Posts Tagged ‘Link Farms’

Link Farms and Link Swaps

What is a link farm?

If I own 10 websites and link them all together do I own a link farm? Will my competition report me? What if all 10 have unique content? Let’s extrapolate that over 200 websites. What if they all have unique, valuable, content but also have links between each other? See where the problem comes in? Many individuals and companies own 10, 20, or maybe hundreds of websites. If someone reports you for owning 20 websites that all link to each other at what point or through what checks are they considered a farm? What if they are all on the same IP address or registered to the same individual or company? We can only hope that content value and link purpose is a big consideration when judging a group of web sites as a farm. It would be great if we knew the answers but Google, for fear of aiding “the bad guys” rarely goes into detail. The best I can find from Google is this Link Schemes article at Google Webmaster Central. I saw a comment once where it was suggested one ask himself “Would I be doing this if the search engines didn’t exist?”. Well, yeah! How else would anyone find my other 50 websites if there was no search engine.

What about link swaps?

Are SEOs moving away from link swaps? One thing I can see in some search results reports is that Google has made some headway with link swaps. In some niche markets I monitor, I see some top sites losing position, sites that counted heavily on link management software for the past few years to build thousands of inbound links. I hope the decline in position for sites that use blatant, irrelevant link swapping continues but it must be done with consideration for context, content, and value of the swap. To penalize a two way link swap just because it is two-way goes against some of the finer points of valuing links. If I link to my local Chamber of Commerce and then join that Chamber at a later date will I be penalized because they now link back? If so then that becomes a real issue. I know search algorithms have evolved but maybe sometimes we need to remind the brainiacs of the simple and obvious.

New attempts to cheat the system.

A new practice I see with some big SEO agencies is 3-way link swaps between those in their portfolio. I’m not talking about a few clients who know each other and trade links. As far as I can tell these are large numbers of 3-way link swaps being managed with an application. It’s a genius idea for these big companies with 100 or more SEO clients where they can manage links without any two-way trades. I was able to detect this because of their public portfolio pages but imagine the really bright ones that don’t offer a portfolio page. If they keep the swaps between relevant markets then this might just be the one that works. Once they build a reputation of “page one results” then it becomes perpetual and they could really dominate the SEO field with this tactic. One caveat for their clients is that once they stop paying that marketing company they potentially lose two dozen or more quality links. It’s a little scary for the little guys (me).

Remember, Bing Search is not too far behind, if it doesn’t work with Google then it won’t be long before it doesn’t work with Bing.

What do you think, do link exchanges still make sense? Have you noticed some high-tech link farms? Should we report SPAM to Google?

—David Blizzard

Bought and Paid (Links)

I was reading a blog post on another SEO site and the post was explaining why you shouldn’t sell or buy links that pass pagerank. I thought “this could be interesting” to see someone else’s take on paid links. For the most part it explained how it’s against Google’s guidelines to pass juice in exchange for payment. Nothing new but the next article I read on that blog, by the same author, was about how he was trading or bartering with other website owners for links that pass page rank. I’m thinking to myself “wait a minute” you just finished a post about how it’s a bad idea and your competitors could turn you in and then you act like you have discovered the holy grail. In my opinion you are still paying for the links even if it’s not for cash and worse yet, you have just disclosed to the world (Google) that you are buying and selling links that pass juice or page rank.
Before I add my thoughts on paid links you can review the Google Guidelines for buying and selling links.

As far as buying links goes I recommend that you avoid link farms and uncategorized directories they are most likely the types of spam Google is trying to avoid and will eventually penalize if they haven’t already. I do encourage press releases with embedded URLs. One could argue that you are paying for the link but realistically I think you are paying for the press release and if someone picks it up then you are apparently a valid source for their service and deserving of the juiced link. You had what they wanted to offer, you didn’t directly pay them if you paid a press release service so I feel this is safe and whitehat. I also think that a well organized directory that has valid traffic should be allowed to pass pagerank even for paid listings. They invest in building and maintaining a quality product that others choose to join and as a value-add they pass juice, is that so wrong? We can only hope that this is one of Google’s exceptions to the rule. A good example is Best of the Web they have been around for a while and they have a well organized directory. They still pass rank and it would be a shame if Google penalized anyone for subscribing to that directory. This quote is attributed to Matt Cutts of Google, “We tend to look more at the quality of the directory than whether it is SEO related”. I think that clearly states that a quality directory is safe as long as its ultimate goal is to drive traffic and not squeeze juice. We maintain a business directory for our town and we often wonder if we would be penalized if we didn’t use the nofollow tag. It would be nice to offer that as a value-add to our “edit your listing” service but the unknown result is not worth the gamble. We have manually added local businesses to the directory and for a subscription fee we allow the owner to edit the content and add their URL. After further review we might remove the no follow if it’s a quality website.

In the end I would use this rule: If you are buying the link for pagerank then it’s probably a bad idea. If you are buying a link on a quality, high traffic site that has relevant content or a relevant section and they just happen to pass juice then you have probably found a gem. Just remember, Google could kill the pagerank value you are receiving from that link at any time by penalizing that site so be sure the purchase is worth the traffic without the juice.

—David Blizzard