Thanks to Google’s Penguin algorithm, bad links are a dreaded reality these days. They can cause rankings to tank, along with website traffic and profits.
Acquiring the wrong types of inbound links can be very risky, and if caught by Google’s Penguin algorithm, can be very expensive to recover from. In the end, most businesses will spend more to clean up their bad backlinks than they would to acquire good ones in the first place.
Link building has changed drastically in just the last few years. Some of the major changes are outlined in my article, “10 Differences Between Old and New Link Building Techniques.” So, what types of links should be avoided to minimize the risk of being caught by Google’s animal hit squad?
Inbound Links to Avoid
Google has been saying for a while that there are certain types of links that should be avoided. Some great examples of bad links are:
It doesn’t matter whether you are buying or selling paid links. In the post-Penguin era, Google has clearly stated to stay away from these types of links. Even if you have paid links from 2 years ago that Google has not yet found, get rid of them as quickly as possible.
Article Directory Links
Just a couple years ago, article directory links were easy to acquire, and, most importantly, they worked. Unfortunately, low-quality spun content and distribution software caused them to become severely abused. Google has penalized many article directories as a result, and this tactic is no longer useful for SEO purposes.
Link Exchanges / (a.k.a. reciprocal link schemes)
Link exchanges were popular for years. The whole concept of “you link to me and I’ll link back to you” was a common practice among webmasters. However, it became abused, and no longer provides any SEO value (though it may still have value for referral click-through traffic).
Low-quality Press Releases
Because of their low-quality content and lack of editorial guidelines, many of the free press release submission websites are now probably completely disregarded by Google.
Low-Quality Directory Links and Bad Neighborhoods in General
Many of the old, free directory sites have been de-indexed by Google. Even for the ones that are still indexed, it’s not a good idea to get links from them. While there are still some industry-specific directories that are good for links (and traffic), low-quality general directory links should be avoided.
Link Pyramids, Wheels, and Other Artificial Link Building Schemes
In the May 2013 video update, Matt Cutts, head of the Google Webspam team, referenced how Penguin 2.0 improved their algorithm to thwart link spammers and better measure link quality. Many SEOs believe that link pyramids, link wheels, and other ways of artificially passing page rank through multiple layers of links is exactly what Cutts and his team are referring to in this video. Google is hunting for other methods similar to these, meaning they have a short lifespan.
How to Clean Up Those Bad Links
Unfortunately, getting rid of these bad links can be expensive. This is particularly difficult if your site has already been hit by the Google Penguin and your rankings (and a portion of your income) have disappeared. At this point, an SEO audit is needed to audit your entire list of links and determine which ones need to be removed. There are professional services available (including my company, AudienceBloom) to help with this.
After getting the list of bad links, work with website owners to remove the links. If this seems like a daunting task, it is. For sites that don’t respond to your request for removal, you can use the Google disavow tool to disavow the links.
Why Do Companies Still Buy Cheap Links?
Many businesses get themselves into trouble with the search engines by purchasing cheap links or working with SEO companies or agencies that build them. It’s not hard to understand why. Most companies want to believe they’re getting a great deal and saving money. Many of the blackhat backlink services offer cheap prices. They also have slick advertising and sales pages where they show proof and talk about the great success of their techniques.
Many of these vendors sell their services on public forums and other places claiming that their backlinks are “penguin proof”. However, in order to cut costs, they are forced to use low-quality content in order to create their backlinks. Because of the quality of their content, they have to post to places that are considered to be questionable (aka “bad neighborhoods”) because of their lack of editorial review.
These services offer phrases such as “100% tested and proven” and then offer to create for you a large number of web 2.0 properties, article directories, blog posts, social media links, and much more. If you look closely, you’ll probably even find that they include many of the types of links mentioned above that you should avoid.
These scam “SEO agencies” are still prowling the Web and selling awful links that are causing their clients to tank in the search rankings. I detailed this in my article “Getting a good deal on SEO? Think again!”
This brings us back to that old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” This is particularly true for post-Penguin SEO. Any company that claims to have some secret formula that they’re not willing to share and they guarantee you it will work, should definitely be considered suspicious. Most reputable SEO firms will explain to you exactly what they are planning to do and work with you to create a plan that incorporates the goals of your company.
The real solution to the problem of the pervasiveness of cheap links involves education. After businesses realize they’ve made a bad decision, it’s too late. At that point, they will probably stop conducting a link building campaign altogether, which may hurt their rankings even more.
Education is the key. Businesses need to understand that they have to budget for proper SEO work. Odds are good that even if their rankings have not been reduced, if they have ever gotten any bad links, it’s just a matter of time until Penguin catches up with them.
Businesses need to understand that SEO is another cost of doing business, just like any other type of marketing. In the next article, I’ll discuss the types of links you should be getting as well as how to help your business thrive in this post-Penguin age.
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