With all the changes happening in Google’s algorithms on unnatural links, spammy content, un-optimized mobile websites, it may be a bit overwhelming to keep track of 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 Google’s representatives (like John Mueller or Gary Illyes) breathing heavily down your neck.
Google’s link analysis has become increasingly complex and sophisticated. There are lots of SEO factors that dictate your website’s rankings, and link building might be the most used technique to improve your website’s rankings. You should know that not all backlinks are good. There are quite a few types of unnatural links you need to be aware so that your link building efforts won’t be considered useless by Google.
- Link for Link
- Money for Links
- Goods or Services for Links
- Guest Posting
- Automatically Generated Links
- Widget Links
- Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
- Articles & Commercial Anchor Text
- Web-Directory Links
- Footer Links
- Sitewide Links
- Blogroll Links
- Forum & Blog Comments
- 100% Do-Follow Links
- Anchor Text Over-Optimization
- Geographically Irrelevant Links
- Contextually Irrelevant Links
- Link Velocity Spikes
- Article Directories
- Shady Redirects
- Press Releases
- Bookmark Sites
- Resource Pages
- Sites that Sell Links
- Social Profile Links
- Mass Ping Sites
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.
Getting links using this method of link exchange is discouraged by Google and can trigger penalties. Even though exchanging links is an old practice, it still exists. With a quick search on Google. you’ll find lots of websites that offer link exchange services. Registering on such website doesn’t bring any real value to your website, not to mention visitors and traffic. Not only your efforts will be useless for the users, but you can risk getting links penalty, too.
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.
The concept of buying or selling links started in the mid-2000s and until 2009, the craze faded away and people move along. Paid links will often time have dofollow links are located out of context in the page which could be easily detected. Google has lots of algorithms that could catch the websites sooner or later and penalize them.
3. Goods or Services for Links
If the method of exchanging money for links is straight forwarded, there’s a thin line regarding bartering between services or goods and links. 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
According to Google, guest posting or guest blogging is a method used by blog or site owners to increase traffic to their sites and generate backlinks. If done correctly, guest bloggers offer to write content for other, similar blogs in their industry as guest bloggers. But it can easily turn into an unnatural link building strategy if the blog post has a high number of outbound links, or it asks for a dofollow link to their website in return or any type of “free content” scheme with keyword rich anchor texts.
Latterly, 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 sounds like a sweet deal when someone offers to build bulks of links overnight 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. Basically, you’ll get a bunch of artificial links.
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.
Advertorials are articles that are published by sites as a form of advertisement in digital marketing. Google may consider this as a form of paid link tactic IF the links that point back to your site are tagged as dofollow. Advertorials are essentially paid “content” forms, whether we talk about news, articles, reviews.
Google’s Matt Cutts explains very well in a video the warning on advertorials and paid content.
|Search engine wise, if links are paid, it shouldn’t pass value (that means placing a nofollow tag). Likewise, if you make it clear, if you’re doing disclosure, you need to make sure it’s clear to the people such as “Advertisements” or “Sponsored”.|
|Former Head of Spam at Google|
You can even find information about these types of links in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Any of the following situations that violate the guidelines are considered to be bad links:
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank;
- Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank
8. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
After guest posting became “obsolete”, spammers quickly came up with another idea. Basically, if no one wanted to post their guest articles, they decide to create other websites and post them with links to the other site owned by them. That’s how private blog networks took birth.
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.
The moment Google find out about this, it was the dead end of PBNs and the websites suffered a hard manual penalty. That happened because the websites were public and anyone could buy them.
9. Articles & Commercial Anchor Text
Brand anchor text is one of the signals that Google takes in consideration when deciding if a site should be “trusted” or not, while the commercial anchor text tells Google what keywords might the site be interested in ranking. Commercial anchor texts are money keywords.
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. But instead, if you have links with optimized anchor. You’re gonna feel Google’s wrath if they catch you stacking links with commercial keywords.
Too many commercial anchor texts might trigger some spammy filters and it is an abusive tactic used to manipulate search engine algorithms and gain high rankings.
10. Web-Directory Links
Before search engines, web directories were the internet. People used them to search for information because search engines didn’t exist. As time passed, things changed and the use of directories changed also. Even though web directories dropped dramatically in popularity, people still used them. But not for what they were supposed to use them. Instead, they are using them for backlinks.
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 kinds 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, that filter the submitted entries manually. If you’re still wondering if web directories are still relevant in 2019, then you should check out this article. Usually, high-quality web directories must be relevant to the business, so it can differ to one niche to another.
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 over-optimized anchor texts you won’t have any problems. They will surely be categorized as unnatural if you’re using this linking tactic in excess.
Website builders used this practice by injecting links to every website created. It is not a natural link, it is an automated link placed in the footer after you install the website theme. Look at the example below:
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
Usually, lots of people that had a blog, create a blogroll, which included a set of links placed on the Dashboard that redirected to other blogs related to the niche and preferences of the blogger. Creating blogrolls is 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
Often times spammy comments are intended to create free backlinks. Usually, these types of links have no value, and they are created manually. Spam comments don’t work anymore, even though there are lots of people that are still using this unnatural link building strategy. Most of the website have spam filtering options and lots of these comments don’t get approved and don’t get to show up live on the page. In the end, nobody wins from this.
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.
Make sure you delete all the spammy comments and chose to manually approve comments to have the chance to review them. Having spammy comments can make your website look neglective and send a wrong message to your readers. Don’t discourage them from leaving any valuable comments.
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. If you take a look at the chart below you can see the website has 88% dofollow links. That is way to much for a natural backlink profile.
16. Anchor Text Over-Optimization
When your keyword cloud doesn’t have a proportionate distribution and you have 70% commercial keywords like “payday 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”.
Irrelevant links are often times unnatural links because they don’t provide any value and are not related at all with the niche or business of the linked website. The main problem with irrelevant links is that they actively deceive both Internet users and search engines.
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. These types of irrelevant links cause the user to have an inneficient experience and could increase the bounce rate, which is another problem. Consequently, Google, and other search engines, are working in finding these type of sites and penalize those type of links.
You need to make sure that you don’t have these types of inconsistencies that occur too 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.
As you can see in the print screen below, the website used for this example has a spike of links, which can be translated into an unnatural growth.
A website that has a natural backlink profile it will have a natural growth of links and referring domains. Basically, from a referring domain a website could receive more links. If the number of links is very high then it’s not good. Below you can see a natural growth of referring domains.
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.
Same as web directories, article directories don’t bring any value to the user and pollute the internet with loads of links and irrelevant content.
21. Shady Redirects
There are a lot of white hat SEO practices that are turned into black hat. And redirects is one of these cases. The theory says that using 301 redirects will send the user from an URL to another one if the original page has moved or changed.
Sadly, some “creative” black spammers use it to gain links. Webmasters take advantage of expired domains to keep the link juice. They are redirecting the old site to their site. You could easily fall into the dark area of SEO if the expired domain is not relevant. All of these that use this practice are penalized by Google sooner or later, though. So all that shady work is useless.
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.
Press Releases are still relevant and probably will be for a long time. They are useful not only for SEO purposes but for marketing, as well. However, many webmasters don’t really understand the concept and often end up doing things that eventually harm their websites.
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.
There are lots of websites that offer backlinks from social bookmarking directories and promise to bring an influx of new quality backlinks very quickly.
24. Resource Pages
Similar to web directories, resource pages are some sort of Yellow Pages. It is 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
Sites that sell links have a recurring policy, practically you pay to keep your backlinks on those sites. If you stop paying, your link will be removed from the site, and in its 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 a sign of unnatural link tactics. 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.
Getting penalized for your website’s link profile can have quite a negative impact on your website and reflect a bad reputation.
27. Mass Ping Sites
Pinging your website exists since blogs were introduced. The method was used to tell search engines whenever you add or make major updates to the content on your site and index it. But now, search engines evolved and this practice isn’t available anymore. People are now using it as a black hat SEO technique by pining their website to receive backlinks each time they post a blog post or publish a video. Pinging too much is not such a good idea.
There are specific websites that promise to offer lots of backlinks if you ping your website. pinged them with pingfarm. Look at the example below:
Lots of people still use this technique and still ask why their content disappeared from the Google search … Google must probably penalize them because the algorithm found something suspicious.
It’s best to use known and relevant content marketing tactics that are natural and let people link back to your site. Or use promotion, social sharing, email marketing, outreach and so on for creating buzz around your content. Don’t inflate it with backlinks that are not good. It would be even harder to make any penalty recoveries.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google saying in the quality guidelines that any links can be unnatural. 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.
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.