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With all the confusion and all the Penguin updates going on about unnatural links, it may be a bit overwhelming to keep track on all the Google Guideline violations. Some of them are an obvious violation of Google’s Quality Guidelines and some of them are not that easy to spot. The process of link development is already hard enough without Matt Cutts breathing heavily down your neck.

Unnatural Links - Fast Food Man

Who should read this article ? Those of you, website owners or SEO professionals who wish to learn more about link building and especially about doing it respecting Google’s code of conduct. As you may see, there are quite a few types of unnatural links, and you should read about each and every one of them so your link building efforts won’t be rendered useless by Google.

1. Link for Link

I’m referring here at exchange methods of link building. For example, if you’re a car sales rep and you have links to several car service centers and insurance brokers around your area and they link back to you, it will probably won’t raise any suspicions. But if you have hundreds of such links, not only from your area, but from all over the world, you’re going to raise some flags back at Google.

2. Money for Links

Offering money in exchange for links or content that incorporate links is one of the most obvious methods to acquire unnatural links. One form of practice that is not that pronounced is obtaining links to your site after offering a donation. In a small number, it’s accepted, but if you keep doing this, Google will consider it an unnatural tactic and you might get in trouble.

3. Goods or Services for Links

Will Work 4 LinksIf the method of exchanging money for links is straight forwarded, there’s a thin line regarding bartering between services or goods and links. Recently, Matt Cutts created a video explaining the silver lining to this method. If a person receives a laptop from a company and then he writes an article with a link pointing to the company’s website, it’s considered link buying. If that company lends the laptop and the person then gives it back, and ends up writing a review with a link to the company’s website, it’s nothing unnatural there. So the difference lies between giving and borrowing.

4. Guest Posting

Recently added in the not-so-select group of unnatural link tactics, guest posting may be harmful for your website if it’s done improperly. To understand the fine print on this quality guideline violation, you’ll need to differentiate between polished guest posts (where the author poured his knowledge to publish a high quality article ) and spammy guest posting ( where the author may be sending the same article to whoever is willing to publish it ). You need to tread cautiously, because it may transform from an opportunity into a problem.

5. Automatically Generated Links

It’s sounds like a sweet deal when someone offers to build bulks of links over night on certain targeted keywords. In any case, those people are using automated programs that post links in the form of comments, forum posts, wiki posts and so on. This is one of the most harmful link building techniques, it terms of “internet pollution” as it adds literally no value to the users and it is very annoying for everyone.

6. Widget Links

A form of link building technique that uses “WordPress like” plugins. The person that created the plugin has the possibility to inject links on all the sites that have that respective plugin installed. If the plugin adds real value to the user, and if the webmasters have the choice to link or not back to the website, Google might consider them natural.

7. Advertorials

Advertorials are articles that are published by sites as a form of advertisement. Google may consider this as a form of paid link tactic IF the links that point back to your site are not tagged as nofollow.

8. Text Advertisements that pass PageRank

Same story as in the case of advertorials. They may be considered as unnatural when they are left as do-follow and they directly influence the site’s ranking in the search engine.

9. Articles & Commercial Anchor Text

It’s a good thing that people write about your product or service and link back to your website. As long as a person creates links in a natural way, using brand keywords or navigational phrasing like “click here” or “visit this”, you won’t have any problem. You’re gonna feel Google’s wrath if they catch you stacking links with commercial keywords.

10. Web-Directory Links

It’s been around for a while now and it seems like it isn’t an absoleet link building tactic yet. People used to abuse these type of sites by placing links on hundreds of web directories. If your site’s link portfolio has mostly these kind of links you might get the unwanted attention of the Webspam Team. There are still high quality web directories on the internet where you can post your links, like Dmoz and Best of the web, that filter the submitted entries manually.

11. Footer links

A tactic popularized by web design agencies & used by them to increases their site’s visibility in the search engines, was to put links in the footer of their client’s pages with the wording such as “Designed by” or even commercial keywords such as “Web Design Agency Melbourne”. When you have a couple of those type of links and you don’t use commercial anchor texts you won’t have any problems. They will surely be categorized as unnatural if you’re using this linking tactic in excess.

12. Sitewide links

When you create sitewide links GoogleBot is going to see the link on almost every page of the website. One or two site-wide links won’t raise any suspicion but if you’re going to abuse this feature, most likely Google will place it under the unnatural links category. This type of link building is not recommended for new sites; it may be seen as a way to rank quickly … but it really isn’t.

13. Blogroll links

A technique that’s been around and abused just as long as the one with the web-directory links. There’s nothing harmful if you have 1-2 links and they are placed on relevant blogs. When it represents a huge chunk from the backlink profile it becomes clear to Google that those links are unnatural.

14. Forum & Blog Comments

Comments on forums and blogs are often used as a way to get yourself known in the community. You relate to other people’s content and you create a conversation. When you’re overusing links with commercial anchor text in these comments ( posted manually or with the help of automated software ) they are going to be surely considered unnatural by the Google.

It rarely happens that someone links using a commercial anchor text in an informal conversation.

15. 100% Do-Follow Links

It’s not likely for a site to have 100% do-follow links. Usually, a natural backlink profile has a homogenous mix of do-follow and nofollow. People often create comments on do-follow blogs as a way of link building. When a site has an almost 100%  amount of do-follow links it raises a red flag.

16. Anchor Text Over-optimization

When your keyword cloud doesn’t have a proportionate distribution and you have 70% commercial keywords like “pay day loans” and 30% brand keywords it’s a strong signal of unnaturalness. The anchor text keyword cloud must be diverse in order to look natural. If you don’t want Google to penalize your website we suggest staying as far away as possible from over-optimized anchor text structures.

17. Geographically Irrelevant Links

Let’s say you have a local business that sells ice cream in Miami. It’s highly doubtable that you’re being naturally linked to web-directories localized in Croatia. When Google encounters a lot of links that have this discrepancy, they will consider them unnatural as they can be easily “fingerprinted”.

18. Contextually Irrelevant Links

Same as the above, if you’re selling ice cream you shouldn’t have links from sites that are on mechanical or traveling topics. You should not have these types of inconsistencies occur very often.

19. Link Velocity Spikes

When you have big velocity spikes, either daily or monthly, compared with your overall website history averages, it means either something important happened in that period, or your site is trying to manipulate the site’s ranking in the search engines. The usual negative seo campaigns may also generate a high amount of links in a short amount of time.

20. Article Directories

Article directories such as EzineArticles are a source of low quality articles. Their only purpose on the internet is to generate pages with do-follow links in their content. Because this type of link building strategies can be automated, a lot of people abused this technique and raised Google’s interest regarding this problem.

21. Link Networks

Private blog networks (in general) are sites that are using different IP addresses which are owned by the same person, who controls them and posts articles with do-follow links at his own discretion. This type of black hat SEO tactic was created in order to simulate a natural appearance of links, and it’s against Google’s quality guidelines.

22. Press Releases

An abused strategy which gives webmasters the opportunity to use sites like Prweb to publish press releases (with the same content) on hundreds of sites, in order to create do-follow links back to them. By doing so, you not only create a lot of links with targeted commercial anchor texts in a short amount of time, but you also create duplicate content. Not all press releases are bad. Just those where you use do-follow links and/or commercial anchor text in order to influence the Google Ranking.

23. Bookmark Sites

These type of sites allow users to place personal bookmarks. If you have an abundance of links coming from this area, it means you’re using these sites as a link building strategy and you want to influence your site’s rankings in the search engines.

24. Resource Pages

An ancient form of link building strategy , which refers to certain pages from the site that look like “/links.html”, filled with links to a variety of non-related pages.

25. Sites that Sell Links

On these type of websites, if you stop paying, your link will be removed from the site, and in it’s place will be another one. Google looks at sites that are constantly creating and deleting links from their site, and may figure out if someone is selling links. After it figured this out, if you are being linked from such a site you risk being penalized.

26. Social Profile Links

If you create 100 accounts on different social networks, and they all link to your website, it’s may be sign of an unnatural link tactic. From what Google declares, these links are used only for indexing, so they won’t have a direct influence over the results order in the search engine.

27. Any link

That’s right! And it shouldn’t come as a surprise, because if you’ll read the Google guidelines regarding link schemes, you’re going to see the following quote:

“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

If you emphasize “any links” and “may be considered” and you’re going to look at the above examples you’re going to see there’s a big gray area enveloping this hole unnatural link idea. Basically, any link building technique may be considered an intent to manipulate if you abuse it.

Diamonds are forever, unnatural links aren’t!

It’s almost certain that, with Google’s constant focus on link schemes and website ranking manipulation, more and more tactics of creating unnatural links will end up obsolete. And because of that, you may never know when you’re going to end up on the other side of their guidelines. You’ll end up wondering why your site’s ranking is tanking all of a sudden.

Clean Up After your Links

This information is essential even if you don’t have any issues with your link profiles. You should try to build links as naturally as you can because search engine algorithms are getting smart and better, and you’ll eventually end up with nothing if you’re not careful. As a conclusion, it’s better to have worked once by the guideline than try a thousand times to create unnatural link profiles.

What is your opinion regarding what Google considers as an intent on manipulating a site’s ranking ? We tried to cover the most important unnatural link types we could think of, but if we missed any don’t hesitate to leave a comment. We’re always interested in finding your ideas regarding unnatural link spotting.
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