Beware of shady link schemes from black-hat SEOs

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Recently, one of my clients received an unsolicited email from a person named “Nicholas Salmons” offering to feature their business on Huffingtonpost.com with a do-follow link for a fee of $550. Nicholas also claimed in his email that he is the only marketer providing this service at an affordable price. Here is screen shot of the email.

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My client forwarded the email to me asking if this is a good opportunity. My immediate response as an SEO was the following:

No Link Building

Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic — but I definitely advised the client that this is not a good opportunity, as it violates Google’s quality guidelines. In fact, Google has called out this exact tactic as an example of a spammy link-building tactic that can harm your site rankings:

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.

Don’t be tempted by “too good to be true” SEO offers

Spammy link building practices, which Google refers to as “link schemes,” may seem tempting, but they can ultimately result in a loss of search engine rankings. Google considers link schemes to be an attempt to fool the search engine algorithms. If lower-quality content can rank high just because it has amassed a high quantity of backlinks, that is not a great experience for the user. So Google strives to rank quality content that will meet user needs.

I am actually surprised that this type of activity is still happening, given how many Penguin algorithm updates have been released and how many companies, such as JC Penney and Overstock, have been exposed for spammy link building.

When it comes to spammy link building, there are two types of penalties that can impact your site: algorithmic and manual. An algorithmic penalty occurs when your site loses rankings as a result of an algorithm update — in this case, Penguin. Webmasters may be able to restore rankings by getting rid of spammy backlinks before the next Penguin update, but that is not a guarantee. In any event, you should take steps to remove or disavow spammy backlinks.

The dreaded manual penalty

An algorithmic rankings demotion is bad, but it is not as devastating as a manual penalty, which can cause your site (or some of its pages) to be removed from Google’s index entirely. Essentially, someone on the Google Spam team manually reviews your backlink profile and places a penalty on your site. To remove a manual penalty, you must work to remove or disavow spammy backlinks and then file a reconsideration request — a process that can take weeks or months.

Google Webmaster Trend Analyst John Mueller said last year that your focus should not be on link building because it can do more harm than good. His message seems to be that, ideally, all links to your site would be earned naturally rather than acquired through deliberate link-building efforts. To gain natural inbound links, webmasters and SEOs should build content that is engaging, shareable and easily linkable.

However, many SEOs found this statement to be controversial, as Google still weighs links very heavily for rankings, which forces everyone to try to build links. Also, it can be hard for small and medium-sized businesses to compete with big brands that get a lot of links due to their large marketing/PR budgets. There are certain link-building strategies that can be employed which do not violate Google’s guidelines, such as:

  • Unlinked mentions. Conduct outreach to sites that are currently mentioning you but have not linked to you, and ask them if they’d mind including a link to your site. Do not request specific anchor text or offer incentives, as this is against Google’s guidelines.
  • Reverse-engineer competitor links. Look for sites that mention your competitors, and approach them to get a link as well. Do not request anchor text or offer incentives.
  • Native advertising. Leverage platforms such as Taboola, Outbrain or Facebook to promote content to gain more exposure, which can lead to natural inbound links.
  • Social sharing. Ensure your content is shared on your social profiles so they can organically get exposure, which can lead to natural inbound links.
  • Marketing. Conduct regular marketing initiatives such as events, giveaways, contests, sponsorships and guest speaking, which help you gain natural inbound links.

What’s interesting about the  email my client received was that the link is being offered on Huffington Post, which makes me think this person is a contributor — and that his/her name is not Nicholas Salmons. I did a search and did not find any writers on Huffingtonpost.com by that name.

In my response to my client, in addition to advising against the opportunity, I also included some guidelines that they can use to screen these types of offerings:

  • Stay away from anyone offering paid link-building or link schemes.
  • The email was sent from a Gmail account; if this was a representative of the Huffington Post, they would have had an official company email, such as JohnDoe@huffingtonpost.com.
  • There are punctuation and spelling errors in the email, which hurts their credibility and legitimacy.

In conclusion, stay away from old and spammy link-building tactics, and be on the lookout for spam link-building offers. This will help you to avoid link penalties which can hurt your site’s rankings and traffic.

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