Links to Avoid in the Post-Google Penguin Era (With Alternatives)

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In my previous posts, I shared post-panda/penguin era link acquisition strategies, un-common and powerful link building techniques, and advanced link building strategies. But, sometimes the best way to learn is by understanding what NOT to do, and especially in the post Google Penguin era. With this post, I would like to spread the word about links to avoid while executing your link building campaign, and mention some alternatives.

SEO Strategies

Manipulative linking strategies leave footprints that can be detected and rooted out by humans and algorithms. While some manipulative link building strategies may still work, the reality is that they put your reputation at risk and are likely to result in penalties down the road. Avoid these strategies like the plague:

1. Purchased Links

Purchased links can and do still work, but there are several reasons you should never buy a link anyway.

– Purchased links are usually over-optimized, reside in the sidebar, and offer little value. Even if you are “smarter” and do a better job of making your link look “natural,” your link will reside on the same site as hundreds of unnatural links and will lose value as a result.

– There is no guarantee that a purchased link will stay on the site. In many cases, you need to keep paying a monthly fee in order for the links to stay in place. This drains your funds and leads to bad ROI over time. Site owners are free to ransom you for the link however they wish.

– A purchased link that looks completely natural requires more overall time and money to build than a genuinely natural link. Owners of sites that will never get penalized by the search engines have very high-quality standards, and will demand those same standards from any content you offer them, whether you pay for inclusion or not. The lower their standards get, the more obvious the footprint becomes, until eventually you will lose all the value when their site gets penalized.

Alternative: Offer value to site owners. Rather than throwing money at them, use your resources to provide a service for them. Use this as an opportunity to build a relationship that results in links.

2. Redirecting

It may be possible to boost rankings by purchasing domains and redirecting them toward yours, or to “hide” manipulative links by pointing them to domains that redirect to yours. There are several reasons this is a bad idea:

– A URL that redirects to a different one will never accumulate links of its own, so this is the most unnatural link imaginable. Google can clearly see when a redirect was put in place and it would be extremely obvious to them that any links accumulated afterward were completely unnatural. This is a terrible way to “hide” manipulation.

–  Google’s caches clearly identify what the purpose of the old domain was, as well as what its link graph looked like. There is nothing natural about two completely disconnected link graphs on the same site that discuss completely different topics.

Alternative: Use redirects strategically to grow your brand. Hire bloggers in the same niche and move their blogs onto your own site. Redirect their original blog to the new one, and strategically link the blogs together for reasons that are helpful to users. Make it obvious to Google that the redirect from the old site to the new one is actually useful to fans of the old blog.

3. Link Exchanges

A link exchange is when you trade links with another site in order to build links. There is one big misconception I’d like to clear up about this before explaining why it’s a bad idea:

Myth: Link exchanges are bad because the links cancel each other out and you lose all the “link juice” you got from the exchange.

This is completely untrue. It is completely natural and it makes perfect sense for your site to link out as well as get links. Links away from your site do not “subtract” value, as long as they make sense and don’t lead to spam. Instead, link exchanges are a bad idea because:

– People who exchange links just to get links are also involved in other manipulative techniques, so these links pass little value and may eventually bring penalties.

– There is no rhyme or reason to the links that come in to a site that exchanges links, instead of building them naturally.

–  A link from a site that only gets links from exchanges is useless, because the site leaves a very clear footprint when it does so.

Alternative: Work on collaborative projects with reputable site owners. Yes, these will result in shared links between the two sites, but only as a side effect of the project. Big sites link to one another all the time, but they don’t leave artificial profiles because the links aren’t artificial and there are standards in place.

4. Overzealous or Mediocre Guest Posting

You should already know that you shouldn’t do “article marketing,” in which the same article or an algorithmically modified version of it is posted on hundreds of sites. But the fact of the matter is that this is just as true for sub-par guest posts, and this is why:

– Google already has quality detection algorithms (panda) and they are getting better. A low-quality guest post on a high-quality site is rare, so low-quality guest posts aren’t going to offer a great deal of value. The vast majority of them will come from sites that have been or will be hit by Panda updates, losing value over time.

– It is true that you can get some value out of low-quality guest posts, but for the amount of work involved the benefits just aren’t there. You can spend two hours on an article and get it posted to a site where most pages have an authority around 50, or spend two hours writing 12 articles that will pick up a page authority of one or two. The impact just isn’t worth the effort in the second case.

Alternative: The obvious alternative is to spend more time on your guest posts and get them on high-quality sites, as already mentioned. Another alternative is to invest those short 10-minute sessions on conversations with people in social media and email that lead to relationships and ultimately links.

5. Comments, Social Media Profiles, Forum Profiles, etc.

I’m lumping these together because they’re all basically the same thing. Notice I didn’t use the word “spam” either. I’ve done this deliberately, because links from these sites are effectively useless for direct search engine benefit. There are ways to leverage these for massive benefits (both in and out of SEO) but this is not because of link building.

– Most links from comments, social networks, and forums are no-followed and, as a result, pass no benefit.

– Google can clearly isolate comments from contextual links even in cases where links are followed. Google may count no-followed links from social networks, but has no interest in single links (especially from isolated profiles with no influence). Google is only interested in viral behavior. Google has even less interest in forums.

Alternative: Use comments, social media, and forums to connect with influential people who have sites of their own. Additionally, focus on building connections with people in your niche, not on “web marketing” forums etc (unless that’s where you’re trying to build reputation).

6. Interlinked Domains

Finally, another tactic that some spammers use is to set up several sites and link them together. This may help with rankings in some cases, but it’s a bad idea because:

– Sites hosted on the same account are often on the same server, or similar servers, so that it is obvious they are all owned by the same entity. Getting around this means paying much more for hosting.

– It’s very difficult to build a large network of sites that adhere to any sort of quality standard. The variance of all kinds of criteria on these sites will not match the variance of natural link networks, and the same goes for the network of links themselves.

– Assuming you are able to build a network large enough to pass any benefit and that looks completely natural, the amount of work you will end up doing will be far more than for a single site. Why write a high-quality article for a peripheral site you own when you could write it for your money site, or for a link from a high-quality site with age and reputation?

Alternative: Focus all of your efforts on one site so that you can build up domain authority faster.


Spam and low-quality tactics don’t just present an ethical dilemma, they almost always offer a lower ROI than more involved strategies. The effort that goes into manipulative links provides very little value, and the risks are much higher that your site will ultimately be penalized or demoted as a result. Focus on efforts that offer long-term benefits and more impact for the work you put in.

Image credit: Link Building – courtesy © alain wacquier –

Pratik Dholakiya

Pratik Dholakiya

Co-Founder & VP of Marketing at E2M
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of E2M, a digital marketing agency and, a mobile apps development company. Pratik has been featured on sites like Forbes, Moz, SEW, SEJ, KISSmetrics, Entrepreneur and FastCompany to name a few. Hit him up on Twitter @DholakiyaPratik for a quick chat.
Pratik Dholakiya
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  • naz

    Hi im setting up a site soon, sort of a directory with 100s if not thousands of pages created. I was going to put athe company link along side the copywrite on the footer just as you have here on sej. Would this be a problem as alot of links to the site would be accumalated immediately? Sorry i know this is a novice question

    • Lou

      Naz as long as your website contains a footer section in the source code, then adding in an internal link next to your copyright should not be a problem. The footer section is typically used in best practice is for information pertaining to some sort of website appendix, index or colophon so I think you should be fine. Good luck with your site.

      • naz

        Thank you Lou!

  • Steve Longoria

    Most link building strategies are an attempt to manipulate the search results, It artificially gives a site a higher relevance score, thereby increasing it’s rank.

    I believe the only acceptable strategy is simply to produce great content and let that serve as link-bait. Quality guest posts on authority sites are also great.

    • Jignesh

      Very true, very well said. This is what exactly Google has been shouting. Put efforts in great content and while doing that, forget everything else… even PR.

    • Terry

      I’m in complete agreement with you Steve. Quality back links are important, along with a search engine compliant website.

  • Terry Van Horne

    “Links away from your site do not “subtract” value, as long as they make sense and don’t lead to spam. Instead, link exchanges are a bad idea because”

    Ummm sorry every link added to a page subtracts as link equity is spread equally across all links on the page. The myth is more about them cancelling one another out…that would have been an easy fix to reciprocals…but it has never been done AFAIK and no one will never know because that stuff can’t be isolated outside of Google

    • Carter

      Why does this myth refuse to die? Why would Google devalue a page just because it has outbound links on it? Citation is one of the hallmarks of good content, and links are the stuff that Google is made of. Why would Google dis-incentivise the use of its most powerful ranking signal? It doesn’t make any sense at all. All of my highest performing pages have plenty of outbound links on them. To not cite your sources is called plagiarism.

  • susheel singh

    Link building is good if you are getting links from different IP based website s . we need to create links from relevant website with good neighborhood. we also need to create 1 link from 1 site otherwise it will increase the negative marking.

    Instead of Link popularity , we should also work on content as content is the king in term of SEO. Content should be relevant to the topic with proper keyword density, title and meta data . viewer always like to come to your website on regular basis , if you are providing them some useful information in a descriptive way with the help of relevant images and authority websites links.

  • parfum original

    can you give me suggestion how to get my website into p[age 1 google post penguin?is backlink building still useable?

  • Christopher

    I agree with Steve above….link building is just an attempt to game the system…write viral good quality content and the visitors will come…share it on your social media and it will get found.

  • Tony

    I am against this whole “paid link” argument. Google doesn’t know. They just know if you over optimized your Anchors… whether paid or unpaid. Everyone says the same stupid BS about viral content or share this and that… you realize the amount of noize going on? If you are a plumber… you need links…period. Spammy low quality links with just your domain as the anchor. Then you need stuff like sponsored reviews and other ways to pay your way to traffic. Buying a link, like the author is indicating, does NOT always come with a sh$= load of over optimized anchors. Or in the side bar. This is folly. Like webmasters don’t know what they got in their inbox from Google four months ago.

    FACT IS… Google realized THEIR PRODUCT was being manipulated (paid or unpaid) by VERY effective SEOs. Google has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the authority of their results, and as such, brings a hammer down when a scalpel is needed.

    5 months ago, over optimized anchors was the way to dominate. Now it’s not. They know NOTHING about paid or unpaid. They only changed the game…. get over it.

    • Carter

      I don’t think the author was saying Google knows all and sees all. I think he was saying that it takes more resources to buy links that are immune to penalties than it takes to build them without spending money on them.

  • Ibrahim Kamrul Shafin


    Thanks for the article.

    Do you think purchasing a dofollow permanent link from Fiverr on a simialar niche is harmful?

    Waiting for your reply.

  • Abigail Lim

    Building quality links seem to be quite a challenge these days. Do postings in various online directories considered as undesirable, at least in the long term? They bring in traffic quick enough to the main website though. Will using the same web content in these online advertisement directories penalize the main website, post panda era?

  • WLC

    I’m just not sure what to do now. Do I need to put all the extra work in to get links or just work on high quality content that will get shared by others? I am thinking focusing on my website will give me more payback in the future… but not sure.

  • Terry

    Very good information on the importance of building quality links.

  • cdhama samith

    But still google loves forum posts….

  • Matt Colangelo

    Good points and advice. Most forms of paid links do not help with rankings any longer, but I think there is 1 big exception to this rule. I find that paying to be considered / included in good quality web directory with PR4 + definitely has a positive impact on rankings. Also, writing and submitting unique articles to just 1 high PR article directory at a time also helps should it be done on a regular basis.

  • Jignesh

    “Rather than throwing money at them, use your resources to provide a service for them.” – Well said, Pratik.