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Bad Link Strategies: What’s Spam and How to Avoid It

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Last updated on March 5, 2024

Google likes links — loves them, really. It uses links to crawl the web and rank webpages.

That’s why you need backlinks (links pointing to your website). But not just any links will do.

In fact, many types of links and link-building strategies won’t impress Google at all. And some will set off alarm bells. (The kind of alarm bells that can destroy your rankings.)

I’m not telling you anything new. This is common knowledge, but you don’t have to look far to find a link builder trying to trick you into buying spam links.

Let’s not do that. Here are the link-building strategies to avoid to make sure you keep your rankings going in the direction they should be: up.

SEO agencies, click here for white label link building services.

What Does Google Consider Spam in Link Building?

What does Google think is spam when it comes to backlinks? They’ve been pretty clear about their position:

“Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

This is one of those situations where you have to remember that Google has its own interests in mind — not yours.

Why?

Because everyone is building backlinks with the intention of manipulating rankings. That’s the whole point. And Google knows it’s happening.

They just would prefer it if every single link on the web happened naturally without any link-building strategy going on behind the scenes.

Remember:

You don’t work for Google. So you need to do what works for you. And trust me: Building the right kind of backlinks will work for you.

Backlinks have been the bread and butter of SEO for more than 20 years. That’s not going to change any time soon.

But judging by the passage I quoted from Google above, every kind of non-naturally occurring backlink is spam — right?

Nope. Google even goes on to get a lot more specific about the spammiest links and link building tactics.

We’ll cover all of those tactics in the link building strategies to avoid below, but for now, know this:

Google knows everyone is doing link building and technically violating their policies. They aren’t going to de-index every single major site on the internet, so they aren’t going after all backlinks and backlink strategies.

Here’s what they are going to consider spam, though:

Obvious, low-quality, low-effort, irrelevant links.

Pretty much all of the tactics I recommend avoiding below fall into one of those categories. Let’s take a closer look.

16 Link Building Strategies to Avoid

Some people think of 15 years ago as the “good old days” of SEO. That’s when a lot of these link building strategies worked really well.

I’ll admit: It was fun when these tactics worked like a charm. But when I think about those outdated tactics, lots of cliches come to mind — “like taking candy from a baby” is a great example.

In other words, it was too easy. And Google isn’t a baby any more. They’ve grown up and gotten smarter.

That’s why these 16 link building strategies don’t work like they used to (and could get you into trouble):

1. Fiverr and Other Cheap Link Building Services


Fiverr is the home of cheap online services. You won’t have any trouble at all finding link builders on the platform.

But I can guarantee that if you buy 2,700 dofollow contextual backlinks for $10, you will be in trouble with Google very quickly.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen sites get manual actions from Google after their owners bought backlinks on Fiverr. And then they have to pay thousands to get out of the mess they’re in.

It’s not going to save you money. It’s going to cost you — big time.

The problem with Fiverr link building services is that nobody sells links on high-authority sites for that cheap. So, the provider is either lying or putting your link on a site that has gamed the system.

And Google doesn’t like that. Not one little bit.

2. Scholarship Link Building

If you’re reading about backlinks, it won’t take long before you see someone talking about how great it is to get links from educational institutions with .edu top-level domains.

They’re not wrong. But the link building tactic born from that fact no longer works.

It used to look like this:
scholarship-spam-links

Your personal injury law firm sets up a $500 scholarship and creates a page about it on your website. Then you tell a bunch of schools about the scholarship.

Many of those schools will link to your scholarship page on their own pages that list scholarships students can apply for.

Boom — dozens of .edu backlinks.

At one time, it worked like a charm. But Google has gotten smarter.

The problem with this tactic nowadays is one of relevance. How relevant is a link to your site from a school with anchor text like “scholarship” or similar?

Not that relevant — unless you’re trying to rank for keywords with “scholarship” in them. (Which you aren’t if you’re a law firm.) And Google knows that.

So, yes, you can get backlinks with scholarships. But don’t expect those links to result in long-term rankings gains.

3. Charitable Link Building

This is just like the scholarship link building scheme. It used to work and was a good fit for local businesses like law firms. But now, it doesn’t work.

The basic idea is that your business sponsors something or gives to a local charity, and that sponsored organization links to your website.

Again, this tactic very often WILL get you backlinks — often from authoritative local websites. But those links (and their accompanying anchor text) are not likely to be relevant to your business or website.

And when you’re getting links from irrelevant places, Google will often ignore them when it comes to passing ranking authority.

4. Low-Quality Directory Links

Many online business directories offer a paid option that includes a link back to your website. And many businesses jump on that opportunity.

There’s nothing wrong with getting links from the right kinds of directories. But there IS something wrong with getting links from every directory under the sun and calling it link building.

Why? Because many directories are worthless.

They’re not relevant to your site or business. Or they’re a fly-by-night operation with no traffic or authority.

Trust me — there are thousands of these low-quality directories. People can start them with little overhead and then rake in money from people who mistakenly think their links are worth something.

They’re not. And if you buy directory links from every possible directory, you could spend tens of thousands of dollars per month and see little to no traction in the rankings.

Stick with the well-known directories in your industry or geographic area. And ignore the rest in favor of stronger, more relevant links.

5. Blog Commenting for Links

Every time someone suggests blog comments as a link building tactic, I roll my eyes so hard I’m afraid I’m going to get a permanent eye injury.

You’ve seen this before. It’s a comment on a blog post that usually reads something like this:

“Dear, this is great contents. I am learned a lot from the it. https://spamsite.com/”

Here’s the thing:

This is another one of those link building tactics that worked once upon a time. And by once upon a time, I mean 2004.

In 2005, the “nofollow” link attribute was invented. And this spammy link building tactic died with it.

Google can easily see which links are coming from user-generated comments on blogs. And it ignores those comments.

6. Press Releases for Links

It sounds like such a good idea:

You write a press release with a link to your website in it. You syndicate it on thousands of websites. And you get thousands of backlinks.

Google can see what you did there. It can see that the content containing your link is exactly the same everywhere it appears.

(And it can see that most websites that actually syndicate press releases are pretty low quality.)

So, it’s not going to care that much about links in press releases. And you shouldn’t either.

7. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

A PBN is a network of sites you — or your link builder — own. They all are topically relevant and (hopefully) generating organic traffic.

The point is to use them to build links pointing to your business website.

PBNs work. Until they don’t. When they stop working, that usually means Google has found them out.

When Google discovers a PBN that exists for the sole purpose of building backlinks and gaming the SEO system, it can — and will — punish the sites trying to get away with it.

You don’t want to be swept up in that mess. And trust me — Google WILL eventually discover the PBN your link builder is using.

8. Viral Link Campaigns

Who doesn’t want to go viral? It’s great marketing, but if you’re doing it just to build backlinks, you’re doing it wrong.

Viral link campaigns used to work really well. You’d come up with some sort of campaign that would catch on and spread — and it would involve participants linking to a particular page on your website made solely for the viral campaign.

Then, after the viral campaign is over, you redirect the campaign page that got all those links to your homepage or some money page on your site.

Relevance is once again the problem here. The links you could drum up with a viral customer campaign won’t likely be from sites that are relevant to your niche.

(That’s not to mention the fact that they may not have any traffic or could even be spammy.)

So, in the end, the links amount to not very much.

Hear me out: I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to go viral. I’m just saying this is not a viable (or reliable) way to build links.

9. Forum Spam Links

There are lots of forums, and each contains lots of opportunities for subpar link builders to spam a bunch of their clients’ links into responses.

They put some sort of thin response in a forum and then link to your site with anchor text like “learn more here.”

Try that out on Reddit. You won’t like the results.
reddit spam backlinks

Moderators of forums will delete your post or, worse, ban you altogether. They’ve been wise to this spammy tactic for years.

The other thing? Links in most forums are tagged as nofollow, meaning they’re not all that helpful for SEO even if you manage to get them to stick.

10. Automatic Link Building Programs

I’m not going to bother naming them here because I do NOT recommend them. But you might’ve encountered them (or their salespeople) before: automatic link building software programs.

If you’re looking to build hundreds of links fast with no care for authority or how they’ll affect your SEO, then go for it.

But otherwise, you’ll want to avoid these.

The central problem is that these are automatic, machine learning-based programs that use dark, spammy tactics to build links for you.

Google is constantly getting better at detecting non-human link building like this. It’s a central goal at Google HQ, I’m fairly certain.

So, even if you find an auto link builder that works for a minute, it won’t work forever. And when Google figures it out, all the links you’ve built will be next to worthless.

11. Links from Online Badges and Widgets

The thing I love about link builders — and the thing that often gets them into trouble with Google — is that they’re so creative.

Back in what must have been 2002, link builders came up with yet another link building trick. It was all about badges or website widgets.

They’d create some kind of site widget or badge-worthy item that their client’s site could give to other sites to display. The digital item would include a link to the client’s site.

It’s creative. And done right, it could generate hundreds of links in short order.

Alas, it doesn’t work. Not anymore. In fact, Google specifically called this tactic out years ago.

12. Redirecting Websites to Yours

This one is pretty straightforward. You pay a ton of money to acquire a website that already has backlinks. Then, you redirect that site to yours, passing the backlink signals your way.

For one thing, redirects can dilute link power in many cases.

For another, Google isn’t stupid. It’s only going to want to pass those inbound link signals from one site to another if it’s clear that the old site is the same business as the new site.

But if you acquired the site, it’s not the same. It’s a separate site that earned those backlinks on its own strengths.

So, while this tactic may work for a short time, it won’t work over the long term. Plus, it’s REALLY expensive to acquire websites, and doing it at scale for link building purposes is going to be outside of most businesses’ budgets.

13. Contests for Links

Holding some kind of contest that asks participants to link to your site as part of their submission will generate a TON of backlinks.

But those backlinks will likely be irrelevant. And will likely use useless — if not completely terrible — anchor text.

The good news is you don’t have to waste your time with an essay contest where high school students BS you about what personal injury law means to them.

The bad news is that, if you’ve done this in the past, you wasted time and resources for links that are doing very little for you now.

14. Footer and Sidebar Links

You’ve probably seen this before: The footer of some website you’re on says “Powered by [company name]” and the company name is a link to that company’s website.
spam-footer-sidebar-links

It’s usually a website design company or SEO company. And it’s fine, but those links aren’t helping those companies rank well.

Google can see them, and they’re all exactly the same. Also, they’re often on sites that aren’t relevant to the destination site. It’s just not worth your time or effort.

15. Thousands of Random Nofollow Links

Some link builders think they’re smarter than the whole team at Google. They might be smart, but they’re not that smart.

Still, they’ll try to come up with all kinds of ways to fool Google. One of the most complicated — and ultimately, worthless — is to use software to create a huge, complicated footprint of links.

These links are usually nofollow links. And they often are spaced out by red herring filter sites. Then filtered back through some keyword-rich anchor text and blasted your way. And so on.

The complexity is the point. The idea is that you get a ton of random nofollow backlinks that are so entangled with and around one another that Google could never conceivably unravel the mystery and see what you’re doing.

Think again. Google thrives on complexity. It likes to take the tangled web of, well, the web and simplify it.

It will, eventually, simplify even the most complicated low-quality link building scheme. And if you’re the bad guy getting their mask taken off by Scooby and the gang at the end, you’re going to get on Google’s bad side.

16. Social Bookmark Links

Social bookmarking sites let you add links to other websites for later viewing or reviewing. They’re not built for link building, but spammers have decided to use them for that.

It doesn’t work. And I’ve even seen it backfire and result in algorithmic downgrading for sites that are doing it manually for the purpose of manipulating the rankings.

Best to avoid it and focus on what really matters: high-quality link building.

What You Should Do Instead

Great — now we know all the link strategies to avoid. So, what should you do instead?

Focus on quality. Focus on referring domains that get real organic traffic. Relevance, authority and real traffic are essential link building metrics for the modern age of SEO.

It’s not as easy as it used to be, but I read that as a good thing.

Link building done right is hard work, but the payoff is even better when we weed out the spammers and let those who are willing to put in the work rise to the top.

Further reading: The Google Disavow Tool – What You Need To Know

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