Linkspam is a major tactic used by Black Hat SEOs as a method of manipulating the search engine results pages (SERPs). Google refers to linkspam as ‘linkschemes’ in their Quality Guidelines and actively seek to reduce the impact of linkspam through the various iterations of the Penguin Update of 2012. Also known as manipulative links, Linkspam is a tactic that should be avoided at all costs; not only are Google getting better at devaluing spammy links, the repercussions from Google can be devastating if caught. As an overall rule, linkspam constitutes links that have been created for the sole purpose of manipulating search results. They offer very little value to the user, are often completely irrelevant to the website or content within which they are placed, or have been acquired via inorganic methods such as paid or gift exchange.

We have explained some of the main types of linkspam so that you can make sure that you do not fall foul of Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Reciprocal Linking

Also known as link exchanging, reciprocal linking is where you link to a website and in turn they link back to you. This is likely to occur naturally in some cases but large scale reciprocal linking is considered linkspam. Google also state that excessive use of partner pages for reciprocal linking are also in violation of their guidelines.

Link Networks

This is where a group of websites are part of a network connected via hyperlinks. Yes, the whole web is connected via hyperlinks but these particular networks are set up purely to gain search rankings. The sites are usually of low quality and the links to other websites buried in some obscure page on the site, or part of their ‘partners’ page. Google often take to Twitter to announce the identification and subsequent penalisation of some of the larger link networks.

Comment Spam

Usually automated via bots, the war between advanced spam bots and captcha or human verification methods is an ongoing saga. As the name suggests, comment spam is where links are placed within comments on an article or blog post. Placing a link in a comment is not considered spam if it is relevant to the content which is being discussed. However, the links and associated comments that are classified as comment spam are indiscriminate about the types of websites that they place these comments on. For instance, the Yellowball website seems to be a favourite amongst those websites selling fake Louis Vuitton handbags. A comment about Louis Vuitton handbags is no way relevant to any of the articles on our blog and a such are marked as spam.

Forum Spam

One of the oldest forms of linkspam, forums were connecting users way before social media was invented and have historically been a hotspot for attempted link spam. There were different levels of forum spam. Some would simply create a profile and post a comment with a link straight away, some would join in by posting a few times prior to including a link, some would join purely to get a profile link on the forum and never post. Either way, forum spam is when the link/comment adds no value and is usually completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

The majority of forums self regulate spammers through administrators who keep an eye out for link dropping, no following all external links or not allowing users to include links unless they have posted a certain amount of times on the forum. Furthermore, most forum users will highlight anything that they consider to be spam and the spammer will be banned from the forum. In this way, forum spam has decreased significantly over the years.

Both comment linkspam and forum linkspam are also known as ‘link dropping’ because the user finds a location where they can add a link regardless of whether it is relevant and then ‘drop’ a link.

Link Directories

Link directories are the staple first port of call for Black Hat SEOs. They are directory websites that have been set up purely to provide a backlink for websites. What makes them different from well known directories such as Yell and Yelp, or dare we say the Yellow Pages? Link directories are never actually used by people to find anything, whereas legitimate directories are. Link directories are more often than not very badly designed with very little additional information on listings to help the user find relevant information or websites.

Excessive Use of Anchor Text

Using ‘money keywords’ or ‘exact match keywords’ in an excessive manner for backlinks is considered webspam. As explained when discussing anchor text, it is highly unlikely that exact match anchor text would be used to such an extent if the links were earned or occurred organically. Furthermore, exact match anchor text often decreases content readability and therefore reflects poorly on the link giving website.

Social Bookmarking Sites

Spammy social bookmarking links are usually created by a spambot or script that has been created to trawl the web and place a link on low quality social bookmarking sites. These sites regularly have a few sentences of content and once again have been set up for the sole purpose of providing a backlink.

Paid Links

Google hates paid links. It is something that they actively penalise and paying for a link does not necessarily have to incorporate money switching hands. Sending bloggers gifts constitutes paying for a link although how Google can prove that is beyond us. If Google were to allow paid links then a lot of their search results would probably be dominated by businesses with the biggest marketing budget, rather than those that offer the best experience and are most relevant for the searcher. Either way, Google have made some very high profile examples of websites that have paid for links most notably de indexing Inter Flora back in 2013 for failing to no follow advertorial links. We advise staying on the right side of Google when it comes to paying for links, making sure that any paid links do have rel=”no follow” in the code.

Spammy Guest Blogging

Like all spammy link giving sites, spammy guest blogs are set up simply to host an article that contains a links, usually a link with exact match anchor text. These types of blogs were officially denounced by Matt Cutts in 2014 but it was obvious from the get go that these blogs were not read or subscribed to by anyone except for those looking to build links.

We cannot stress how important it is to avoid the types of links listed above. At best, Google will not count or devalue these links and as such it is a waste of time and effort, at worst you will feel the wrath of Google’s ever present Penguin which can result in a dramatic drop in rankings or even being removed from Google’s index completely!