18 Types of Backlinks Google Says To Avoid
The Google propaganda machine has run rampant over the last few years, with them claiming that “building backlinks” violates the Google Terms Of Service, and can have your website penalized or deindexed.
I’m going to tell you right now that it’s all just that — propaganda. The reason Google has come out and stated that these types of links violate their Terms of Service are because they cannot accurately determine which links are good and which links are bad.
They do have algorithms in place to judge the quality of backlinks, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they can actually tell a good link from a bad link. What they can do is put together an overall “big picture” view of what your link portfolio looks like, and make a determination based on it.
In an effort to help keep you safe from the Google algorithms knocking down your rankings, or a manual reviewer spotting suspicious activity, I’m going to break down all the different types of links that Google says are “bad” and how to avoid being caught up in the “spam brigade”.
Please note, all of these links work, and you can tell that they work because Google has said that they’re “bad”. By acknowledging that they’re “bad”, Google has come out and admitted that they know these links work to influence rankings, and that spammers have abused the tactics.
That does not mean that these types of links do not work anymore, though. I’m about to break them all down for you, and how you can still use them to your advantage today.
#1 – Any Blatant SERP Manipulation
This is one of the most obvious rules that Google has. They’ve come out and stated that any link that is put in place in an effort to manipulate PageRank (no longer visible to the public) or the search results is a violation of their Terms of Service, and can have your website penalized or deindexed.
Unfortunately for Google, they cannot actually tell which links are built for SERP manipulation and which links are natural. They can take a look at the big picture link profile of your site and make a determination, but on a link by link basis, they don’t have a clue what’s really going on.
If they could tell which links are designed to manipulate the search results, and do it algorithmically, SEOs would be out of a job and the business.
#2 – Low Quality Backlinks
There’s so much wrong with this one, where do I actually begin. What is deemed as a “low quality” backlink. Going one step further, how can they actually prove that you built the link in an effort to rank higher in the search results?
Again, this is one that they can’t take on a link by link basis, but if your link profile consists of 75% junk links, you can bet that you may face an algorithmic penalty.
To combat the “low quality” and junk link problem, Google has come out with the disavow tool. By using it, you are helping to train their algorithm on how to spot junk links. That doesn’t mean these links won’t work in a large number of low-competition industries.
#3 – Duplicate / Spun Content Links
This is one that I tend to agree with Google on, as far as being “bad” goes. They have come out and blatantly stated that links coming from duplicated and spun content are violations of their Terms of Service, but that doesn’t meant the links still don’t work.
Again, using these depends on the makeup of your link profile. If you have a majority of links coming from duplicated and spun content, you’re going to get nailed.
However, if you “syndicate” your content (as in the case with news websites), and use the rel=canonical tag, you can increase your SERP rankings with duplicated content based links. Just don’t overdo it, and you’re OK.
#4 – Irrelevant Backlinks
Google has also stated that links from irrelevant websites are going to harm your rankings. I bet you’ve guessed by now, though, that they’re wrong, and can’t actually penalize you for links from irrelevant websites.
Instead of getting penalized, the links won’t carry as much weight as if they were from websites in the same industry or niche as the website you’re getting links to. This is another area that you need to practice moderation.
The only time you need to worry about this is if you’re trying to get a link from a page about car insurance to a page that’s written about fishing or kiteboarding, for instance. Those are completely irrelevant, and just not worth the time or money to build.
#5 – Social Bookmarking
A few years ago there were quite a few tools that would allow you to automate your social bookmarking and link building. Spammers took over and abused this strategy heavily, which called for Google to make a statement about the links and how they’re putting your website at risk.
Fast forward a few years, though, and social bookmarking is alive and well — just in a different way.
Google has begun implementing “social signals” into their algorithm, so getting social bookmarks, likes, shares, tweets, and other activity from reputable social media websites can help increase your rankings in high competition niches.
#6 – Web Directories
This is another strategy that was heavily abused by SEOs when a few programmers released tools that allowed you to automate the process. As soon as that happened, Google came out and stated that web directories do not carry weight and could possibly harm your rankings.
While I don’t necessarily recommend you go out and build hundreds of web directory links to your blog or website, these types of links do still work, and help you pad out your link profile with anchor texts like “click here”, your website name, and your naked URL.
Getting links from industry specific and niche related web directories is still a very strong tactic, and help your website appear more natural to the algorithms.
#7 – Auto Generated Links
This is a strategy that I tend to agree with Google on. They’ve stated that your website will be penalized for it, and I’ve seen it in action. These are most commonly software generated backlinks, or links that you purchase from Fiverr sellers (for instance) that sell you 10,000 links at the same time.
With so many other link building strategies you can do to increase your rankings, direct traffic, and search engine traffic, there really is no reason that you need to be automatically building links.
#8 – Guest Posting
This one makes me laugh. Google openly stated that “guest posting” can get you penalized and that you shouldn’t do it. In fact, they went on a year-long propaganda fest that tried scaring the SEO industry away from this strategy.
The fact that they spent so much time trying to convince you that your website will be penalized for guest posting should tell you everything you need to know about the strategy.
It works, and they cannot — repeat, cannot — tell a legitimate guest post from a paid guest post from a legitimate editorial based backlink.
The massive team of manual reviewers (aka: humans) that they’ve employed can’t even tell the difference, when you do it right. Just don’t be blatant, by obtaining a ton of guest posting links from websites that don’t get traffic on their own, and you’re safe.
When the guest post links you build can send you traffic on their own, you’re 100% safe using this strategy.
#9 – Foreign Language Links
Before I get into this one, there’s one major question that I want you to ask yourself if you’re getting a ton of links from foreign websites: why?
Are these links actually going to help you, by delivering traffic that is in your target market? Or are they built solely for the fact you want to manipulate your search rankings?
If you’re trying to increase your SERP rankings by using foreign backlinks, you’re doing it wrong. If you want to rank higher in the foreign search results, convert to the native language, and then get links from those foreign domain names.
If you’re trying to get foreign links to content that’s in English, for example, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.
#10 – Repetitive Keyword Stuffing
Anchor text distribution ratios are huge in today’s SEO landscape.
In years past, you could get away with 70% of your links containing the main keyword you wanted to rank for.
Then the algorithms were adjusted, and you could get away with 50% of the links.
Then they were updated again, and if more than 30% of your links contained your main keywords, you’d get penalized.
Today, you need to be a lot more conservative with how you’re building links to your websites, because anchor text distribution is one of the easiest ways for algorithms to figure out that you’re trying to manipulate the search results.
Every industry is different, and if you want to find out what’s “natural” for your industry, you need to look into some of the top websites that are ranking highly for the keywords you want to rank for, and then imitate those results with your anchor text distribution ratios.
#11 – Sitewide / Footer Links
Google loves to think that sitewide and footer links are bad for your business, and have even openly stated that websites that are caught using this strategy will be penalized, but it hasn’t stopped a lot of large brand names from using the tactic to increase their rankings.
The key to making it work comes down to how you’re using it and the anchor text distribution. You need to take both into account.
For instance, if you get a sitewide link from a site with 1,500 pages in the index, you just increased the amount of links using your anchor text by 1,500. That will get you penalized, in most cases.
If you have 100,000 links, though, and you increase your links by 1,500, your rankings will increase and the algorithms won’t ever notice.
#12 – Hacked / Hidden Links
This is just bad karma, as a webmaster, and a business owner. If you’re purchasing links from hacked websites (SAPE, for instance), you really should be ashamed of yourself.
However, I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to educate you.
These links work, until the algorithms figure out that the website has been hacked, and that all the websites it previously linked to need to be examined under closer scrutiny.
To stay on the safe side, just avoid links from hacked websites, or links that are hidden in invisible text using font and CSS codes.
#13 – Article Directories
Article directories were all the rage from 2007 to 2011. Then Google got keen to the gypsy ways and started devaluing the websites using algorithms to detect low quality content.
Think of article directories like eZineArticles and GoArticles. Once the algorithms were updated, both sites tanked like rocks to the bottom of the ocean.
Today’s article directories are a lot more sophisticated, though. They’re not called “article directories”, they’re called BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and others. They’re passing themselves off as news sites and guest contributor sites.
#14 – Paid Links
Google put the propaganda machine in motion a few years ago by coming out and stating that websites who were allowing people to buy “advertisements” (aka: paid links) needed to use the nofollow attribute, along with the “Sponsored Post” label to identify the fact they were paid links.
Webmasters got smart and bucked Google’s advice, and continued selling links without the nofollow and Sponsored Post tags.
Done properly, through reputable sellers and relevant websites, it is 100% impossible for Google to detect a paid link. As long as the sites you’re buying links from link out to other websites using an editorial process, and don’t only link out when they’re selling links, you’re safe using this strategy.
#15 – Advertorials
Advertorials were a way for companies to bypass the nofollow and Sponsored Post requirements for paid posts, but once companies heard they would lose search engine traffic, they stopped allowing “paid posts” in favor of advertorials.
An advertorial is a mix between an advertisement and an editorial article. They’re primarily written by copywriters to move traffic from one website to another — usually to an optin form or sales page.
The basis of the strategy in, and of, itself shows you why Google doesn’t actually matter when it comes to creating advertorials.
You’re publishing them for the sake of moving traffic from the site it’s published on over to your site. Therefore, Google’s search results have little to do with the strategy, and can be ignored completely.
#16 – Widget Links
A lot of programmers figured out they could create a WordPress widget and distribute it to thousands of websites, while including a link back to their own website at the bottom of the widget when it was installed.
Google got wise to the ways, and put out a notice that these types of links were going to start getting websites penalized.
When you go back to the sitewide and footer links example, you can understand how the strategy really works, and how it can actually be used.
If you plan on producing a widget to distribute for links (or even being helpful, for that matter), just make sure you have enough other links to cover the sheer volume you could see if the widget or app goes viral.
#17 – Blog Networks
The blog networks that Google has come out and stated will get your website penalized are the blog networks of previous years. The public networks that allowed anyone with a PayPal account to join and start spamming their network with junk content.
Those are dead. There’s no doubt about it.
However, private (truly private) blog networks still working great. Building your own private blog network is the best route to take, but can get incredibly expensive.
Buying links from a truly private network (with an owner that discerns who they sell links to) is the second best option for increasing your SERP rankings.
#18 – Reciprocal Links
Reciprocal links, or link exchanges, refer to giving a website a link in exchange for them linking back to you. This strategy is, for the most part, useless, when there are so many other different strategies you can use.
When used sparingly, getting reciprocal links won’t necessarily get your website penalized, but it’s blatantly obvious to the algorithms that the links are part of an exchange agreement, resulting in them being devalued.
If you’re planning on sending traffic from your site to theirs, and then having them send their traffic to you, there’s nothing wrong with this strategy.
Just make sure you use it sparingly.
As you can see, Google doesn’t necessarily have their act together when it comes to stopping link spam.
As long as you’re cautious about the strategies you’re using, and only get links from strong, relevant websites that are able to send you traffic on their own, you have zero to worry about when it comes to Google’s Terms of Service.