Where Not To Acquire Links For SEO

We’ve all heard the popular children’s playtime rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

While this may have been true in elementary school, it’s definitely not true in the search engine optimization (SEO) game. Why? Because as much we’d prefer not to believe it, search engine algorithms are evolving at an incredible rate, so much so that their ranking algorithms have grown sophisticated enough to evaluate web sites on on the basis of what sites they’re connected to.

There’s no doubt that link building is a critical component to successful search engine optimization. The reason link building is so important to achieving high organic positioning is that all the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask) use link related variables in their ranking algorithms, the complex equations that evaluate a site on a myriad of factors and then use this data to determine which sites appear where on the results pages.

So what incoming link related variables do the search engine algorithms consider?

- Number of Links

- Quality/Origin of Links

- Relevance of Links

- Anchor Text Within Links

- Links Must Present Value to Users

Yet not every link helps. In this article, I’m going to discuss some key concepts related to link building, but more importantly, where not to build links.

As you’ve read, links are an important aspect of SEO. But not just any link. In fact, the wrong links can hurt you, badly. Now, I’ll lay out some false link “opportunities” to avoid, in the process explaining why not every link is a good one, and how some can do far more harm than good.

With growth of search engines, “spamming” has become a serious issue. There are so called “Black Hat SEO” tactics, unfair and unethical methods used to achieve search engine results using certain techniques to influence search engine algorithms.

While the results of Black Hat SEO can be lucrative, eventually they most certainly will result in loss of ranking, or even a black listing of your site (when search engines permanently stop displaying your website in the results).

Now that you’re familiar with Black Hat SEO tactics, I’ll begin to explore what constitutes valued links in the eyes of the search engines.

But first and foremost, I’ll state the First Commandment of link building as passed down from the Pantheon of Search Gods: Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Ask.

LINKS MUST PRESENT USERS WITH REAL, TANGIBLE VALUE.

This renders the definition of a “valuable link” (one that boosts organic positioning) as a link that presents users with relevant information from reputable sources. The definition of the word “link” itself provides additional insight into the way these tools were intended to be used in an online atmosphere. A link is a connection that bonds two separate parts together to form a whole. Links can also be units in a communication system, and thus, should remain relevant, focused, and informational.

So what types of links should you avoid?

- Avoid Links Farms

- Avoid FFA’s (Free-For-All sites)

- Avoid Irrelevant Links

- Avoid Reciprocal Links (in most cases)

- Avoid Links to Sites with Lower PageRank

- Avoid Vague Links

- Avoid JavaScrpit redirects

- Avoid Domain Spam and Duplicate Domains

- Never Pay For Links

This brings us to our first SEO no-no. Avoid link farms. These are sites which sell links, often to the tune of “100 links for $100″ or something like that. While they were popular in the 1990s before the search engines realized what was happening and added algorithmic countermeasures, now they are essentially worthless, and in many cases, malignant.

Because all the search engines analyze the source of the incoming link, they are all digitally conscious of the reputation these linking sites maintain. If Google, for instance, knows that 50 of your 100 incoming links are coming from known link farms, you’ll no doubt incur a heavy penalty that will keep your site out of the top twenty positions. Instead, your site will sit helplessly in a state of online purgatory, stuck somewhere neither here nor there until it atones for its sins against the user.

Your website will no doubt incur the same fate if you participate in FFAs, or Free-For-All sites, which have hundreds of links on each page. The major engines have evolved to penalize this tactic, and now discount links originating on pages that contain a high number of links. So avoid “Link Pages” on your site because the engines may think you’re link spamming.

Along the same lines, avoid irrelevant links. But what makes a link irrelevant? An irrelevant link is one that is not related to the content or contextual theme of your website. For example, a link from a computer manufacturing company to a software developer would be relevant, while a link from either of these companies to an auto parts site would not. The major engines are conscious of the content and theme of a page, and they know when sites are simply trading irrelevant links in hopes of increasing their rankings. If anything, such exchanges will only hurt positioning.

These types of traded links are known as reciprocal links due to the fact that they’re exchanged, returned, and thus mutually beneficial. But reciprocal links must be relevant and useful or they’ll incur penalties.

In many cases, you’ll also want to avoid linking to sites with a lower PageRank than your own. This can be seen as additional link spamming, so make sure your reciprocated links are highly relevant. If they are, the PageRank of the link partner shouldn’t be your primary concern, as it still presents value to the user.

Another thing to avoid is “vague” links, or links that lack any kind of descriptive anchor text. Anchor text is the underlined, often blue-colored text that indicates the existence of a link. The major engines use this anchor text as a determinant for relevancy, comparing the anchor text to the content of the page the link points to. That’s why you want to avoid vague terms when creating links. For more information on anchor text and a list of link building strategies that will help your SEO efforts, click here

For example, if you own a trucking company in Denver, you’d want incoming links to say something targeted like “Colorado Trucking Services – ABC Transportation Company” instead of something like “Denver Trucking.” This way, the search engines not only get a better idea of what your site is about and the services your company offers, but users have a more complete understanding of where this link will take them if they click it. Don’t make links that require guesswork, or users won’t click them. We all want to know where we’re going before we leave, so make sure users don’t have to surf with a digital blindfold when they interact with your site. Chances are, if you don’t optimize your anchor text, users won’t click the link.

Yet another tactic to avoid is JavaScript redirects, in which users are sent to a page other than the one they’re expecting. Not only do these redirects infuriate users and waste their time, but the search engines have known to take punitive action as webmasters try to “pull a fast one” on them.

Finally, never use domain spam or duplicate domains, which occur when you have multiple domain names redirecting to the same website. Like JavaScript redirects, the search engines are aware of this tactic, and they don’t tolerate it.

All of these “Black Hat” strategies may have worked effectively in the past despite their ethical shortcomings, but the name of the game in search engine optimization is innovation. The major search engines are dedicated to providing the most relevant and helpful results to their users, and thus, they look down upon any attempt that would make their search algorithms less effective. “White Hat SEO” is the best way to go for sustainable, long-term results. If you employ “Black Hat” strategies, you’re more than likely to get your site “black-listed” from the search results, meaning it will never appear again. And even if that hasn’t happened yet, as the search engines continue to evolve it may happen soon.

With Black Hat, you’re playing to the tide; no matter what you do, you can’t stop it. The waves of change will rush in and destroy your “castle made of sand,” eventually.

Moral of the story: Provide users with valuable links that enhance their user experience. If you do, you’ll create a loyal user base and the search engines will reward your efforts to improve the domain of online search and the indexability of information. If you don’t, chances are you won’t be around for long.

Nick Yorchak is an SEO expert and Search Engine Marketing Specialist at Fusionbox, a full-service Denver Internet marketing, web design, and web development company. He can be reached at his Fusionbox email (nyorchak@fusionbox.com) or at (303)952-7490. Click here to check out his expert SEO blog.

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