In online marketing, SEO is the name of the game.
Search engines have created their own industry, with networks of people devoting their lives to helping websites climb search engine rankings. In many cases, however, backlinks are still desperately misunderstood.
In this blog, we take a look at some totally ninja SEO tips for beginners, analysing 21 types of backlinks your website should avoid.
1. Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
If you’ve ever tried to do some link building work, you’ve probably received an email from a blogger with a spreadsheet full of websites they own that they’d be more than happy to list your website on.
For a fee, of course.
While easy access to a host of seemingly quality sites may seem tempting, these are what are known as private blog networks, and they should be avoided at all costs.
A black hat SEO strategy, private blog networks are created by a single entity, their sole purpose is to provide backlinks to bigger websites. These aren’t authentic websites designed to offer services or value to users. They are a money-making scheme.
Google knows this and, since 2012, they’ve been closing down private blog networks. Some still survive, but those using them have reportedly been handed some serious ranking penalties.
2. Duplicate Content
Guest posting on blogs and web publications is a popular backlinking practice and, if done right, it can be immensely beneficial to your search engine marketing. Done incorrectly, it can be a tectonic disaster.
Here’s the temptation:
Writing a quality blog takes time and effort, so why not just write one excellent blog and have it published on twenty websites? Instead of writing thousands of words and spending weeks creating all the content, you could secure 20 good backlinks from one blog and a handful of emails.
The problem is, you haven’t secured 20 good backlinks, you’ve secured one. Google doesn’t like duplicate content, and doesn’t give it any benefits either.
Your duplicated content over 20 websites is only going to be ranked by one site. You’ll get the link benefits from that one website, but Google will ignore the rest. That’s 19 websites you could have got valuable links from if you had given them unique content.
The reason guest posting is such an effective digital marketing strategy is because it takes time and effort. Google isn’t going to let you do it the easy way.
3. Poor Quality Guest Posts
Duplicate content is out the window. So why not try something different… Writing 20 high-quality articles is going to be incredibly time consuming, but what if you phoned it in a little?
Instead of writing some great content that takes you a while to write, you write some poor quality content that takes you an hour per post — or you pay some guy online to write you 500 words for $3. Sure, it took longer than duplicating the same one article, but at least it cuts some corners and you got those sweet, ranking-boosting backlinks, right?
Wrong. Google’s got this covered too.
Google is very clever: it can analyse content and determine whether it has value. If it is of a poor quality and uninformative, it has no value to readers, no value to your digital marketing strategy and Google will disregard it.
4. Only Using DoFollow Links
DoFollow links have got that SEO juice — boosting your site’s ranking and search engine visibility — while NoFollow links come with none of those benefits. So, NoFollows are basically worthless, right?
While it is true that NoFollow links don’t provide that same effect as DoFollow links, they are certainly still valuable.
Google is looking for a natural backlink profile for your website — a profile that demonstrates that your website is receiving organic traffic and may be of interest to its users. All naturally popular websites have a mix of DoFollow and NoFollow links. If your site only receives DoFollow links, Google will notice this unnatural behaviour and it is likely you’ll be penalised.
A healthy mix of DoFollow and NoFollow links is essential.
5. Low Authority Backlinks
Google has a secret that we in the search engine marketing business spend our lives trying to figure out: authority.
Authority is basically how Google rates your website and the more authority you have, the more power your link punches pack.
Authority is worked out through a number of undisclosed variables that range from other incoming backlinks to audience popularity and click-through-rate — we think…
It is impossible to know for sure what authority rank a website has but Moz Open Site Explorer is an excellent tool for getting a rough estimate.
Rated out of 100, you’ll find sites like Youtube and Forbes ranking very high and personal blogs considerably lower.
As part of your digital marketing strategy, it is a preferable to aim for higher authority backlinks. Reaching sites in the 80+ region is going to be tricky or cost a pretty penny, but you can have a lot of success even with sites in the range of 20+.
Those that start to dip into the teens and single digits are considerably less valuable. Often these are new sites with a small readership — or have been penalised by Google.
Sometimes these types of links will have value, especially if they have dedicated readers or fit your particular niche very well, but their power to increase your own authority is limited so better to focus efforts elsewhere.
6. Blog Comments
Blog comments are not discouraged, but they should be used with caution.
Leaving a comment to help out the community, offering advice while linking back to a blog explaining — or at least relevant to — the subject of discussion, is a good way to build natural traffic.
However, according to Matt Cutts, former head of the Spam Team at Google, it’s not an effective way of building a backlink profile.
A couple of backlinks to your website from blog comments isn’t going to cause any problems and will actually help you produce a healthy link profile. However, lots of blog comment links can have an adverse effect.
A high volume of blog comment backlinks is viewed as a spammy practice and will have detrimental consequences for your website.
7. Forum Discussions and Signatures
Backlinks from forums work very much in the same way as blog comments.
They’ll provide you with a boost in traffic if posted in the right place and help contribute to a strong link profile if done organically, but they can be categorised as spam if overused.
Don’t get involved with forum posting as a way of building backlinks. It’s both worthless and bad practice. It is, however, a good way to gain credibility.
If you’re an expert in SEO and you are posting on SEO forums, offering advice, solving people’s queries and linking to valuable content, then your name and website could potentially become a reputable authority. This has the potential to build natural, organic traffic.
8. Link Exchanges
Everyone is looking to build up their backlink profile and they are looking to do it in the most time-effective manner possible.
“But, hold on a minute, don’t I have a spam-free website with a decent authority? Why don’t I offer to link back to some other websites in exchange for them linking to me? Everybody wins!”
Well, they used to.
In the early days of backlink building, this practice was very effective, but Google is older and wiser now. It knows people are going to try and cut corners to build links, and swapping links is one of those easy methods they are trying to discourage.
A link exchange will have a small, positive effect, but it’ll only be a fraction of the SEO benefits experienced from a one-way link. Google won’t penalise you completely; after all, there are plenty of reasons why two websites might be linking to each other for an organic reason.
Large-scale link exchanges, however, are much more noticeable and will be seen as suspicious.
Trading a link for a link is not the most fruitful kind of digital marketing strategy and the best way to avoid being penalised is to avoid it entirely and invest your time in other link building strategies.
9. Foreign Language Websites
When building backlinks, it can be easy and seriously tempting to throw your link into a foreign website. But remember, Google is always watching.
Relevancy is key to how Google makes its ranking choices. It’s a customer service after all, so it wants to provide results relevant to its customer’s demands.
If Google sees that you are linking from foreign websites — clearly websites that aren’t relevant to what you offer — it’ll flag this as suspicious behaviour. And only people up to no good are suspicious.
10. Irrelevant Backlinks
While on the subject of relevancy, it’s important to mention another common type of bad link building practice: irrelevant backlinks.
Some links are easier to get than others, but so long as the link comes from an authoritative and reputable site, it can add value to your link building campaign, right?
In a word? No.
If Exposure Ninja, a digital marketing company, was gaining backlinks from a blog devoted to board games, Google would soon notice something was amiss. Why would a board game website link to a digital marketing business?
A one-off link is unlikely to gain attention, but the more irrelevant links you have, the more artificial your backlink profile will become and the greater the chance of you being penalised.
Advertorials are a popular method of business marketing, and often a very effective one, too. What they are not effective in, however, is link building.
Google has clearly stated that backlinks gained from advertorials is an artificial method of link building, going against their guidelines for good practice.
To avoid being penalised, advertorials must be NoFollow links. If a DoFollow link is placed on advertorial content, there will likely be ranking consequences for your website.
Advertorials: Good marketing practice, bad link building practice.
12. Lack of Anchor Text Variation
Anchor text is an invaluable tool. It helps Google understand exactly what your site is and how to categorise it, but using anchor text incorrectly can be dangerous.
Using only a few (or even just one) anchor text phrases to always link back to your website is going a bad digital marketing strategy and will be clocked by Google. This is artificial, noticeable link building and it will be penalised.
When using anchor text, be sure to use a variation of keywords and synonyms to keep your phrases broad while still pointing Google in the right direction.
Not sure what keywords to use and link from? Here’s 5 tips for choosing the best keywords.
13. Overuse of Anchor Text
Just as you must be careful about the range of anchor text phrases you use, so to must you be careful of their distribution density.
A natural link profile will consist of some anchor text links and some more organic text links. For example, a blogger linking to Exposure Ninja may send a backlink our way under the keyword text “digital marketing agency”, or they may provide a link under something more casual, like “the guys over at Exposure Ninja”.
These are natural linking archetypes and Google will acknowledge them both. While anchor text links are good in moderation, if you stuff high volumes of anchor text links into every corner of your backlink profile, Google is going to notice the disparity between the usual, natural backlink profile of other websites, and your own repetitive profile.
14. Backlink Generators
A quick Google search for “backlink generator” brings up nearly half a million searches, with the leading websites offering thousands of free, high-quality backlinks in minutes.
Sound too good to be true? Yeah…
These services are automated backlink spammers, throwing your link anywhere they can. You may’ve noticed the rise of CAPTCHA over the years: software that requires interaction in order for you to sign up for websites, such as entering a word or series of numbers. This rise is owed in part to backlink generators like these abusing unassuming websites.
Using spammy link generators for search engine marketing will never end well for your website, so you should definitely avoid them.
15. Widget Backlinks
Widgets can be anything from a live chat window to a tax calculator. They are great methods of introducing interaction to a website and have become incredibly popular on the web in recent years.
If you create a good widget, you’ll probably receive interest from multiple sites wishing to post it for their own users. Google realised that brands were getting an obscenely high amount of backlinks from creating one widget and have since clamped down on the process.
Google have explicitly said that backlinks from widgets should be NoFollow, meaning there’s no need to go all chips in on this kind of link building strategy.
16. Article Directories
Article directories, like eHow and HubPages, are often self-publishing platforms designed to aggregate as much content as possible.
This means everyone can post on it, there is always a relevant topic to talk about and links are easy to come by.
As you can probably imagine, Google isn’t a fan of websites using this tactic as a digital marketing strategy. While they won’t penalise you for it (these websites aren’t actually considered spammy as they usually offer value and come equipped with some form of moderation), they won’t reward you either.
Article directories are not considered in Google’s rank boosting algorithms.
17. Backlink Hacking
This is not exactly surprising, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
Some unpleasant people think a good way of gaining backlinks is through hacking into other websites and hiding links in the code. They do this to boost the ranking of either their own websites or sites they have sold this hacking service to.
Some websites may not even know the links they have paid for are coming through hacked backlinks.
Hacked backlinks are not only heavily penalised by Google; they are very much illegal. We advise that you never carry out this practice.
If you are concerned about unwittingly paying for link building services that build links through hacking websites, the best way to avoid this problem is by doing business with reputable digital marketing agencies.
18. Links from Non-Indexed Sites
An indexed site is simply a website Google recognises. It doesn’t have to have serious clout, readership or domain authority. It just has to exist within the confines of Google’s guidelines.
Examples of sites that aren’t indexed by Google are either brand new websites or websites that have been penalised to the point of utter disregard by the search engine. Links from either type of website are useless, as Google simply doesn’t acknowledge them.
To check if a site is indexed by Google, simply search the exact site name or brand — or you can use third party tools like Pingler. If you get no hits back for it, the site is not indexed and should be avoided for now.
19. Poorly Located Backlinks
Google is one clever cookie.
It not only looks at what links are coming out of a page, but also what their position is on that page. Links located on sidebars are very often commercial — such as ads and banner ads — and Google knows this.
You want your backlink to be coming from the body of the webpage if possible, as this is where Google finds most of its organic, non-commercial backlinks that have been placed to offer user value.
20. Footer and Sidebar Backlinks
Here’s a thought. You’ve got a website and it has decent authority, so why not link to your own pages?
In a way, there is merit in this idea. Google will recognise links from your website to other corners of your site — which is why we recommend creating awesome blogs, amongst other reasons. However, this isn’t a situation that can be taken advantage of easily.
Often, website owners try and stuff multiple backlinks from their pages into footers, sidebars and other feeds that appear on every single page of the site. If you have a large site, that could be hundreds of links all pointing to one page.
Unsurprisingly, Google is aware of this tactic.
It isn’t going to penalise you for placing links in the footer or sidebar of your own website — news feeds, most popular content lists and the like are popular forms of user engagement — but it won’t give you any benefits either.
What will most likely happen is that this link that appears all over your site will be counted as just one backlink. So, links in footers and sidebars can be a great way to engage and direct traffic, but are worthless when it comes to building a backlink profile.
21. Hidden Backlinks
In a similar vein to hacking, it is quite easy to — legally — hide backlinks within your websites. This is an old digital marketing strategy, used as a way of stuffing links into a webpage without ruining its aesthetic appeal and appearing outwardly spammy.
But just because your average user can’t see these links, doesn’t mean that Google can’t. Hiding links is deceitful in the eyes of search engines and carries a heavy penalty.