By Kevin Taylor
The key difference between Link building and most other marketing activities, is that it carries a risk of permanently negatively affecting the brand to a point that it may be irreparable.
To begin, let’s get a few things straight when it comes to link building:
a) Link building is a method of manipulating Search Engines
b) Google , and most other major search engines frown upon any attempt at manipulation (whether industry blogs deem the method to be ‘white hat’ or ‘black hat’)
c) Certain types of link building clearly violate Google’s terms
d) Having your site removed from Google’s index (or receiving a penalty to the same effect) can cripple a business
Whether you’ve outsourced your link building, or you’ve kept it entirely in-house, there are a few areas worthy of serious questioning.
Automated Link Networks
All types of link ‘networks’ are a high risk strategy, but some are less obvious than others. Automatic link networks however, are not a good idea, even if you believe you know what you are doing as a number of problems arise. Firstly, the obvious lack of manual editorial checks apply equally to other users on the network, and you could end up sharing backlinks with some questionable websites (do you want to explain to your MD why you have a link in the middle of a list of online bingo and luxury watch links?).
A big problem with automated link buys is that while they can sometimes be removed with great ease, they can be almost impossible to remove if either party no longer has a relationship with the network.
Another problem can be if the technology behind such networks can temporarily break, spitting out an error – should an engine cache the page while the error is being displayed, they will instantly realise that the website selling the link is part of a network, and, by extension, know who is buying the link.
It’s extremely rare to see a good blog commenting strategy, automated or manual, where the objective has been backlinks. Many tools that offer to ‘build’ new links rely on blog commenting, and the results are usually awful: while some blog owners will approve your generic comment, they’ll also approve those to the other websites. Once again, you’ll share backlinks with the Viagra and online casinos. These links are very easy for Google to identify through the HTML structure of blogs, and, while they likely pass no value already, they could also be subject to penalisation.
Paying to get links your competitor has
This is probably one of the most common strategies that in-house teams pursue – it’s relatively easy to get hold of a list of websites from which your competitor has links (Linkscape, Majestic etc), and it’s also possible to find urls where several of your competitors have gained links.
The basic problem here is that there’s no guarantee that the link is a good link, or that it’s contributing at all to your competitors rankings. Even more worryingly, you don’t know if the link is actually doing harm.
While this might seem an obvious way to make instant ground on your competitor, it’s doomed to fail. It would be rather akin to headhunting every single one of your competitors employees – some will be good, others not so good, and some that even your competitor wanted rid of.
Blog networks are probably the biggest no-no in SEO. The theory might be simple: it is hard to get links, so why not ‘create’ the inventory yourself? In practise, it’s almost impossible to maintain a huge network of websites that all appear legitimate, distinct, and all worthy resources in their own right.
What would it take for Google to recognise that 50 websites linking to you are all actually owned by you also? An error in ‘whois’ registrations? Swapped GA codes? Maybe just a tell-tale template? It’s simply not worth the risk.
Keep it natural
Ultimately, if you’ve decided to keep this in-house, and you have a limited understanding of link building, you need to keep it clean. The temptation to try and get an ‘edge’ is present for most, but the risks are too big to take.
About the author
Kevin Taylor is CEO at Gravytrain.