Link building

What is “bad link building”?


This article is aimed directly at people who are not yet SEO practitioners but want to learn a bit more about search engine optimization, as well as those who are feeling a bit puzzled as to how to “do” link building and, (more specifically) what you are and are not “allowed” to do.

Lately bonding has become an increasingly volatile minefield, so the first step is to make sure you know what constitutes ‘bad’ when it comes to bonding. And then we can talk about how to do it “the right way”.

Bad link building methods

If you’re talking about link building, you’re probably talking about SEO and link building to improve your rankings on Google (and other search engines of course!). Over the years, the practice of link building has included several different strategies that Google has deemed unwanted and somehow killed.

You of course have the right to link to your website any way you want. But if you want to rank well on Google, then you will have to follow their rules. So here is a brief overview of the less favorable options.


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Anything that is automatically submitted

Submitting to things like directories, article sites and anywhere that it is more about volume than quality is pretty much a no-no. There are undoubtedly some directories (maybe three out of several thousand) that still have a bit of value, but in my opinion they are not worth worrying about.

If you want to submit to directories and similar sites, make sure they have very strict editorial criteria. DMOZ is arguably the only directory that matters, and here’s an article on Slamdot explaining why.


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Paid / compensated links

No matter what you call it, paying for links is advertising, and when used for advertising purposes, it’s great. But if you’re paying someone to link to your site for the purpose of improving search engine results, you’re in bad territory.

If you want to pay for advertising that’s fine, but links don’t have to be followed if you want to keep Google happy (and whether you like it or not, you do). Also, depending on where you live, you may be legally required to tell visitors that a link is chargeable.

Screenshot of Matt Cutts

And also remember that the payment may not be monetary. If you give away free samples in exchange for reviews, you could be entering “paid links” territory. This video by Matt Cutts explains how Google views this sort of thing.

Blog comments

Blog comments were once a great way to build links, and you could argue that blog comment links are editorial because the blogger must approve a comment (and a link) before it is published.

The reality is that blog comments are not a good link building for SEO purposes. Indeed, 99% of blog comments are nofollow and even dofollow ones are probably reduced by Google.

Comments screenshot

Fortunately, since most comments go untracked, your site is unlikely to be penalized for doing too much. You will only be wasting your time!


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That said, of course, commenting on a blog properly is a powerful way to generate traffic, build your brand, and “earn links”.

There is, however, a crucial difference between creating links “for links” and doing it for more sane reasons, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Guest post

Guest posting is a popular topic right now, and there is no shortage of blog posts to discuss the death or otherwise of guest blogging. The simple answer is, this is a way to link directly, guest blogging is definitely not a good idea anymore.

But, link building was never the main reason guests posted anyway. The reason I wrote this guest post for SEJ was definitely not for an additional backlink (at least, not for the SEO benefits).

It’s all about mentality

The main difference between “good” bonding and “bad” is the mindset with which you approach it. The main similarity of the bad tactics I mentioned above (and the ones I might have overlooked) is that they are tactics that link only to play with the search engine.


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[pullquote]So, if you ever have any doubts, ask yourself the following question:
If this link had no SEO value, would I still want it?[/pullquote]

You wonder how Google can exactly know what your intention is, and the answer is they can’t, at least not directly. But if you only link for links, it will quickly reflect in the types of links you create.

The value of a ‘good’ link building is usually related to increasing brand recognition, driving traffic and increasing credibility. The actual link may or may not be directly beneficial to your SEO, but if that’s the only benefit you get from your link building, you’re in trouble.

The two ingredients of gaining links

The term you may have heard recently is “earn links” because the only effective way to get the types of links that help you rank is to earn them. Unfortunately, gaining links is really hard, which is why people have been building them instead for so long.


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To gain links, you need two things:

  1. Content that people actually want to link to (i.e., it has to be good, useful, useful)
  2. Attention from the right people, from people who actually have the ability to relate to you

The first step isn’t easy, but there’s no reason anyone can’t develop a solid content strategy and learn how to write good, linkable content.

For popular and established sites, this second step is easy. But if you have a small website with little traffic, the biggest challenge is getting the right people to find your content and want to share it.

As it turns out, my previous post for SEJ was pretty much it: read how to drive traffic and kickstart your content marketing to learn how to find that second essential ingredient.

Focus on creating other traffic

I’m not going to say that you need to build a successful business without Google traffic because traffic from Google can be very lucrative. But in terms of off-page factors (links, brand mentions, etc…) Google is now at the point where artificially increasing your rankings is very difficult.


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However, all the acceptable and effective activities to improve your rankings also happen to be solid marketing strategies in their own right.

So if you focus your efforts on generating, retaining, and converting traffic from other sources, you will likely see your organic search engine traffic increase over time as well. These activities include:

  • Get links from websites that can send you traffic
  • Make friends with the people who run these sites
  • Build a committed follow-up on social networks
  • Understand which activities generate the most traffic
  • Improve your website with a focus on user experience

Image credit

Featured Image: Evil Duck via Wikimedia Commons
Image # 1: Screenshot taken in May 2014
Image # 2: Screenshot taken in May 2014
Image # 3: Screenshot taken in May 2014