As one of the top three ranking signals, backlinks have mattered to search engines for years, and they will most likely continue to matter far into the future for as long as organic search results exist.
That means building links is not just an optional addition but an integral part of just about any well-structured SEO campaign.
There are some shady tactics that are likely to get your site smacked with a manual penalty for violating Google’s search quality guidelines. Find out what they are to prevent that from happening to you.
1. Blog Commenting
Comment spam usually occurs on old, neglected articles where comment moderation does not take place. You will often notice thousands of comments on any given page – and that the page loads really, REALLY slow.
Blog commenting can be done in a natural way that will not harm your website, but I would not integrate it into an SEO strategy because it tend to get very spammy. With questionable impact on influencing SERPs (considering the sheer volume of outbound links on that page, greatly diluting whatever link juice that would be passed), I wonder why these are bothered with at all.
I especially cringe when I see SEOs actually using targeted/exact match anchor text in those comments… are they just begging for a penalty?
It isn’t uncommon while tracing a website’s backlink profile to find all of the prior comments on that post have been deleted with one fell click of a button by the site administrator.
2. PBN & Link Networks
Ah, private blog networks, PBNs, peanut butter noodles… whatever you call it, buying expired domains and setting up a site oriented around boosting the rankings of other sites is all the rage with a large number of SEOs.
The chance of leaving footprints – ways for Google to identify a common owner between them – is extremely high without the utmost attention to detail. Having run a large and powerful PBN in the past, I can tell you with near complete certainly that even PBN owners claiming to be footprint free probably aren’t. Google. Tracks. Everything.
Do they work? There’s no question about it: they can work, and they can work very well.
But when Google cracks down (and they have in the past), entire networks worth thousands become devalued and the sites they were pointed at get smacked. In my opinion, it’s playing with fire. For the work you have to put in to researching and buying the domain, setting it up, building it out, keeping hackers away and maintaining the site, it is far more cost and time efficient to focus on link building strategies that will actually last.
3. Forum Profile Links
Forum spam may continue to go on for as long as people think it matters, but like blog commenting, it is of highly questionable value to anyone involved.
Signature links in forum posts not only look unnatural in a backlink profile, but are not actually a vote for credibility from that site to yours in Google’s eyes.
4. Press Releases
Press releases have been bombed by Google in 2013 and 2014. They also warned press release distribution services to nofollow all the links. The studies for their effectiveness seem to be sorely lacking, other than those from several years ago or by the services selling them. In fact, there is mounting evidence showing that they do the exact opposite of benefiting rankings.
5. Anchor Text Over Optimization
Sometimes you can use a solid link building strategy to land you a good link placement on another website, but you manipulate the anchor text in a way that isn’t natural. Anchor text manipulation is easy for algorithms to detect and penalize, so stick to natural, branded or naked links as much as possible. Google recognizes brand authority more than ever before when it comes to determining who gets to be on page one, so the advantage of over optimization isn’t nearly as good as it used to be. In fact, it is far more risky.
6. Link Exchanging
Reciprocal linking: to do or not to do? Swapping links in an effort to boost SEO is a big no-no.
If and only if you are exchanging links with another high authority website for the benefits of readers, you will probably be fine.
7. 301’Ing Domains
This is one of the more recent “tricks” used by SEOs to funnel link juice into their web properties.
Like many black hat strategies it can work very well when executed properly, but is in no way Google-proof and can create a bad user experience for someone being unexpectedly propelled to a totally different website. Google looks at visitor behavior as a ranking signal, and a high bounce rate may be an indication that there is a problem from the linking domain.
8. Web 2.0 Spamming
Registering free blog properties on websites like Weebly, Tumblr, Blogger and others to throw up a low quality reel of articles stuffed with links has been shown to have some impact for very low competition searches.
Though it may help in some cases, the strategy is very suspicious should your site ever receive a manual review.
9. Low Quality Directory Submissions
Directory submissions did used to work. But in a post-Penguin world, their effects are increasingly negligible and seem to be continually fading.
Good directories are few and far between, may cost money, and ideally should be niche-focused. While these better quality directories can used positively to add some natural links to your site, they are mostly beneficial for local SEO and citation building. Low quality ones tend to be periodically deindexed and ultimately a waste of time.
10. Article Submission Spam
Back in the day, submitting articles to websites like Ezine Articles was the way to dominate the first page. Consequently, manufacturing low quality articles devalued these sites for users. Everything changed when Google nuked the value of such manipulated links and it’s high time to move on.
Go White Hat
There are many good, safe, Google-approved ways to get white hat links for your sites without going to the trouble to try to game the system.
And good link building strategies aren’t impossible to learn or implement, they just take time and patience. A long-term SEO strategy is not founded on hacks, tricks or spammy gimmicks. You can build simple, replicable, scalable systems out of solid link development tactics – and actually build relationships in the process. This is what Google wants to see and rewards websites for.