many sites involved in various types of link schemes. To read more about bad link practices, refer to the “Link schemes” article on Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Instead of focusing on getting links through tricks and shortcuts, instead focus on developing compelling content for your site, and interacting with the public through blogging and social media activities. Developing your reputation takes time, but it’s worth it because it will create a popularity level that can be maintained over the long term.

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Chris Silver Smith
Chris Silver Smith
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Comments ( 2 )

Have Something To Say ?

  1. Tom Mghendi October 23, 2012 Reply

    Great advise, though some of the “bad” practices you’ve listed above still have some practical use. Take reciprocal links for example, not all such links are meant to manipulate Google and other search engines. Sometimes it’s perfectly sensible to “exchange” links between websites that complement each other. Eric Ward explains it best at http://www.ericward.com/bestpractices/2009/08/linkmoses-resurrected-5-why-reciprocal.html.

    What the recent Google algo changes have done is to remind us of the vanity of building links for search engine rankings only. We need to also build more links for the actual traffic potential. I wrote something about the same in my blog at: http://www.tielict.com/blog/498/my-thoughts-on-the-current-state-and-the-future-of-internet-marketing/

  2. Jimmy October 27, 2012 Reply

    Article all about what not to do, doesn’t give much help in what to do to get SEO optimization, other than ‘it’s expensive and takes a lot of time.’

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