Rolling the clock back to the dino-age of search engines, you see a wild frontier with search engines like Yahoo, Lycos, and AltaVista reigning supreme as the apex predators.
Yet, amidst this digital power struggle, a humble university project was beginning to evolve into the monumental titan we now call Google.
You might find yourself wondering, what sets Google apart?
How did it rise above its fearsome rivals to become the search engine behemoth that it is today?
The secret to their success?
The answer to this is an innovative core algorithm known as PageRank, the brainchild of Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
PageRank, an advanced algorithm, evaluated webpages not just on content but also on the credibility earned through the number of backlinks garnered.
This was the foundation stone that positioned Google distinctively in the search engine landscape.
Fast forward to today, and Google’s philosophy still echoes its early values, with SERPs highlighting pages based on the quality of their earned backlinks.
But don’t be fooled; Google is now an experienced adult with battle scars that remind of how it thwarted spammy techniques in the past. So, the naive link spamming strategies that worked in its infancy just don’t cut it anymore.
However, link spamming tactics still remain a thorn in Google’s side, even after the preventive measures taken by the 2012 Penguin update and the 2022 Link Spam update.
So buckle up as we embark on a journey, diving deep into the murky world of Link Spam and how to not get into Google’s hit list by building backlinks that betray you at some point.
We’ll explore various types of link spam that Google is tirelessly battling and, more importantly, the lifelines to grab if your website gets penalized for link spamming.
Get ready to uncover the secrets of the evolving digital battlefield!
In this post we will discuss:
Understanding Link Spam
The Birth and Death of Typical Link Spam
Types of Link Spam that Get You Penalized
Implications of Link Spamming
Recovering from Link Spam Penalties
Building Links Vs. Link Spamming
Understanding Link Spam
SEOs are like any other human.
They have two types of instincts: one that pushes them to try everything possible to get a website to the top of Google’s search results (even if it means bending some rules) and another that tells them to be careful not to upset Google.
In the past, some SEOs used methods like “link spamming” to try to trick Google into giving their website a higher rank. This is when a lot of irrelevant websites link back to their website, making it seem more important than it actually is.
However, Google doesn’t like this.
They’ve warned that if a website uses these tricks, it could disappear from the search results completely.
Even those who preach about ethical link-building methods have used these strategies before at some point in their career until Google started threatening to penalize them.
Others try to find new ways to trick Google’s system without getting caught.
But Google is smart! They can usually catch the obvious link spamming strategies quickly.
The search giant is also working hard to spot the new tricks that people are using to try to cheat the system.
So why is Google so against link spamming? Because they want to give their users the best search results possible.
If they let websites with spammy links and poor content rank highly, it would make Google look bad. It could also lead to fewer people using Google search, which would mean fewer advertisers and less money for Google.
Google is dedicated to providing the best, most relevant search results. And they will do everything in their power to keep rule-breakers from unfairly climbing to the top.
The Birth and Death of Typical Link Spam
There was a time from the beginning of this millennium till the beginning of the second decade when guest books, directory listings and public forums were extensively used as hubs for link spamming.
Back then, Google was about to set a strong foothold in the search market industry, and the results displayed were less vetted than the ones we see today.
I’m talking about the time before the Panda and the Penguin updates.
Anybody who built hundreds of backlinks and stuffed keywords was able to find a top spot on Google search.
What ensued was a rigorous attempt by SEOs and website owners to get as many links from wherever possible. What they were doing back then wasn’t blackhat. All they did was a strategy that any other person was doing, and it worked like a charm until Google dropped the Penguin bomb.
Back then, having a lot of links was more important than having good quality relevant links like today.
So when Penguin was launched, it created a shockwave across the whole SEO sphere as overnight rankings took a nosedive, and the whole industry stood still as if facing armageddon.
Let’s look at the list of link spamming strategies that SEOs preferred in the early stages of Google’s life that are now easily detected and penalized for.
Types of Link Spam that Get You Penalized 99% of Times
Link spamming manifests in several ways, each with its own characteristics and potential impacts.
Spam posting was the most commonly associated form of link spam back in the days before the Penguin. It is now easily associated with a black hat link-building practice. These links were created by posting standalone links in public forums, comment sections, or guest books.
Some people still engage in this kind of link building, but unfortunately, in most cases, it won’t work as the links so built are mostly no-follow or UGC backlinks that carry little to no value. So, in 2023, if people engage in spam posting, then the chances are they are wasting a lot of time doing a futile SEO activity.
This practice leverages platforms that allow free sign-ups, making it easier for link spammers to create accounts and post their spam comments with links. These links, however, are easy to spot as spam. If users can identify it as spam, then no doubt Google can detect it too, which makes this one of the easiest blackhat link-building practices that can get a website penalized.
There was a time when websites used hidden content to get an undue keyword ranking advantage. A similar practice was prevalent when the links were placed on pages with the same background color so that people wouldn’t notice it, but Google’s bot would. Websites were used to hide links in images or bury them within the site’s code to trick Google’s algorithms.
Now, if any website indulges in such link-building practice, the wrath of Google is almost sure to wipe out the site from Google’s search results and slap them with manual action.
Link farms are a group of websites that repeatedly link to each other to increase their backlink count, thereby hoping to get an undue ranking advantage.
However, this process is less effective than it sounds now. Google algorithms can now tell when links aren’t authentic by checking if the links are placed within a context from websites relevant to the industry.
In most cases, Google fails to find any relevance to the links built, and because of this, link farming will backfire if done now.
It can either have no effect, or worse; it can harm a website with Google blacklisting it for flouting the guideline. If a site is caught participating in a link farm, it could be marked as spam, which can lower its ranking in search engine results.
Overuse of nofollow links can also be a sign of link spamming. Automated link-building programs sometimes employ randomized nofollow links to improve a page’s backlink profile while trying to bypass Google’s spam detectors.
However, since the Penguin update, which evaluates links for their quality and context rather than quantity, it’s increasingly challenging for automated systems to avoid detection.
Moreover, nofollow links do not pass PageRank. Thus, they do not contribute to your SERP ranking even if they escape detection as spam.
Single-post blogs packed with many backlinks to irrelevant websites are a trademark sign of link spam. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t link your blogs to other websites, but if done from single-post blogs that exist solely for building backlinks, it’s a clear sign of link spamming.
A well-maintained blog becomes a hub of highly resourceful assets due to consistent posting of high-quality content and authority links earned from knowledge sharing.
Single-post blogs often fail to gain impressions or independent traffic due to their isolation, making their effectiveness minimal at best.
Directories can be a valuable asset when trying to improve your SERP rank, particularly for local SEO. Registering your business across different authoritative directories can significantly improve your search rank.
However, the efficacy of this strategy relies heavily on the directory’s authority. Registering across thousands of low-quality directories, especially those created with link manipulation in mind, can raise red flags for search engine algorithms.
Google has even started scrubbing free directories from search results due to their lack of value. So, this link-building strategy may not end up in a manual action or penalty, but it’s not worth spending valuable time on.
I kept this one for the last because this link-building strategy is still prevalent, and despite continuous Google warnings, this spammy link-building tactic has survived and is still practiced by a few SEOs.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs) are another method of spammy link-building practice aimed at making Google algorithms think a particular page is highly valuable. In contrast, in reality, it’s not.
People who engage in PBN-based backlinks buy many expired domains with high authority and use them to link to a particular website or a group of websites. These sites are usually hosted on the same server, making them easily detectable for users and for Google.
Here’s how PBNs usually work:
Domain Acquisition: The PBN operator purchases multiple domains relevant to their niche or industry. Due to their previous content and backlink profile, these are often expired domains with high domain authority.
Website Creation: The operator then builds small websites on these domains, often populating them with content related to the industry or niche of their main website. The content might be unique or spun (rephrased by software to create “new” content) and is generally low-quality.
Link Building: These newly created websites are then used to build links back to the operator’s main website or websites. The operator has complete control over the anchor text, content, and linking patterns.
It has been proved that PBNs give a short-term boost to the rankings, but this comes with many risks, as Google is on a witch hunt to track down and penalize websites that intentionally engage in PBN links. The consequence of this could lead to a drop in rankings or a complete de-indexing of the website in the wake of a manual action.
If you are considering an agency to build backlinks to your website, then make sure that the links they build aren’t from PBNs. The initial few months after building these links may show an increase in rankings, but one Google link spam update can take all of it down and pose a severe threat to your website’s reputation in the eyes of Google.
Implications of Link Spamming
Google is always working to find and penalize websites that resort to spammy link-building strategies. However, despite Google’s advancements in spam detection, some webmasters and SEOs continue to employ link spamming.
Link spamming poses a serious threat to websites that practice it. As these low-quality links offer no value to users, link spamming plunges a deep dent in user experience. Google takes user experience signals seriously and it usually does NOT offer good rankings to sites that offer a poor user experience.
Link spamming, again, is a violation of Google’s Guidelines itself. Google clearly doesn’t like it when its guidelines are broken, which, when detected, leads to horrible consequences for the sites in question.
As link spamming is an attempt to manipulate Google’s rankings, the search engine giant has the stringest policies in place to take down sites concerned. In such cases, Google reserves the right to penalize a site and bang it down in SERPs or completely wipe it off its index.
If Google removes a site from its index, it will not be visible in search results at all. That’s the last thing any webmaster wants, and such is the aftermath of link spamming.
Recovering from Link Spam Penalties
If your website has fallen victim to link spam, either due to your own past actions or those of a hired SEO company, worry not. There’s always a way out. You can recover your site from the effects of link spamming using the following methods.
Cease Link Spamming Activities
If you’re still indulging in link spamming, put an end to it immediately. The longer your spam posts date back, the more likely it is for Google to neglect them when ranking your site.
Conduct an SEO Audit
Hidden spammy links or other undetected deleterious practices may cause havoc with your site and hamper its progress. Run an SEO audit on your site to figure out what is wrong with it and locate the source of the problem to fix it.
Utilize Google’s Disavow Tool
Finally, consider using Google’s disavow tool. With this tool, you can tell Google to ignore certain links when the search engine ranks your site. But beware. If the disavow tool is misused, it may cause a further drop in your rankings.
In fact, John Mueller, Senior Search Analyst / Search Relations team lead, has stated that the disavow tool is really only effective on “really paid for (penalized) or otherwise actively unnaturally placed links.” Rely on your SEO audit findings to determine which of your links you want to disavow.
Case Study of Recovering a Website from Link Spam
RV Obsession, a blog started by Michelle Rudge in 2017, targets individuals in New Zealand and Australia with an interest in RV living and traveling. Despite experiencing a surge in organic traction in 2020, the blog began experiencing a decline in organic rankings and traffic in 2021.
Upon partnering with link-building company Stan Ventures in May 2021, the downward trend in RV Obsession’s traffic continued unexpectedly, even after meticulous outreach campaigns. A traffic decline audit revealed that certain keywords that previously held the #1 position on Google had disappeared, and numerous previously high-ranking keywords had lost their positions.
An in-depth review of the site’s backlink profile showed that earlier domains that had linked to RV Obsession removed their backlinks or made them ‘nofollow’. The links built by a previous agency were being removed after RV Obsession ended their contract. Additionally, the website’s spam score had increased, suggesting the backlinks built were not authentic.
The Stan Ventures team identified the spammy links and submitted a disavow request on Google Search Console, with the approval of the RV Obsession team. They also fixed on-page SEO issues identified during the audit.
Following these fixes, RV Obsession’s keyword rankings improved and saw a two-fold increase in the number of keywords ranking. Organic traffic peaked at 26k, the blog now ranked for 341 keywords in the top three positions, and over a thousand keywords made it to Google’s top 10 positions. The partnership with Stan Ventures is ongoing.
Knowing what sets link building apart from link spamming and understanding what is actually link-worthy can help you improve your website’s authority and achieve higher rankings by getting on Google’s good side.
Leveraging fair link building practices can boost the online visibility of your site, drive qualified referral traffic, accelerate your SERP rankings and result in sustainable growth for your website. On the flip side, link spamming practices, even if they seem to bear fruits in a short time, will push your site down the ivory tower only to get it badly injured.
Make sure you build high-quality, relevant backlinks that align well with your content and deliver value to your visitors. This way, you can conveniently dodge the link spam pitfalls and march forward toward SEO success.
When it comes to creating relevant backlinks for your website you can trust Stan Ventures to handle this task. We are known for being a partner in link building. for many agencies across the US, UK and Australia.
Our team consists of over 100 outreach experts who are dedicated to establishing new connections. Every month we actively engage with 1000 website owners focusing on nurturing these relationships to obtain genuine and high quality backlinks for our clients.
If you want information, feel free to chat with us in the live chat below or send us an email. Our SEO expert will respond to you soon as possible.
With over 12 years of expertise, Dileep has carved a name for himself as a trailblazer in the SEO industry. As an acclaimed author and relentless learner, he has transformed countless websites with tailored digital marketing strategies, thanks to his profound insights and innovative approach.
Dileep's passion for staying ahead of the curve is evident in his contributions to Stan Ventures and the 100+ publications that feature his groundbreaking articles on SEO and digital marketing. His dedication to knowledge-sharing has earned him widespread recognition as a go-to expert in the field.
For cutting-edge SEO solutions or to delve into the mind of a true digital marketing virtuoso, connect with Dileep through the links provided below.
@Mail | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook or View all posts by Dileep