Understanding the Risks of Aggressive Link Building

February 23, 2012 - by Andy · Filed Under SEO, Uncategorized Leave a Comment 
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    Risks of Agressive Link Building in SEO

    The risks of aggressive link building are less dramatic than the fear mongering white hat SEO’s make out. The most obvious risk is that by building links aggressively you are breaking the Google guidelines and risk getting a penalty or even being removed from the index. Obviously the more aggressive you are the higher the risk.

    For example, I am now going to describe two websites, website 1 ranked number 1 for a big money term and stayed ranking number one for two years before getting banned. Website 2 is a high quality authority site that has been ranking number one for many terms for at least 5 years and makes 6-figures a month.

    Case Study Site 1:

    Site one was a very thin affiliate site. There was little unique value adding content and just about every page on the website was designed for the sole purpose of generating a sale. If I was to describe what the site looked like, I would say it looked like one giant doorway page/advert/landing page. The site was not a great user experience but made a lot of money.

    The most aggressive link building method this site implemented was that the site paid a free web counter site to include their link within the <no script> tag. In case you don’t know what this is, the link was basically invisible and placed on thousands of unrelated sites. This site ranked #1 for several phrases until it was ultimately removed from the index.

    Case Study Site 2:

    Site two is one of the most popular portals in the poker industry. The site ranks for just about every poker related phrase that exists. It makes detailed, high quality reviews for just about every poker site and money term that converts. The site also covers the latest industry news, provides live tournament updates, strategy content and is just an all around great website with a fantastic user experience. The site must employ at least a dozen staff in order to pump out the huge volume of high quality editorial content it does.

    The site also engages in very aggressive link building. The site does article distribution, paid guest posts, paid link purchases and also engages in some creative link building. One of the creative strategies I noticed the company doing was creating a poker odds calculator widget that has a link back to their site at the bottom. I then assume the site paid various poker blog owners to embed the poker odds widget on their site. I am sure this worked out very well for them.

    Both sites aggressively built links and broke the Google guidelines. However the difference between both of these sites is twofold.  First of all site 2 is a much better user experience, if  both sites were manually reviewed by a human quality reviewer from Google, Site 1 would deemed a poor user experience and potentially banned, whereas site 2 would be deemed  a good user experience. Site 1 would never attract natural links, whereas site 2 is an authority and is sometimes linked to naturally. Secondly, the way site 2 went about building links aggressively was a lot smarter. Site 1’s hidden link building was stupid, whereas site 2’s widget bait idea was clever and appeared natural.

    Google will never admit that the practices of site 2 are acceptable. If they did that it would open the flood gates and everyone would start building links aggressively. However, from what I have seen in competitive niches, if you have either A) A big brand or B) Have an amazing high quality site, you seem to be able to get away with murder.

    Aggressive Link Building Best Practices

    With all of that being said, below are my best practices for building links aggressively:

    –       What you can get away with is often industry dependant. For example, Google is less likely to take action against sites that are building links aggressively when all of the top ranking sites are also building links aggressively. Remember, Google has to be fair. They can’t take action against one site in the top 10 if all of the top 10 sites have spammy looking link profiles. And quite frankly, Google doesn’t want to be manually taking action against everyone who engages in aggressive link building.

    –       The odds of you getting some kind of penalty are dependent on the quality of your site. The thinner your site the easier it is for Google to justify taking action against you. Google wants high quality content to rank well. Also, if you are a huge brand, you can more or less get away with murder.

    Take JC Penney for example, they got away with massive low quality link building until they were ousted by a journalist at the NY Times. Remember, Google only took action against JC Penney when they were forced to due to the publicity. After 3 months, the site was ranking number one again for a number of big terms. Remember, Google needs big brands as much as big brands need Google. How stupid does it look if someone searches for “JC Penney towels” and JC Penney do not show up number 1.

    –       Google is getting better at filtering low quality links. In order to get around this you need to do several things. First of all, you need to build several different types of low quality and high quality links at the same time. For example, if you start building lots of profile links to your site, the impact will be a lot less than if you build say.. Profile links, blog comments, guest posts, article links, directory links, blog network links and blogroll links all at the same time. Mix that in with getting many high quality authoritative links and you should be in good shape. Let’s say you build just say profile links, if Google figures a way to devalue all of your profile links you lose all of your rankings. Whereas if you are getting links from a wide range of sources, both high quality and low quality, you are much more protected from Google algorithm changes.

    –       Get lots of white hat authoritative links!  If you engage in grey hat link building strategies, you will balance out your link profile by getting high quality links also. If some of your low quality links get devalued or filtered out in some way, your authoritative links will still help you out.

    –       Do NOT get too many links with the same anchor text. You want your link profile to appear as natural as possible.  As well as getting links with your primary keyword and modifiers of that keyword, you also want to get links that contain the language humans use to link naturally. Let’s say you want to rank for “Party Poker”, (I don’t suggest you try and rank for this, it’s incredibly competitive) an example of different anchor texts you might incorporate include: Party Poker, PartyPoker, PartyPoker.com, Party Poker Bonus, Party Poker Bonus Code, Party Poker Review, Visit Party Poker, Click here to visit Party Poker, Visit PartyPoker.com, Partypoker.com review, More information on party poker etc etc.

    As far as a distribution, I might go for something like 33% main keyword, 33% modifiers of the keyword and 33% terms that use Click here, visit, more or other similar derivatives. In practice though, I am not trying to get a certain percentage of anchors saying X keyword. I am just mixing it up and guessing as I go along. As far as I am concerned it’s much more important to use lots of different variations of anchor text than to few. It’s definitely possible to trip an anchor text filter causing a ranking penalty by getting too many links with the same anchor text.

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