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How to Find Value, Prevent Violations and Avoid the Google Sandbox
Marketers and SEO agencies are quick to tell business owners that links to your website are what drives your rank in the search results. Unfortunately, not all links are created equally. If you launch a campaign to start building links in every direction, on any site you can, you’ll quickly find yourself in trouble with search engines like Google.
Getting flagged for linking violations can lead down an ugly path where your website loses rank and gets pushed back a number of pages into the search results. Worst case, your site is sandboxed and de-listed.
So how do you know what kinds of links are permitted and what can get you in trouble? Google makes it easy. Simply put, any kind of paid link (where you pay money to get a link to your site placed on another site for the purpose of manipulating your search results), is considered bad. In the eyes of Google, links to your site should be editorial in nature, and should reside naturally, relevantly, and perhaps most important — valuably — on another site. The link back to your site should be the result of shared relevant information, or as a result of engagement with other users and websites — without compensation.
There are a lot of factors taken into consideration when Google weighs the quality of links for a website. To help you sort it out, here are some examples of both good and bad link building practices.
Examples of Bad Inbound Links
Links from Link Farms
Link farms are sites or pages that contain many links to countless other sites or pages. And that’s all they contain. These links are often unrelated, and the page that they live on has no true value to a search engine user. Here’s an example of a link farm, below:
Why Link Farms are Bad
If you look at the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors, link farms are thin on (or completely lacking) content, and the page itself is not at all relevant. With lack of content that contains value or substance, all a link farm serves to do is manipulate search results by hosting paid links. You’re just paying for a spot on a link farm. In some cases, reciprocal linking is included in link farms; this means you may not be paying for links but you’re still getting a link from a “seedy neighborhood.”
If you pay for a spot on a link farm, you’re wasting money. Furthermore, these sites get shut down so quickly that, for the most part, you won’t even have time to build any “link juice” through your links for the short time that they appear. And beware: in many cases, sites that place links on link farms can also get devalued or sandboxed.
Link Spamdexing and Thin Content
Spamdexing is an ugly practice that adds zero value to the web. Link spam or Spamdexing often involves spun, widely distributed articles with numerous links. It also includes spammy blog comments that add no value to the conversation, extremely short blog posts with the sole purpose of generating links while providing no true value to a reader, and forum posts filled with links (even signature links) where the actual post provides no meaning or value.
In the two examples below you can see how the comments or posts provide no value and are only posted in order to get a link into the conversation. In the case of the LinkedIn group post, it’s 100% promotional with the intent of driving traffic through a link.
Manipulation with Paid Links
Buying links with a dishonorable SEO agency can also land you in some serious hot water, because many of these “fly by night” SEO firms build links in bad neighborhoods or on sites that get your site sandboxed. Remember that it’s technically a violation of Google’s terms to buy links of any kind in an effort to manipulate search results.
Overstock.com got hit with violations in 2011 not long after JC Penny went through a similar debacle. Overstock.com was offering discounts to students and faculty who would link to product pages within the .edu domains, because .edu domains are considered trusted sites with search engines, especially those with age. That means they pass a lot more link value.
JC Penny asserted that they had no idea their SEO agency was doing unethical link building and fired the agency in question. Overstock.com however was aware of their practices, but not to the extent that it was a violation of Google policy.
Additional examples of bad links include hiding links within a website, such as by matching the font color to the background color or hiding links inside of invisible <div> tags in your site.
Paid link efforts wind up costing you a lot of time and money for minimal results. Good link building focuses on editorial links that can cost you virtually nothing more than the time it takes you to join the conversation and create really good, quality content.
Examples of good link building practices
Quality Blog Comments
Just about every industry has some popular blog or social platform attached to it now. Many of these sites offer a way for you to engage others and join a discussion about specific topics. In blog comments and on forums, you can optimize your name or signature, or provide links within the content, while expanding on the conversation or offering your perspective. Offer real value to the post, add interesting conversation to the topic focus, and your link will be welcome.
Take a look at sites like Mashable.com, Techcrunch.com or SearchEngineJournal.com and you’ll find a mass of comments on many popular articles where people share ideas and input. Some optimize their links for targeted keywords, where others are content to simply provide URL links or link through their name.
That link might not be optimized, but it’s still a link from a quality, authority site and that can pass a lot of value along to you. Especially when it’s relevant to your own site or content offering.
The key is to focus on providing value and avoid promotion. You’re more likely to get links accepted and shared, and your comments published, if you provide value.
In the following example image you can see how the first comment was enough to express personal stress relevant to the topic (utilizing Pinterest for business was the subject of the post). The name “job affair” was also their business name and is included in their URL so they have an optimized link in their post comment name. Still, they provided some value and further spurred the conversation.
Links from a Professional Press Release
There’s a way you can pay for links where you’re technically *not* paying for links. Press releases are a powerful tool for link building because you’re publishing quality content that is news worthy, relevant to your audience and is often based around important industry or business related info.
When you pay for premium distribution through sites like PRWeb, your press releases is syndicated to, and picked up by, other news sites, blogs, news aggregators, etc. Those sites also publish a copy of the release with a link back to your site (if one was included in the original PR).
From the example below you can see how a single press release can generate hundreds of thousands of impressions. While an impression isn’t a link, it takes more than a single site to get that many impressions per day. With that kind of visibility, you’re not only seeing widespread syndication, but it’s also possible for others to share your release across their own social network or media channel.
To help you create a well-rounded link building strategy, especially one that won’t pile on the violations, always refer back to the Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors. Knowing the right factors used in on-page and off-page ranking will help you build the right kind of content, make smart decisions about building links, and ultimately help you understand the difference between good links and bad links.
What has been your experience with link building?