6 Dead Link Building Tactics You Should Avoid

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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. 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:

Paid Links

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.

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.

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.

Image credit: Casscountynd.gov

Jayson DeMers
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or... Read Full Bio
Jayson DeMers
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  • I used this strategies, but m still not convinced with the performance of my website. How much time does it takes before it reflects what I need? Now Since Google keeps updating its search algorithm, my website gets affected..

    • It sounds like you’re using these tactics and your website is not performing well… that doesn’t surprise me; these tactics worked years ago, but no longer do.

  • YiannisG

    Don’t you think that you sound a bit arrogant calling black hat seo sellers “scam “SEO agencies” who “prowl the web”? So the web would be a better place if people like you were doing link building and those scams were off yes? This is an one side post that offers nothing new , sorry. While I appreciate everything you say, black hat exists cause a) the algorithm you worship is not working as it should be and b) black hat works.

    Also the “scams” you mention do not go on companies’ doorsteps offering deals. You need to visit web sites with a big banner on top saying “BLACK HAT” to track and pay for such a service. If one is naive enough to not realise that black hat techniques will harm them or if they know what they are getting into and still go for it then how do you justify calling people that can offer such service “Scams”?

    This is not a personal bash btw or am in any mood to support $5/hour people who make my job much harder because they know how to abuse a search engine, I am just tired seeing these kind of posts which pretty much repeat SEO Moz and Matt CUtts videos. Have you actually run your own tests? I run 2 test blogs as we speak where I practise different techniques (white, grey, black) and I can guarantee you that Penguin is not working as great as you think it is. And ofcourse I can give you specific techniques, numbers and graphs not “I cant tell you” answers.

    • I don’t think it sounds arrogant to say that, because I think it’s true. If you don’t agree, that’s okay.

      I’d love to see your specific techniques, numbers, and graphs — do you have them published anywhere?

      • Yiannis

        Not at the moment as they are still ranking on page one. I want to make a case study once they go down to explain the whole journey. I test 2 kind of link building techniques. One with blog commenting and one with social mentions only. The latter is on page 2 atm while the first one on top5 for 9 keyphrases.

        Ofcourse I do not recommend this for anyone who is serious about branding. It;s more like to understand the algorythm. Lately blog comments are placed to irrelevant with the topic blogs and rankings have been stable. Once I downrank I will release all findings

    • Alan

      I can tell you that I used a few guys on Fiverr that got me hundreds of backlinks and facebook likes, etc. Obviously black hat link building and marketing. At first I saw a small bump in website ranking, and then when the new google changes came along, there was NO doubt that my ranking was effected negatively. I literally dropped off. Where I was originally able to be found on the first two pages, now I cannot find my site on the 20th page. I got dinged. It was a good thing I did not do this on all my websites.

  • Nice write Jayson… I agree on most of them, but just wanted to know your views about Social Bookmarking… Should that be done in bulk for promotion of posts we make on blog? Could they still hamper?

    • Thanks! Social bookmarking is pretty much useless outside of StumbleUpon and Reddit. When you say “in bulk,” nothing in SEO should ever really be done in bulk (except for publication of awesome content).

  • Small Business Owners specially online Business Starters are not aware of Google Quality Updates that’s why they are buying cheap link .

  • James Halloran

    Very nice post, Jayson! I think a lot of these companies still buy this idea that the search algorithms can be easily tampered with, so they continue to buy outdated “black hat” tactics from people who call themselves “SEO professionals.” Obviously Google is keeping everyone on their toes, so it’s wise for companies to realize this as soon as possible. If they keep thinking these cheap links will help them rank, they’re in for a sad surprise a couple years from now.

  • This article looks more like a promotion and less like a guidance! We know this already! Is there anything new on how to get new links?

    • Satish, that’s great you know these things, but many folks still don’t, clearly. Webmasters and business owners are falling prey to these tactics all the time. I still get emails every day from companies promising me these tactics will work to “improve my website SEO” for only $99/month. Ridiculous.

    • Neko

      I agree. This is a self advertising post if anything. Looking at the prices on the site, it is also seriously ridiculous at what customers are being sold on. His backlink analysis “starts at $999”, any agency you are working on will include that as part of their SEO, not sell it at ridiculous premiums to look at Ahrefs, Google WMT & MajesticSEO for you.

      Side note, the author of this post also talks about things like “low quality press releases”, and their own ‘services’ offers press releases. Free advice for anyone reading through the comments, write your own, and just use the business/site name as the default anchor text (while providing guidance of what you do in the same paragraph), as it will be spread all over the web if it is picked up and you don’t want keyword rich anchors by the hundreds from PR scraping sites.

  • I have never purchased backlinks. Everyday it just gets more scary to use them

  • Really it seems like a promotional post rather than a informative post. Couldn’t find anything new.

    • Sorry you couldn’t find anything new. Many folks are still falling victim to firms offering these tactics, so I hope they found it helpful.

      • Yeah, that can be helpful for them, if they follow the advice and take action. But i am more eager to read your next post on “the types of links you should be getting as well as how to help your business thrive in this post-Penguin age.”

  • We’ve had a bunch of clients come in claiming their site was ranking first before the most recent Google update. I think so many companies still just don’t understand SEO and how it works, so they buy in to link building schemes because they don’t even know what they are. Great post!

  • Not being rude but I feel this post offers no value. The tactics mentioned to avoid have been covered numerous times I was expecting the post to be dated 2008

  • Jayson It would be best If you could give us some ideas about what techniques these days are more preferred except Guest blogging? Techniques that will keep our website safe from any major future Google alg. updates.Will be waiting for your reply!

  • Thanks! I completely agree. Link building does not equal SEO.

  • Yes of course if we want to rank well in search engines than we should avoid this 6 link building tactics.

  • What’s about the submission of article on ezinearticles? I think they are worthy.

  • At the end of the day, I think that it boils down to link diversity vs. link velocity and having great content that people want to share to obtain social signals. If you focus on these things, everything else should naturally fall into place.

  • Mike

    Some bad advice here. I wouldn’t bother getting rid of “bad” links unless you’ve been penalized. If you submitted some press releases and articles to free sites back in 2008 (like everyone else was), I don’t think it will affect your rankings either way today.

  • Good post Jayson, I know some people are bashing your for reminding us about the lazy way to do SEO, but I appreciate the reminder. As well, I am excited that in order to rank high, then your website needs to be structured properly and filled with high quality, well constructed content. Content wins!!!

  • A question about what is a “paid” link: I have a new e-commerce site. In addition to the primary niche, I am also promoting the fact that all of my products are made in the USA. There are some blogs dedicated to “Made in the USA” and I’ve seen some that offer, for a fee, a blog post about your company and also an ad link in the sidebar. I was considering doing this – but is it a bad idea?

  • This i a great list to avoid, but I think this thing still works if you do it right. Also I don’t focus on link building alone I combined it with social signals to make it natural.