The link building process, an integral part of any solid SEO strategy, has seen a dramatic evolution over the years. The importance of building links for better search rankings can’t be overstated, as the number and quality of links pointing to your site significantly influence its ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).
However, with the rise of SEO practices aiming to rank higher, a trend of unethical and manipulative link building strategies exists. These strategies, often labelled as black hat, aimed to manipulate search engine algorithms, leading to artificially boosted rankings.
However, search engines like Google quickly respond to such practices, penalising sites that employ these techniques. Let’s take a look at how Google has dealt with these manipulative link building practices.
The Importance of Link Building in SEO
Backlinks, or links pointing to your site from other websites, act as a signal of trust to search engines. When multiple sites link to your content, search engines interpret this as an endorsement of the quality of your content. This, in turn, can boost your rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs), leading to increased traffic to your website.
But not every backlink is made equal. When analysing backlinks, Google takes the usefulness and calibre of the linking website into account. A hyperlink’s visible, clickable text, known as the anchor text, is equally important.
The source of the backlink matters, too. A link from a high-quality site or a respected industry authority carries more weight than one from a low-quality or irrelevant site. Google wants businesses to earn links ethically where it says that any attempt to manipulate search engine rankings through unethical link building practices can lead to penalties.
The use of link schemes is expressly discouraged by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which state that any links used to influence a site’s position in search results may be deemed to be a part of a link scheme and subject to a manual action penalty.
Also Read: What is Tiered Link Building?
White Hat and Black Hat Link Building
There are two terms that you will hear a lot when it comes to SEO link building. Let’s explore what they imply.
1. White Hat Link Building
White hat link building means using moral and non-deceptive strategies to get backlinks. In these approaches, the emphasis is on assembling high-quality content that pretentiously attracts links. A few examples include:
- Creating High-Quality Content: This is one of the best ways to earn natural backlinks. If you offer valuable information or a unique perspective, others will want to link to your content.
- Guest Blogging: Writing an article for another website, often in the same business or speciality, and supplying a link to your website in the text or author profile is comprehended as guest blogging.
- Broken Link Building: Discovering broken links on other sites and offering your own relevant data in the form of content as a replacement is known as “broken link building.”
These strategies obey Google’s guidelines and are favoured by SEO professionals because they align with the overall goal of the internet: to provide valuable, relevant, and easily accessible information.
2. Black Hat Link Building
Black hat link building refers to the use of manipulative tactics to improve search rankings. These tactics are considered unethical because they deceive search engines and deliver little or no worth to users.
Black hat strategies include:
- Private Blog Networks (PBNs): Using a network of websites to create links to a single website in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings.
- Spammy Link Building: This includes spamming blog comments or forums with links to your site, keyword stuffing, and participating in link schemes.
- Paying for Links: Google penalises sites that pay for links or that are part of a link scheme.
A site caught using black hat techniques may receive a manual action penalty from Google and see a significant decrease in search rankings. The short answer is that the risks and potential penalties far outweigh any short-term benefits.
Google’s Preference for White Hat Backlinks
Google, and other search engines, like to produce the most appropriate and high-quality results for their readers. Therefore, they prefer white hat backlinks – those earned honestly and naturally through providing high-quality content.
To avoid a manual action penalty, Google suggests steps you can take to ensure your link-building practices align with their guidelines. This includes using the nofollow attribute for paid links, monitoring your backlink profile regularly, and removing bad links quickly as possible.
Google’s Efforts to Stop Unethical Link Building
To ensure a fair and quality internet ecosystem, Google has taken several steps to curb manipulative or spammy link building practices:
1. Introduction of Google Penguin & PageRank Algorithm
Google created the Penguin algorithm to penalise websites that it thought were abusing its search engine results. This included sites that were purchasing links or acquiring them through link networks created expressly to improve Google ranks. The PageRank algorithm assesses the grade and quantity of links to a webpage to specify a rough calculation of how meaningful the website is.
By utilising these algorithms, Google is able to identify and penalise sites that practise black hat link building.
2. Updates and Penalties for Unnatural Links
Throughout the years, Google rolled out numerous updates to its algorithms to penalise sites involved in manipulative link practices. If Google suspects a site to be part of a link scheme, it may impose a manual action, affecting the entire website or certain pages or sections.
3. Specific Guidelines for Webmasters
Google has outlined specific webmaster guidelines, offering SEO practices that can help a website rank better without violating Google’s rules. Webmasters are urged to focus more on content quality, user experience, and organic link building.
4. Introduction of the Disavow Links Tool
Google introduced the Disavow Links tool in Google Search Console, allowing webmasters to inform Google not to consider certain links when assessing their site. This can be particularly useful when a site has been affected by negative SEO or has a history of black hat SEO.
Types of Links to Avoid for Ethical Link Building
In order to avoid being penalised by Google and to maintain a healthy link profile, it’s crucial to steer clear of certain types of links. These include:
1. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
PBNs are networks of websites used solely to build links. Google considers these networks to be a clear violation of its guidelines and will impose penalties on sites that are a part of them.
2. Low-Quality Directories and Bookmarking Sites
Links from low-quality directories or bookmarking sites offer little to no value to users and can harm your search rankings. Instead, aim to get listed on high-quality, relevant directories.
3. Comment and Forum Spam
Posting irrelevant links in comments or forums, especially when it’s unsolicited, is considered spam by Google. Such practices not only harm your SEO but also hurt your brand’s prominence.
4. Purchasing Low-Quality Backlinks
Google can detect if a site is buying or selling links, and it considers these links as part of a link scheme. Websites involved in such practices are likely to be penalised by Google.
5. Overusing Exact Match Anchor Text
While keywords in anchor text can be advantageous for SEO, overuse—especially with identical match keywords—can appear manipulative to Google. Instead, strive for a balanced and natural anchor text distribution.
6. Participating in Link Schemes and Link Exchanges
Excessive link exchanges or using automated programs to create links to your site is seen as manipulative and is likely to result in a manual action penalty from Google.
7. Injected Links and Hidden Links
This involves placing links where they don’t belong, such as in the website’s code, or hiding links from users but making them visible to search engines. These are considered deceptive practices by Google.
8. Sitewide Links from Unrelated or Low-Quality Websites
Sitewide links—those that appear on every page of a website—especially from unrelated or low-quality websites, may be considered spammy and can lead to a Google penalty.
9. Links from Irrelevant or Low-Quality Guest Posts
While guest posting can be a great way to earn backlinks, if the content is low-quality or irrelevant or if the website has no connection to your niche, it may do more harm than good. Always aim for relevance and quality in your link-building endeavours.
Detecting and Handling Unnatural or Spammy Links
Detecting and dealing with spammy or unnatural links is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy link profile. Here’s how to go about it:
1. Conduct a Backlink Audit to Identify Problematic Links
Conducting a backlink audit allows you to evaluate all the links indicating your site. Tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush can provide comprehensive insights into your link profile, helping you identify any potentially harmful links.
2. Utilise Link Analysis Tools for Link Profile Assessment
Using link analysis tools can make the task of auditing your backlink profile less time-consuming. These tools provide a plethora of metrics to assess the quality of your backlinks, such as domain authority, anchor text distribution, and the nature of the linking site.
3. Disavow Bad Links Using Google’s Disavow Links Tool
If you’ve identified any toxic or spammy backlinks in your audit, you can utilise Google’s Disavow Links tool to request Google not to regard these links when evaluating your site. Remember, this is a powerful tool and should be used with caution.
4. Deal with Negative SEO Attacks and Toxic Backlinks
Negative SEO attacks, where competitors intentionally send bad links your way, can be detrimental to your SEO. If you witness a hasty inflow of low-quality backlinks, use the Disavow Links tool to safeguard your site’s reputation.
By monitoring your backlink profile regularly, you can detect any suspicious activities early and take immediate action, thus preserving your website’s SEO health and ensuring it continues to rank well in search engine results.
Also Read: What is Outreach Link Building?
Need Help With Backlink Audit? Let ACERO Help You!
If you’re unsure about your backlink profile or need assistance in identifying and disavowing harmful links, ACERO is here to help! With our team of experienced SEO professionals, we can conduct comprehensive backlink audits, pinpoint toxic backlinks, and assist you in cleaning up your link profile.
Don’t let spammy or unethical backlinks hinder your website’s performance. Reach out to ACERO today, and let’s work together in crafting a successful, ethical SEO strategy that drives sustainable growth and higher rankings in the SERPs.
Contact Us Today to begin your voyage towards a beneficial and strong backlink profile!
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Armen is an On-Page SEO and Content Marketing expert who is the CEO of ACERO. He frequently delves into subjects such as SEO, Link Building, Digital Marketing, UK Law, Finance, Music, Blockchain, Technology, and Lifestyle. His passion for research and his ability to articulate complex ideas in a clear and engaging way have earned him a reputation as a highly skilled and versatile author and digital marketing expert.