6 Link Building Practices That Scare The Crap Out of Me

Ian Lurie

‘Link building’, for those who don’t know, is the practice of gaining links from other sites. Links are important. They deliver authority in the eyes of search engines, traffic if you’re lucky, and a chance that someone else will link to you, too.

You can’t live without ’em. But there are no established best practices you can follow. Hopefully, if you hear what scares me, you’ll learn a bit about what to avoid:

  1. The “Gain 600,000 links in just two weeks!” strategy. It’s tempting to pay someone to build lots of links in one shot. But it’s a bad idea. Search engines measure link velocity. Steady link growth is good. A sudden surge is bad. Google and Yahoo! will either ignore those new links, or penalize you for them. So unless 43,000 links a day is normal for you, skip it. Build links slowly and steadily.
  2. Link buying. I used to love this strategy. Buy a great quality link on a relevant, popular site, get a great advertisement and a boost in the search rankings at the same time. But Google has cracked down on link sellers hard. So hard, in fact, that it’s hard to believe link buyers aren’t getting hit, too. Buy links if you want. Stick to directories and other pay-to-play sites where the link you buy is on a single, highly relevant page and and clearly has an advertising purpose other than boosting your search rankings.
    it can happen to you
  3. Parasite hosting. In this risky (and sometimes unethical) practice, you pay the owner of the .org or .edu site to host one or more pages of your content, with links back to your site. Like magic, you’ve got links from high-authority sites (.org and .edu domains are generally accorded more authority). I hear folks argue about this all the time: Everyone else does it, etc. etc.. I disagree: If it smells like poo, it’s poo. And after two babies, an incontinent geriatric cat (rest his soul) and now two guinea pigs, I don’t need more poo in my life. Parasite hosting stinks. I don’t step in it.
  4. Comment spam. If you’re a blogger, you’ve seen comments that have nothing but dozens of links in ’em. That’s comment spam. It’s submitted by a computer program. It’s one of the many ways folks build 600,000 links in just two weeks. Hopefully I don’t have to explain why this one sucks. Don’t do it.
  5. Link trading. Reciprocal linking, in small amounts, is harmless. I think. But trading links with 500 other sites isn’t going to get you any traction with the search engines. Nor is it going to help you sell anything. Where do you put those links on your site? In a huge list of traded links. Search engines skip those pages. Visitors ignore them. So next time you get an e-mail saying “I found your web site. Our two sites have nothing whatsoever to do with each other, so I’d like to trade links”, delete it.
  6. Forum spam. Just write “Great point!” on every comment thread and include a link back to your site – bingo, lots of links! Bingo, lots of bad karma! There’s a new circle of Hell opening up just for forum spammers. When you die, you’ll be forced to talk to demons who nod vigorously at your every word and say “Great point” all while they try to drag you into a piranha infested lake.
    great point

What’s OK

I am very conservative about link building. I only see a few sound, safe strategies:

  1. Build links through press releases and blogger outreach. Reaching out to publishers is a worthwhile white-hat link building strategy.
  2. Join a community. Make friends. Don’t beg for links, but do let them see what you’re doing online. They’ll link to you now and then.
  3. Write a blog. Link to other bloggers when they write good stuff. They’ll eventually reciprocate. This is not link trading. These links will show up in articles, in context, when they make sense. They’ll give you a boost.
  4. The ever-elusive link bait. Write, film or photograph something so damned compelling that everyone and their cousin wants to link to it. Or create a tool everyone wants. If you can do it consistently, it’s pure gold. This is a great tactic. All you have to do is consistently write stuff that grabs wide attention, and shouts down the 40,000 other people doing the same thing. Cough.

It’s Your call

I can’t give you much guidance on this one. Links are currency to buy attention and customers. You have to decide how far you’ll go to get them.
But set guidelines with which you’re comfortable. And then stay within them. Otherwise, the piranha-infested lake awaits…

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Okay, Ian, coming from you (and don’t go look at my blog, I’ve gushed or posted on every topic you avoid – great LOL fun and my ears are red), I trust your link building strategies to avoid.
    What about the notion of building conversations by commenting on relevant blogs?
    Do you think it’s inauthentic if you’re doing it on behalf of a client if you’re transparent about it?

  2. @janet Now I’m blushing too 🙂
    I contact bloggers all the time and say something like “I have a client who makes a product that’s right up your alley, would you like to review it?”. Or I pester fellow bloggers to read something I just wrote.
    In the end, if you’re transparent and respectful about it, it’s still up to that blogger whether they want to write about you.
    I don’t suggest paying for posts unless the blogger promises to be VERY clear about the fact that they’ve been paid. Even then, it can taint your image.
    But the blogging world is made for the kind of outreach you’re describing. Go for it.

  3. I prefer PRWeb myself (PRWEB.com). They have a nice console for managing the process and seem to do well getting their press releases into the search engines.

  4. While I mostly agree with everything here I do have to take a small issue with number one. I agree that those “Get 600,000 links” services are garbage. They will get nothing but crappy links and even if you are not penalized those links will do nothing to help your site. My disagreement is that phenomenal link growth even for sites who don’t have a bunch of links could be very natural and if so would not garner any penalties. You may not get an immediate boost but eventually those links could prove very valuable.
    If you offer a new service or an article hits big on Digg and other social networks it could pick up a ton of links from other sites talking about it. This would be totally natural and theoretically could result in thousands of links almost overnight. The search engine should not, and generally will not, punish this and it could be a huge boost.
    A large influx of natural links is a good thing, a large influx of unnatural links will not help and could actually hurt. Other than that very small point I agree with everything here.

  5. @Mark I’m right there with ya.
    Here’s the difference: If you get a Digg hit like what you describe, you’ll likely get a huge burst of links that then tails off slowly. That kind of peak-and-slow-decline pattern seems to work great for establishing near-term link velocity that Google and Yahoo! appreciate.
    Good Diggbait or other social network hits seem to snowball, and you never return to your previous link velocity. The search engines seem to understand that.

  6. @Alex Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. How will they react when they realize you paid someone to write about your product in an environment where folks usually do NOT do that?
    It’s not like the blogger becomes an official spokesperson. They slip sponsored reviews between the unpaid ones and get some cash for it.
    I think the damage to your brand is too much to be worth it, in the long run.
    That said, if search engines are more important to your strategy than the possible impact to your brand, you have to consider it (I guess). But Google’s even trying to find ways to detect sponsored posts. So be careful…

  7. @David as I said I’m very cautious. Blog comment submission via automated software (I’m assuming that’s what you mean) is spam. At some point using that as a tool it’s going to come back to bite you.

  8. Great Point.
    Just kidding. I like the poo link list. You should name it that, by the way.
    Your good link list (sorry, no catchy name this time – unless you like lovable link list?) is okay, but I think you might abbreviate too much.
    Along with PR’s, what about writing a few good articles?
    I was also surprised at how much blog directories could help me – pleasantly surprised.
    And while plenty of people are promoting the idea of link bait, I find that it doesn’t have to be super compelling. It just has to be good. A great post or write up every so often is great, of course, but a pretty good one helps, too.
    So like I said, great point.

  9. Great Point.
    Just kidding, this post brings back fond memories of internet past. Ahhh those were the days, back when your seo hat was just an seo hat. There was no ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘grey’, ‘red’, a hat was a hat was a hat.
    Now where was I? Oh yeah, Great Point Ian 🙂

  10. Great point…. hahahhaah.
    I am interested interested in press release submissions. I am not quite sure how this style of link building works. Can you recommend a place to look for such information?

  11. Since you are so adamant that even .ORG(!) domains get special treatment by the search engines, why don’t you have a .org and redirect the .com there? You lose no type-in traffic AND YOU’LL GET SPECIAL TREATMENT BY THE SEARCH ENGINES! OMG!!!!!
    Or maybe that theory has been disproved ages ago and only morons still think it’s valid…

  12. @lcheb Or, maybe .org domains are accorded more weight because as a group they tend to carry more authoritative content, and the search engines aren’t stupid enough to be fooled by a redirect.
    But I’m just a moron, so what do I know?

  13. Did you even get my point? You should have gotten a .org IN THE FIRST PLACE and then made sure you don’t lose type-in traffic BY GETTING THE .COM. But I guess people have to do what you say, not what you do, right?
    There is no fucking reason those domains should get preferential treatment. EDU DOMAINS GET A LOT OF LINKS, WHICH IS WHY THEY RANK SO HIGHLY.
    Would you please just use your fucking brain for once? Seriously, just try it, it will feel very good.

  14. Aww, run out of arguments but don’t want to admit it? Realized you’re stupid but don’t want your readers to see it?

  15. Hey! Did Icheb just call Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz.org a moron? I think he did! After all, what do the people at SEOmoz know about SEO and using a .org? They’re just a little shit can operation up in the rain forest, right?
    Seriously Icheb, take an anger management class!
    No one said .edu or other domain suffixes have innate authority because of their three little letters. What Ian said fits in nicely with the fact that lots of these domains are respected high quality web sites like colleges and universities and charitable nonprofits. So, as a percentage of their brethren the average quality tends to be higher.
    But, now that I think of it that is a logical, boring response. I wouldn’t want to stir the pot.

  16. Ian what do you think about article marketing on places like ezine articles? Is the link strength good?

  17. Article submission/Press releases aren’t really about link strength imo, granted they may get picked up elsewhere, but as far I’m concerned its more a case of building trust/brand awareness/establishing credibility etc.

  18. IMHO…
    .org & .edu’s don’t necessarily carry more weight based on their extensions alone, typically they carry more weight because they are older sites with real content. There are plenty of .org & .edu’s that have very little value.
    And… I agree, PRWeb is one of the best for the money.

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