Link spam is a common scheme used by black hat SEO folks, bad SEO agencies, and novice SEO practitioners that post out-of-content links on websites, comments on blog posts, in discussion forums, or other online areas with backlinks to a certain website.
This link scheme is often intended to manipulate PageRank or a website’s keyword rankings in Google’s organic search results. Link spamming is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which also includes any behaviors that intend to manipulate links to your website or outgoing links from your website to other(s).
The purpose of link spam is to increase backlinks to a site the spammer wishes to promote online. The higher the number of backlinks generated for a web page, amongst several other things, will in turn help to increase the page authority of that web page and simultaneously improve its keyword positions on Google’s organic search engine result pages (SERP). The higher the keyword rankings for head & long-tail web searches means greater visibility over competing web pages, and in turn, that website will receive more visitors, and potentially more customers.
How Link Spamming Started
Link spamming has been around for quite a while now. Prior to the 2012 Google Penguin Update that demoted website rankings for websites that violated Google’s Search Guidelines, link spamming started out in website guestbooks, where the link spammers would repeatedly paste backlinks to the site they were promoting.
Over the years, link spamming had gotten more sophisticated, as link spammers began looking elsewhere to wikis. As a result of this new link spam scheme, the term “wikispam” was conceived. Many wikis, including Wikipedia, have web pages in their sandbox testing areas filled with spammy links, along with active pages that are defaced by links.
Types of Link Spam
There are several forms of link spam you may come across on your own online or certain spammy links that can negatively affect your search rankings.
1/ Spam Posting
This happens when black hat SEO link builders post only links in web forums, blog comment sections, wikis, or online guestbooks. These web fields are often low barriers to enter and post spammy links inside of – making it easier for bad SEO link builders to quickly create an account and then spam links in the comment sections. Often, they do this via automation which can quickly generate hundreds to thousands of spammy links in posts & comments across may web pages. These spam links are easy to identify and almost always irrelevant to the specific content of the web page or site they are placed on.
2/ Hiding Backlinks in Content
Another form of link spam is with hidden links. This is the process of a website hiding hyperlinks in content where a user cannot easily see them (no color contrast) as they use the same color for regular text and hyperlinks or they match the background (ex. white text links on white background space) to even hiding links within images or within the website’s HTML so only the search engine algorithms can view them. All of these tactics are known about and can be quickly sniffed out by Google’s search quality algos. If this is being practiced across your website, you can be highly assured that you will be penalized at some point.
3/ Single Blog Posts
Single post blogs with links only pointing to your website are another form of link spam that can get your website penalized. This can happen when site owners or an SEO agency or freelancer might set up various blogs on Blogger, Tumblr, or many other blogger platforms with only one blog post that links to you. Often, the same article is posted once on multiple blogs. This can be sniffed out pretty quickly and over time, if it’s not fixed, these spam links will affect your SEO.
4/ Link Farms
This is an older link building tactic that was used much more in the past than today, but for some reason, SEO link builders still do this to generate links. These spammy links come from sites with web pages filled with links to other sites. Some of these are reciprocal and require two-way backlinks and cooperation from website owners (you link to me and I link to you) which would often be found on a web page like “Link Partners” back in the day.
However, still today, you’ll see these link building schemes on very low-quality, low authority websites that have very high spam profiles. If they are linking to your site, even if not on your own doing or that of your SEO agency, it’s best to have them disavowed quickly from your backlink profile.
5/ Web Directory Spam
Not all web directories are created equal and getting backlinks from some can hurt your SEO rankings. For many years, SEOs have been building backlinks from web directory profiles for business of all types and sizes. From business directories to local directories, these backlinks can really help improve national and/or local search rankings for businesses of any size. Yet, generating backlinks from more authority directories like Yelp, YellowPages, Google Business Listings, etc. should be the primary focus.
This is why we continually update our business directory listings to use for SEO link building campaigns as we often audit the directories and remove them from our go-to list if they have very high spam scores, which in turn would only hurt SEO for our clients. Not all web directory links are spammy and there are still a lot of high quality directories that should be used for building quality backlinks but caution is advised to focus on quality over quantity here.
Link Spam Penalties
Link spamming can really backfire on those who violate Google’s Search Quality Guidelines. When enough is enough, search engines like Google will decide a website with a very high spam profile is a bad actor and remove it from Google’s organic search results entirely. Measures to prevent or reduce comment spam by content management systems like WordPress include requiring manual approval of comments on blog posts by the site administrators.
How to Recover from Link Spam Penalties
If you, your marketing team, your SEO agency or SEO freelancer, or a bad acting competitor has generated spammy links to your website, you may have received a Manual Actions Report from Google. In addition to this, you may haven noticed a severe loss in keyword search rankings and organic traffic too. Regardless, your organic rankings and traffic don’t have to be lost forever. There are ways you can recover from any and all link spam penalties.
You can reach out to all the websites you’ve identified in an SEO backlink audit that have spammy backlinks pointed to your site and ask them to remove them. Note, this can require a lot of time, days to weeks, or even months to get spammy links removed – if ever at all. Or, you can generate a list of all the spammy backlinks, create a file of the domains or web pages and submit them to Google using their disavow tool.
According to Google, in most cases, they can assess which links to trust without additional guidance, so most sites will not need to use the disavow tool.
However, you should disavow bad backlinks only if:
- You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site,
- The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site.
According to Google, they work very hard to make sure that actions on third-party sites do not negatively affect a website. In some circumstances, incoming links can affect Google’s opinion of a page or site. For example, you or an SEO that you’ve hired may have built bad links to your site via paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines. First and foremost, Google recommends that your company removes as many low-quality or spammy links from the web as possible.
Moving on From Link Spam
Link spam sucks for SEO and can really hurt your business. Spammy links whether generated by your marketing team or SEO agency unintentionally or intentionally as a quick SEO hack can backfire big time. Generating spammy backlinks by bad acting competitors or black hat SEOs can also hurt your business by dropping your main keyword search rankings, visibility, traffic, and new business.
This is why our SEO link building strategies focus purely on executing a holistic link building strategy with a diverse portfolio of backlinks. From trusted high DA news, blogs, directories, and social media sites – we scale high quality backlinks in quantity too which will drastically increase your most valuable keyword search engine ranking positions + organic traffic + new business & revenue.