Search engine optimization never stands still. It must evolve quickly to stay on top of the algorithm updates released by Google’s never-resting R&D team.
Neither digital marketers nor SEO professionals are machines who can easily upload and process dozens of GBs of data. We are humans, and it takes us time to research, learn, and adapt new promotion and optimization techniques to our everyday processes. It is difficult, so many prefer to stay inside their comfort zones until Google hits really hard.
In this article, I’m not going to challenge you to leave your safe SEO waters. What I’m going to do, though, is dig deeper into the history of search engine optimization and cover old school off-page optimization methods, which will definitely get your site penalized by Google today. So, let’s start our time machine and get going!
#1 Link Building with “Rented” Paid Links
Nowadays, paid links are strictly forbidden by Google. However, once upon a time, link purchasing was the lifeblood of black- and grey-hat SEO. It was effective and cost-efficient. Their off-page optimization strategy was pretty straightforward:
- Buy backlinks in bulk
- Stuff your site with those links
- Wait until SERPs improve
Only battle-scarred SEO-veterans know that there were different types of paid links. To name a few:
- Automatically generated links
- Permanent links
- Link spam (from blogs, forums, and comment sections)
- Bookmark links
- Signature links
Yet, so-called “rented” links were undoubtedly leading this soon-to-be-banished crowd.
What is link renting, then?
Basically, “rented” or brokered paid links are links that you use for a limited period of time. When your “rent period” is over, you can either rent the links again or they’ll go back on the market for other SEO ninjas to purchase and use them for their sites.
You may ask: “Why would I pay for links that will be taken away from my site in a month or two?”
If this is your question, you may not know how websites were optimized before the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates.
The blunt truth is: Link renting was perfect for earning money. If you were an SEO, of course.
Let’s say you have a site to optimize and promote. You suggest that your client purchase “rented” links because they get high ranking on Google. Obviously, the client agrees to pay. Then, you stuff your client’s web pages and content with these links, and the site enjoys impressive SERPs… until your link package expires and is sold to another SEO pro. The client pays for links once more, and you continue to get paid as you optimize the site one more time. Nobody works for free, right?
Obviously, this can be seen as cheating. SEO pros could keep their clients on a tight leash, making sure that they would never get rankings high enough to stop investing in links. For the better, Google put a stop to that kind of cheating.
Remember: Link purchasing and link renting are (and were) illegitimate off-page optimization practices. If you ever get caught buying or renting links from webmasters or link farms, your links will be devalued and your site — penalized.
#2 Use of Paid Permanent Links
Here’s when we should have a closer look at off-page optimization in the 2000’s.
Basically, there were two battling houses: House “Rented” Paid Links, which I mentioned above, and House Paid Permanent Links. The lesser houses answered directly to those two.
The followers of House Paid Permanent Links believed in “high-quality search engine optimization” (Yeah, that’s what they called it). By high-quality, they meant that “rented” links were not an option. Instead, they focused on purchasing paid permalinks: links that you pay for once and use permanently.
To tell the truth, House Paid Permanent Links was a much nobler house than House “Rented” Paid Links. It was against cheating clients and did their best to optimize sites well.
The only problem being paid permanent links are as forbidden as temporarily “rented” links.
Remember: If you ever come upon an article that praises permanent links (there were plenty of those in the 2000’s), don’t read it. Or, analyze it as a historical document, but don’t follow it’s instructions. Paid permanent links are a no-no.
#3 Automatic Link Purchase and Generation
I personally consider this to be one of the most disgusting off-page optimization methods that has ever been used in the SEO community.
Just imagine: You don’t need to create content, optimize on-page factors, or make your site mobile- and user-friendly; your only goal is to automatically generate or buy links from third-party services. More links, higher SERPs.
Many SEO professionals understood that automatic links were no good, but, nonetheless, kept buying and generating them en masse, using such services as Rookie, SEO Hammer, and WebEffector.
Automatically-generated links were cheap, efficient, and tempting. Only the bravest could resist the allure of doing SEO so easily.
Of course, both automatically-purchased and automatically-generated links are no longer a safe option. Some black- and grey-hat SEOs still use them, though. They trick Google by pushing these links onto sites gradually and systematically. But you don’t want to be that kind of an SEO professional, I hope.
Remember: Automatic links are the fastest way to fall from Google’s top results. Use them and you will be harshly penalized. So, just stay away from services that offer “Magnificent link building results for $5 per package of high-quality, automatically-generated links!” They never work!
#4 Link Spamming via Bookmark Services
To remember this method, you might be old enough to remember the times of “old” sites. By “old” sites, I mean sites that weren’t convenient to use.
Let’s imagine you have read a really interesting, useful, and valuable article on SEJ. What are you going to do next? Well, most likely you will share it on your social networks with social sharing buttons, right?
The only problem is, with old sites, you didn’t have any social buttons. For real.
If you enjoyed reading or watching anything, you had to copy a link and paste it into Twitter or Facebook. Needless to say, “old” sites weren’t user-friendly.
However, while users struggled, SEO flourished.
Social links were as valued as regular, organic links. You could easily build dozens of backlinks by sharing content from your site and blog and it didn’t take much time at all. All you had to do was rely on such tools as Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious, and URL.org for mass sharing.
These sites are social bookmarking services. Users used them to keep, share, and discover content. The services themselves weren’t cheesy, but SEO professionals harnessed them to trick the system.
Because social links had similar link juice to organic links, SEOs felt free to abuse bookmarks and spam social networks with links. Surely, Google had to act quickly to put an end to this easy-cheesy link building method that flooded each and every social network with junk bookmarks.
Remember: Don’t use social bookmarks to spam links from your site. First off, they are no longer as important to your SERPs as they used to be. Second, Google detects spam with no problem. So, if you don’t want your site to get penalized, concentrate on building links through natural methods like creating, posting, and sharing high-quality content.
#5 Creation of Microsites, Satellites, PBNs
Links are still essential to the progress and growth of any website. Years ago, the situation was even worse, though: Link quality mattered more than link quantity, but it wasn’t obvious.
SEOs quickly came to the conclusion that: If links are so important, why should I rely on link farms that sell low-quality, junk links? I can build and drive links on my own. All I need is to create a network of microsites and satellites that pass their link juice to my home site.
The idea of owning private blog networks (PBNs) was so tempting that, even today, some black-hat SEO pros risk it. Here are some “fruits” to owning a PBN:
- Full control over links
- Easy adjustment and edits of anchor texts
- Free link juice from newly acquired domains (when they are high-quality).
Anyway, the idea behind microsites, satellites, and PBNs is simple: You, not Google, influence your home website ranking position in search. Yet, with great power comes great responsibility.
Google’s penalty is inevitable if any factor (flagged IPs, penalized domains, similar anchor texts, thin content) suggests that your site has anything to do with this forbidden technique.
Remember: Use of microsites, satellites, and private blog networks must be out of the question for you. Follow this advice if your reputation means anything to you. Beware!
#6 Link Spamming in Directories and Listings
Before Google came into power, multiple directories and listings (i.e. Yahoo) ruled the Web. Basically, if you needed to look up anything in search, you typed in, say, “Yahoo” and scrolled through thousands of links and ads. Not very convenient.
Google dominates search now, but directories and listings are still alive and kicking. They are hardly as popular as they once were, but they are still considered, by many, to be a viable source of high-quality backlinks.
There’s nothing wrong with listing your company on Yellow Pages, Yelp, Citysearch, or Angie’s List, but remember: Directories and listings were once heavily abused by black-, grey-, and even white-hat SEO experts.
Similar to social links, links from all directories and listings were useful for SEO. As a result, the Web was flooded with thousands of low-quality directories that nobody, except search crawlers, ever accessed.
Today, if you want to register on any directory, you should research your niche, sift out trustworthy directories, write and add unique descriptions to your directory listings, and upload visually appealing images.
Back then, all you needed to do was purchase XRumer, the king of spammy services. It was used to:
- Scan a targeted niche to detect directories and listings
- Generate multiple descriptions for selected directories
- Register on selected directories
- Upload descriptions to finish account creation.
Basically, having XRumer and a single description was enough to generate thousands of links. In most cases, the links weren’t perfect, but they still worked nicely to boost SERPs.
This technique was widely used until Google started to prioritize quality over quantity. When Google Penguin devalued tons of low-quality links, spammy linking backfired, dropping ranking positions for about 3% of total queries.
Remember: Directories and listings should be used to cement your site’s authoritative position in local search. However, link spamming should be avoided at all costs. You are better off registering your site on 10 high-quality directories than spamming it on thousands of low-quality, junk ones. Spamming equals to lower rankings. Always.
#7 Automatic Link Posting on Blogs and Forums
This old school SEO practice is basically a twin brother of the previously mentioned one. Links from blogs, forums, and associated comments used to be indexed as organic ones. Outsource companies employed hundreds of “professionals” to spread spammy comments. As a result, blogs and forums quickly turned into a mess.
But that was only the half of it.
To generate and post comments, the infamous XRumer was used, too. It worked like this: type a comment into XRumer → wait until it scans the Web for matching blogs and forums → click a button to start generating comment copies → autopost pre-generated comments onto selected blogs and forums.
XRumer registered your personas, so manual operations were reduced to a minimum. You could build dozens of backlinks without any fine tuning or polishing of your site, content, usability, conversion forms, etc.
Automatic link posting on blogs and forums was so popular that it became a daily routine. You could easily purchase, generate, and automatically post thousands of links, every day. And, to tell the truth, only a few could stand out of that sea of sameness.
Google no longer takes blog- and forum-related links into account. Yet, blogs and forums are still a viable source of links. Even if these links (and associated comments) don’t help you get better SERPs, they drive targeted traffic, increase awareness, and build reputation.
Remember: Blogs and forums are effective to target audiences in specific industries (e.g. health, beauty, wellness, cosmetology). Leaving a link or two that lead to your products and services is always helpful, but don’t step out of the line. You can be harshly punished for spamming.
#8 Purchase of Forum Signature Links
This technique is a genius one.
Imagine that you are desperate for money, and a bold thought strikes your mind: What about creating multiple accounts on blogs, leaving thousands of comments on these blogs, and then selling link space?
The logic is simple: All blog links are as juicy as organic ones. The more comments I post, the more links I will potentially generate for someone who is going to pay me for them. Brilliant.
Today, signature links can be used for awareness purposes. However, in some cases, they can significantly drop SERPs (if a blog is deemed low-trust). I wouldn’t recommend using these type of links, at all.
Remember: Once, signature links could cost dozens of dollars per account. Nowadays, this practice is likely to get your site penalized rather than have any positive effect on its ranking. So, they are a no-no.
Having read this article, you might think: “SEO of the good old days was actually terrible. You had to buy links and push your way through with manipulative techniques.”
I’m not going to argue with that. Indeed, many SEO practices of the past are forbidden now. However, if you look at it from a different perspective, you paid for what you got. The more you paid for links, the higher ranking position you came away within search results.
Today, it is quite another story. We don’t definitively know how Google works, and search algorithms are so smart that you have to play by their rules. SEO has become much more complex than it used to be. It has evolved into search engine marketing (SEM), but that isn’t a bad thing. It makes us strategize and adjust to the new realities of search.
Featured Image: Shaiith79/DepositPhotos
Screenshots by Sergey Grybniak. Taken February 2017.