How Not To Build Links

Links matter.  No secret there.  How much they matter, well…therein lies the secretive part of the equation.  And as much as readers of this blog would love for me to slip up and say they account for N% of the equation, I won’t. The fact is, the actual value links apply varies based on other factors, so there is no solid number.  Back when everyone was chasing “keyword density” as a ranking objective, everyone wanted to know what the magical percentage was.  Same deal – it depended on a variety of factors. While keyword density has gone the way of the dodo, links continue to provide useful signals, despite the obvious spamming that happens.

So let’s take a quick look at some ways to build links that you should avoid.

Blind requests

I just love these.  I get several a week.  In fact, here’s an actual one from my inbox:

Hello Webmaster,

I visited your web site earlier today and firstly wanted to congratulate you on the appearance, excellent content and accessibility I discovered there. It is not often I come across a web site that offers such a positive user experience and great information too.

At this present moment, I am seeking meaningful links from quality websites just like yours, for a current project on behalf of [website].  As you will see, this is based upon a similar theme to yours and does in my view, offer added value content for web site visitors.

Now as a part of this promotional activity, I would very much like to have a link featured on your website. Should you be agreeable, please use the following details to add the project site to your links page.

Title: – [selected target keywords]

URL: – [website/page]

Description: – Dial [phone number] for a local [city] SEO expert. At [company name], Inc. our search engine optimization technique has evolved us into a symmetrical local organic SEO company with clients at the top of their industry. No Contracts.[different phone number]. If you wish add your link first so please let me know we are ready for that.  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate in contacting me by replying to this email. I will then get back to you as soon as possible.

Regards, Linking Manager.

Talk about not knowing who you’re emailing! 

But beyond that, there are several failures here. Why two phone numbers? That certainly doesn’t seem trustworthy, if you’re just a local company. Notice there is no name in the signature?  That’s because the gent who actually sent me this request – from a Seattle area local SEO company – is from India.  Yep, a local SEO company hired a company half a world away to send blind emails to an unknown list requesting a link.  Stating the obvious, why does an SEO company need THIS service? Finally, you’ll notice they don’t stat which website they’d like the link to appear on. The takeaway here isn’t “reaching out to request a link is a problem”, but rather to be careful in your approach. 

This is so obviously spammy it’s laughable.  So laughable, I looked up the address shown on their website.  I see the guy’s house, the car in the driveway, the camper trailer parked nearby, the firepit in his backyard, etc.  Maybe I should drive by this weekend and confirm what website he wanted that link on…

If you’re going to ask someone for a link, be legit.  Respect that silence means “leave me alone” and in general, know that this tactic is a low percentage winner.  Also learned in this example is to know your email list.  Buying lists can lead to trouble.  Now this guy may not even be aware of what’s happening here, but given he appears to be selling cheap, local SEO services from his basement, I’m guessing he is.

Blog/Forum Comments

OK, let it officially be heard across the land that dropping links in blog comments does not help you rank better.  I say this because, it would seem, a vast number of people haven’t gotten this message yet.

Spamming links in comments (or in forums, for that matter) only serves to upset the site owner, irritate moderators and gets you blocked from future engagement. Oh, and copying a portion of the blog post in your comment, to then drop a link, well, that’s so obvious you might as well change your avatar to “I SPAM”. Likewise the good old “Hey! Love this…check out my site! [insert domain]” and other short, worthless inputs. If you are thinking of employing services that do work like this, skip it.  It’s a waste of your money and could damage your domain as a footprint of garbage accumulates across the web, all pointing right back at you.

Sure, every company will claim to build links in an acceptable manner, but I can assure you at a confidence level of 100% that Bing has no agreements in place to accept whatever work they’re doing as legit.  If they claim otherwise, they’re misleading you.

Link Injection

Long a favorite of the spammer crowd targeting WordPress blogs, this is a way to insert links into a live post without readers seeing them.  The crawlers see the links, but you and I wouldn’t.  The goal being to try to leach value from the site, across the anchor text to the spam sites behind the links.  Generally this is done in an automated fashion, so if you’ve been targeted, the backdoor is already open.  The fix is to update your WordPress installation, as the newer versions usually have security patches designed to close the doors the spammers exploited.  Keep in mind that new doors may be found and exploited, so the top tip here is to stay current on your installs. Yes, you can easily delete the injected links from a post by editing the post and removing them.  But, they’ll return in the future unless you apply the security fix to close that particular doorway.

Guest Blogging

This one straddles a line, honestly.  Guest blogging per se isn’t an issue.  But, it really comes down to intent.  And you cannot conveniently switch your intent to fit the equation here.  It’s often quite obvious. If you’re invited to be interviewed by a blog related to your area of expertise, then a link back to your site is reasonable. If you write a self-promotional “case study” and it’s posted on a site known to support guest blogging across a variety of unrelated topics, well, that’s not so useful. This really does come down to intent. 

Keep it relevant and related, and you’ll generally be fine.  Unless, of course, that blog crosses a line and suddenly starts to look spammy because ALL they do is post guest blogs.  There are plenty of legit sites and legit guest bloggers, etc. But, let’s face it.  If you’re motivated to blog because you get a link for it, and the site wants your content, that’s a commercial transaction. 

Sure, you’re trading goods instead of currency, but the transition happens just the same.  Hand over money or chickens, it’s still a value-based transaction with the outcome being a link that may not have otherwise been included. So, sites that encourage guest blogging…we know them.  We see it.  And we can easily deprecate any passed value through those links. 

If you’re going to guest blog, best to do it with the intention to build your brand, drive traffic and create awareness.  Doing it to bolster your SEO efforts is a #FAIL these days.

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager