Don’t Bet the Farm

close-up of a roulette wheel

It sounds innocent enough. You get a simple email or blog comment: “I just visited your website. I linked to it on this site. I would love it if you linked back to mine.” Or perhaps the offer is more bold and exciting: “Get thousands of FREE one-way links . . .” Inbound links? Free? And links are the life-blood of search engines, right?

Not all links. Offers like that are promotions from link farms — a means of spamming search engines in order to artificially build incoming links to a site. This link-building method stems from the days before Google’s algorithm, when search engine results were based solely upon inbound links. (Remember the miles-long blogroll trend?)

Today, the game has changed, and bloggers need to be aware of which areas of the Internet are considered “bad neighborhoods,” because links generated from link farms are labeled as SPAM by search engines. This means bloggers who exchange links with link farms may have their search engine rankings penalized.

If you are approached by another site owner with a request to submit your site, here are some things to consider:

  • Does the site in question relate to my site? Remember the purpose of link-building is to position your site as an authority on a particular topic, which will therefore generate organic search results and traffic. Search engines consider relevancy when determining the “weight” of an inbound link.
  • Does the site in question provide useful content? Many link farms are computer generated and are not developed for use by humans.
  • Does the site in question have neatly arranged row after row of nothing but links? This resemblance to what we in the South call “row crop” is what gives a link farm its name.
  • Does the site in question provide different content to users than what is displayed in search engine results? Have you ever clicked on a search engine result and been redirected to a totally unrelated site? Such sites might not be link farms, but they are using a trick called “cloaking” in order to receive higher search engine rankings. Avoid link requests from these sites, too.

It’s true we need inbound links to help our search engine page ranks, but participating in a link farm is NOT the way to build links. The best plan to develop inbound links is by consistently creating useful content for your target audience. Period.

  • Build a great site.
  • Study branding.
  • Market your site effectively.

Because site owners can’t control inbound links, those shouldn’t penalize your blog. The point here is to not link back to bad sites. Here’s an excerpt from Google’s support:

Some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

  • Links intended to manipulate PageRank
  • Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
  • Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

What are some legitimate link-building tactics?

  • Create legitimate feeder sites — Link-filled sites that provide references for users for a particular topic are not the same as link farms. Develop a directory site of relevant, useful links and include a link to your blog from the feeder site. (Think: Glossary or Encyclopedia type sites that are useful for those researching a particular topic.)
  • Article Submissions — There are a number of respected article directory sites where you can submit content. This helps brand you as an authority in your niche and creates traffic and backlinks to your site.
  • Interaction — Participating on forums and blogs within your topic will help you develop relationships, which in turn can bring inbound links to your site.
  • Social Networks — Interacting on social networks with others who share your interests will strengthen your brand, build relationships, and can also lead to incoming links.
  • Reciprocal Links — There is nothing wrong with exchanging links with other bloggers. It’s good practice. But remember that search engines consider the “contextual relevance” and “popularity” of inbound links when weighting them in your PageRank score. This means when you request to exchange links with other bloggers, it is more helpful to your page rank if your link is included in your site’s context. For example, an inbound link to my site would be better if included in a resource page under the heading “Blogging Resources.” When you request to swap links, you may want to suggest to your blogger buddies how to best identify your site.

A good site with more information about the dangers of link farms is linkfarm.info.

Until next time,

Happy Blogging!

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