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Which Kinds of Backlink Building Tactics are Harmful?

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In the grand scheme of things, inbound links serve a good purpose for a website. Search engines analyze backlinks to a website, which helps to determine the website’s popularity, importance and ultimately, search engine ranking. This is one of the most important aspects of SEO. In fact, inbound links are considered by search engines as a vote by one website for another website, either in terms of content, layout, professionalism, products, services or usefulness.

On the other hand, some inbound links are harmful and should be eliminated. The types of inbound links that can cause issues for a site are: reciprocal links, incestuous links, link farms, webrings and bad neighborhoods. Google routinely checks for and detects bad backlinks. When it is discovered that a website has bad backlinks, PageRank will be negatively affected along with the link and domain equity. This could cause the page to fail link value, and even worse, the website could get penalized for activity that is considered to be sneaky or devious.

A penalty might be relatively minor, such as striping a website of all link equity. In other situations, punishment could be more serious. For instance, rankings on the search results page may be reduced. In the most severe cases, a webpage or even an entire domain could be completely removed from the search engine index and blacklisted. In the event that a website has been blacklisted, it will no longer be indexed and will never again appear in search results. In effect, the website is dead. This is why webmasters must know what bad inbound links are and how to deal with them immediately.

Reciprocal Links

When one site links to another site and the second site links back to the first, this is called a reciprocal link. This is generally the least harmful of bad backlinks. However, it is still thought of in a negative way by the search engines, and it does diminish the link value on both sides. A simple link exchange such as this could be considered to be just like a banner ad in the eyes of the search engines.

Incestuous Links

This is where one entity has multiple domains and each website links to the other. The owner tries to pretend that they are not part of the same organization and attempts to pass the backlinks off as legitimate links from an outside source. Incestuous linking is designed to trick and deceive Internet users, usually for monetary gain, but more than that, there are trying to fool the crawlers. This is a tactic that is not always easy to spot at first, but will eventually be uncovered by the search engines.

Sites utilizing this sort of incestuous backlink strategy will be punished. To start with, the links in question will automatically be devalued. More than likely, all of the links on the website will be devalued and the site will be labeled as spam. Rightly so, if a website is marked as spam for this kind of trickery and deceit, it will be blacklisted and never again listed in search results.

Link Farms

For good reason, search engines are actively fighting back websites that propagate spam and we should all thank them for their tireless efforts. In the early Y2K era, spamming webmasters were out of control and something needed to be done. It was these types of websites that created the need for SEO. Spam sites utilize all sorts of sneaky, underhanded and deceitful techniques that are designed to trick search engines into handing out higher search engine rankings. Literally hundreds, sometimes even thousands of sites all link together. Link farms are programmed to have a multitude of links pointing to a large number of sites, all with the intent or purpose of building link equity. In turn, this will enable those sites to achieve a higher rating with the search engines.

A link farm can actually link to webpages without permission, and that can cause problems with search engines for a completely innocent website. If a webmaster uncovers evidence that the site they maintain has unknowingly become part of a link farm, they should immediately ask for their site to be removed from the exchange as soon as possible. If no action is taken, a website that remains part of a link farm runs the risk of losing link equity or even becoming blacklisted.

Webrings

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Not necessarily considered to be spam, a webring is a group of websites from all over the Internet that interconnect in a group structure. When a website joins a webring, it is automatically part of a group of similar or genre related websites. It is pretty easy to spot a website that belongs to a webring, because there is usually a section on the website that advertises the webring.

Joining a webring is not going to cause a website to be blacklisted or even devalue the links contained within. However, those links will never increase link equity on any of the websites involved, and what’s more, the inbound traffic is likely not very valuable in terms of conversions either.

Bad Neighborhoods

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Often times, a website is not indexed on the major search engines. This could be for a variety of reasons. Of course, it is entirely possible that the website is just too new and the crawlers have not made it to that site yet. However, it is usually more likely the case that the domain has come from what is known as a bad neighborhood. As you have seen in this article, which really just barely scratches the surface of this topic, websites routinely get omitted from the search engine indexes for good reasons. When websites have been blacklisted, generally it is because of unscrupulous webmasters who have committed a number of cardinal sins, either by programming their website to propagate spam, or they make use of sneaky, deceitful, crooked and dishonest methods simply in an effort to fool the advanced algorithms of search engines.

Websites that shelter other websites, which have been banned from search engines, are considered to be just as guilty of the same cyber atrocities. Therefore, if a website is part of what is known as a bad neighborhood by accepting backlinks from a site that has been blacklisted, then that can cause problems, even for the truly innocent and unknowing victims of sneaky webmasters. In effect, this would be akin to associating with the kids in school with the bad reputations. Yes, even in the virtual world, there is such a thing as guilty by association and a website can be accused of using spam techniques despite the fact that it is a perfectly legitimate website and otherwise not affiliated with the dishonest website.

If a webmaster notices any undesirable website has linked to theirs, they should take appropriate measures to request that their site be removed as soon as possible. Remember to always be polite as not to make the situation worse by causing the dishonest party to become angry. Let this also be a reminder that every webmaster needs to strive to keep their sites on the up-and-up at all times. It is very important to never give the impression that anything unethical is going on.

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Chelsea Harris

A Northwest native currently residing in Seattle and graduate of the University of Washington, Chelsea is an avid cyclist and rock climber and has been working in the Seattle startups scene since leaving the school.

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