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Beware of SEO Link Building

If you're like us, you probably receive emails from companies offering SEO link building daily. You might be getting tired of these requests or you might even be considering procuring their services to try to boost the rank of your site in Google and other search engines. The theory goes that the more outside links your site has the higher chance it has of placing in search engines. While this is true, it’s certainly not the only factor that contributes to placement and if done incorrectly can put your site in danger of being banned.

What kind of tactics do some link builders use?

Some link builders use borderline tactics and generally do not care where the links to your site are built and even if they make sense at all. They often use software to automate the posting of content that contains links on as many sites as possible. It doesn't matter if sites are related, are legitimate, or are microsites they build themselves. They'll use software to automate thousands of posts per day, in many cases the same site will be hit over and over.

So what do these posts look like?

Contact Form Spam

In the example below, the link builder is trying to build links for an online shoe store. It doesn't matter if they are posting on a sports site, a marketing site, or a recipe site. They just want the links. They don't care if their efforts degrade the experience legitimate customers have on your site, and they certainly don't care if it costs you time and money as a business owner.

Blog Link Build Contact Form

Comment Spam

Another example is the blog comment below about Windows software posted on a design and marketing site. Right away, we can eliminate any legitimate customers from clicking these links. Do you really think someone reading a site about design and marketing is going to read a comment about pirated Windows 7 keys and click to become a customer?

Blog Link Build Comment Spam

Microsite Spam

Here is an example of a spam microsite built for a link building campaign. Boy, that content makes a lot of sense, where do I buy

Blog Link Build Microsite
Example of a spam microsite built just to add more links.

Source Code Injection

In some cases, the software that link builders use illegally break into legitimate sites and posts links in the source code. In the example below the site for an engineering company has had a link to an online dress store added to the top of its home page. The sad thing is that the Google listing for this company will list prom dresses in the results instead of what the company actually offers. Unless the engineering company is monitoring their search listings, this will likely be how potential customers see their business for a while.

Blog Link Build Source Code
Example of a link injected into the source code of an unrelated site.

Link Exchanges

You may also get emails from link builders offering to exchange links. If you put a link or in some cases an entire page of senseless drivel (as shown below) we'll put a link to your site on ours. Nice! We'll agree to do that for sure. As a business owner, you may not have been given the choice at all. The SEO "Professional" you're working with may make the choice on your behalf and you may find that your site has been loaded with hidden link exchange pages without your knowledge

Blog Link Build Link Exchange
Example of a page added to a site to exchange links.

Spam Directories

Often time, link building companies create their own directories on topics so they can say they're building tons of links on legitimate sites. The question is, who goes to these directories? More often than not, we're annoyed when these so called directories come up in Google. Luckily, Google has slowly phased out their appearance in search results.

Blog Link Build Spam Directory
Example of a random link directory.

What are the dangers with these types of tactics?

These tactics must work to some degree as there's an entire industry that people are paying to build links. Surely they must be getting some results, but given the examples above there are some pretty legitimate concerns:

  • You may see a slight jump in visitors, or even a big one for a while, but are all of these visitors legitimate potential customers?
  • Google's constantly working on downgrading sites that use these tactics as they're really just trying to circumvent the system, which makes Google's search results less useful to its customers. A less useful Google translates to less people trusting and using them. Less visitors means less profit for them, so it’s in their best interest to deliver good results.
  • If you're abusing the system enough your site could get banned from Google all together. Many of the sites we monitor get 60+% of their traffic from search. Is it worth the risk of losing 60% of your traffic for a bit of short term gain?
  • Google is always adjusting how it ranks sites, so tactics that took you to the top one day may stop working without notice the next. If you're paying someone to circumvent the system, you'll have to keep paying them if you want continued results.
  • What about user experience?  Imagine a potential customer landing on a link exchange page within your site that talks about something you don't even sell, or perhaps it talks about another company in the same industry, but in a different city. At best, the visitor is confused and yes you just lost them.
  • What about your brand reputation? If your company is the one that's posting to thousands of contact forms, blog comment forms and online discussion forms, the legitimate users of those sites are thinking your company is a cockroach that they'd like to crush instead of ever doing business with.
  • The money and effort you are putting into link building could be put into something legitimate that will help your business in a different way.  

How can I tell if an SEO company's link building is legitimate?

SEO certainly has an important place in marketing and there are great companies out there that offer inbound marketing. Link building is only one part of SEO. With that said, there are tactics that you probably want to consider staying away from. If you're choosing to work with an SEO company that offers link building you might want to:

  • Ask them how they build links and get specific examples that you can reference on-line yourself.
  • Ask them about the strategy behind where they choose to build links.
  • Ask for examples of sites they've worked on. When you have a few sites, try this for each:
    • Go to Google and type ‘link:www.sitename.com’  this will allow you to see all of the back links to that site that are actually indexed by Google. 
    • If they legitimately build links, you should be able to go through the list and see where they've contributed.
    • Are the links from garbage sites or from legitimate industry related sources?
    • If they are posting on blogs and forums, are they adding value to those posts so that your company not only gets a link, but is also seen in a good light by the readers?
    • If your search in Google reveals no back links that should raise the question: What are these people actually doing besides taking someone’s money?
  • Ask if they use software to automate their link building process and if so, ask them what it does and how it works. Does it do anything illegal? I'm sure they'll tell you no.  

Another Approach that Might Work

Think about the last time you were looking for a solution to a problem and you followed a link to something great. It might have been an interesting article, video or graphic that explained something. The author of that content took the time to create something that had real value to you. Because it helped solve your problem, your opinion of the site is higher and your potential to trust the site or brand is greater. You might consider telling a friend, sharing the link on a social network or adding it to your site or blog if it's topical. This topical content is not only valuable to you and other visitors, but it's also a great resource for the company that created it to use for sales, service, training and more. Good content drives link potential.

Now take the same approach and look outside your own website. Where can you find the people online who have the problem your products or services can solve? Be there and be helpful. Build up trust and link back to the legitimate content on your site, but only when it makes sense.

These are different approaches to link building that may require more effort, but the long term benefits are worth it.

Too Good to Be True

Some forms of link building are too good to be true. Before heading down the link building path, you should seriously consider the benefits and risk. Your money and effort might be better spent on other tactics. Like most things in life the tactics that pay off often take a bit more effort, but are usually worth the investment.

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