Backlinks are a vital part of any SEO strategy because they serve as a roadmap for search engines. The more quality, authoritative links you have pointing back to your site, the more “authority” your site is deemed to have, and the more likely it is that you’ll rank for a given keyword or keyword phrase.
Over the years, this has become less of a mathematical problem and more of a relationship-based one; Google once calculated a site’s authority based on the sheer number of links, but due to spam and aggressive rank manipulation, it now only favors natural, relevant links.
What does that mean for you, the link builder?
It means you need to be careful where and how you post links. If you’re suspected of spamming unnatural links for the purposes of increasing your page rank, you could earn yourself a Google penalty. Since it’s still important to build links if you’re going to succeed in your search engine marketing campaign, you have to recognize which sources of links are valuable and which ones are dangerous.
For starters, make sure you avoid these 11 risky types of backlink sources and link building companies:
Article directories used to be a big deal in the world of SEO. They were cheap, easy, useful ways to syndicate one article and generate hundreds of links pointing back to your site from other directory participants. Too many people took advantage of this, syndicating poorly written, keyword-stuffed fluff, and Google took notice.
Since then, Google’s algorithm has penalized backlinks that have been generated from low-quality article directories, and has scouted for any duplicated content on the web that could be evidence of such a practice. There’s nothing inherently wrong with guest posting, but avoid duplicating your content through article directories if you don’t want to earn yourself a penalty.
Link farms, as their name suggests, are low-quality resources that exist solely to host links for other sites. They serve no purpose on their own other than to increase traffic and page rank for other sites. This may sound almost benevolent, but since they exist only to manipulate page ranks, they’ve earned a smackdown from Google. You’ll likely never see a link farm on the first page of Google again and for good reason—they do nothing to improve the online user experience or provide any meaningful information. If you happen to find one, don’t even think about using it to post links to your own site.
First, let me say that relationship building is great in an online context. Finding relevant partners with whom you can share content is a great way to mutually build authority and share an audience. However, if you excessively exchange links with a consistent other source, you could get some serious negative attention from Google. Diversity counts, so if too much of your backlink profile is dependent on one or a handful of other sources, it could look bad for all of you. Feel free to post on each other’s blog, but don’t exchange a series of links with another source unless it’s only a small part of your overall strategy.
Link wheels are essentially the pyramid schemes of link building, and just like pyramid schemes, they are a waste of time and money. Link wheels are artificial means of passing link juice through a series of links that point to each other. To put it simply, link wheels attempt to fool search engines by building a pathway that passes authority from site to site. Like most linking schemes, on paper it seems like a good idea and it used to work marvelously. But Google is sharp, and they’re wise to all these tricks. Link juicing in itself isn’t a terrible strategy, but trying to build a link wheel will work against you.
Trying to slip your link into an irrelevant conversation, or posting your link at the end of your comment regardless of the circumstances is an example of a bad backlink strategy. While forum and blog comments are ordinarily great resources for quality link building, if your message is intended solely to build your authority with a backlink, you’re in for trouble. Instead, focus on finding ways to incorporate your links naturally into the conversation. Seek out threads that give you an opportunity to present yourself as an authority. Then, make sure your link points back to a relevant page—and not the same one over and over.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and that rule applies to link building companies as much as anything else. Some link building companies will go out of their way to promise the world to you, guaranteeing an insane amount of links in a ridiculous timeframe, or making a promise of a specific rank by a certain date. Nothing is guaranteed in the SEO world, so if a link building company is making hefty promises, it’s best to avoid them entirely.
Going along with the “too good to be true” theme, if your link building company is offering you insanely low rates for their service, consider it a red flag. As a consumer, you should do your research and shop around for the best deal, but cheap link building usually means bad link building. Your link building strategy is an investment. If you buy a used car for $100, you can expect that car to break down on you in a relatively short timeframe. Frugality doesn’t always pay off.
There are some directories that are beneficial for link building. Highly focused, niche-based directories try to organize and build relationships between companies in the same industry, and relevant links you post there will count positively toward your own authority. However, posting links in a directory that has nothing to do with your industry is a negative practice that should be avoided at all costs. Google knows what type of company you are; if you’re a hardware store posting in a restaurant directory, you might as well ask for a penalty directly.
If you see a link building company advertising with a flashing, poorly designed “CLICK HERE NOW!!!” style banner ad on a website, that probably isn’t a good company. If a company is willing to resort to such low-quality cheap tactics for their advertising, they’re probably willing to pull a similar stunt in their link building process. Instead, look for a link building company with a solid reputation and attention to detail.
If a company “specializes” in link building, it might be a bad sign. Odds are, their “specialists” are busy posting hundreds of links to all kinds of sites, with little regard for the quality or relevance of the links. Link building is just one piece of the SEO puzzle, and if your link building company is exclusively working in link building, there’s a high chance they don’t fully understand the scope of modern SEO and they won’t give you the results your business deserves.
Ordinarily, press releases are a great source of quality brand links. They’re examples of well-written content that showcase your brand, point to your site, and can be accepted by some of the highest-ranking news authorities in the country. However, if your press releases are not newsworthy, your strategy can do more harm than good. Posting too many press releases for the sake of posting press releases is considered a type of spam; you’ll have duplicate content all over the web, and a series of boring, fluff-filled updates pointing back to your site. It’s a bad way to build backlinks, and can damage the reputation of your company.
Unfortunately, posting in the right places isn’t enough to guarantee that you’ll avoid a penalty. The context and frequency of your links is also important. Even when posting to a reputable site of high authority, you need to ensure that your link is valuable to readers and relevant to the conversation. Also, be careful not to post too many links to the same place in the same location, or you could get negative attention for spamming. Use Nofollow links to mitigate these risks, and encourage brand mentions whenever possible.
The biggest takeaway here is that there is no guaranteed safe haven for posting backlinks. It’s good to avoid the notorious low-quality culprits in the list above, but you still need to make sure all your links are spaced out, diversified, and relevant in order to see the best results. Quality link building takes time and patience, and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.