Like many of my blog articles, this one is written based on one of my client’s experiences that I’m hoping others won’t repeat. She has an online real estate tools website that helps real estate agents improve their marketing. She decided to outsource her search engine optimization (SEO) to a company she found on Biznik. After paying money to this company and waiting a month for the work to occur, she asked me to review what they had done. This article will focus on the link building portion of that work. Based on my investigation, I believe this is an excellent example of a link building scam.
Link building is a pain – no doubt about it. It takes a lot of time to get other people to create links to your website, and while I perform many different SEO activities for my website clients, link building is not one of them.
Even with my own website, I focus on adding content to attract links, rather than soliciting other website owners to give me links. I delete every single link exchange request I receive. So I was very interested in reviewing both the contract, and the evidence provided by a link building outsourcing company that one of my clients had hired. I was shocked and angered with what I found.
The SEO outsourcing company had given her a contract that included claims like:
“We will build 400 links from high-authority social media sites per month.”
“We will build 300 links per month from high-authority blogs.”
Wow, that’s like 700 links in one month! To be perfectly honest, I had no idea at all how someone could get 700 links from “high-authority” blogs and social media sites in one month.
Let’s review what “high-authority” means. In general, folks in the SEO world will use this phrase to mean web pages that have a high page rank that suggests that these pages have high quality content that has attracted many quality inlinks over time. For example, my home page has a page rank of 5/10 – you can use this page rank tool to see this. Amazon.com has a PR of 9/10, so for me, a “high-authority” site should have a PR of maybe between 3 and 6. Generally, it takes quite a bit of time and work to get your PR to increase from 0 (zero) to 1 and then 2 and on up the scale. A LOT of work. Getting a “high-authority” site or page happens slowly, after many, many months and possibly years of work.
I asked my client to get proof from this company of the link building they had done. They sent a “Link Building Report” that contained approximately 200 URL’s. Note, 200 is a whole lot less than 700. Upon closer inspection of the URL’s, it became apparent that half of them weren’t URL’s to web pages, but rather RSS feeds. So the list because more like 85 actual URL’s to web pages. Way less than 700.
I asked the client if she would put these 85 real URL’s into a spreadsheet for me so I could do further analysis. She did this, and I noticed another pattern – that the URL’s were all from free web page or free blog builder sites or free social media sites, 26 to be specific. Here’s the list in alphabetical order:
No doubt you’ll recognize some of these sites. And while there certainly are many “high-authority” blogs on wordpress.com, as one example, that’s not what these link building scam folks did. They createdï¿½ brand new accounts on these websites. Then, they created pages with fake content (they repeated 4 different fake articles they had created) with a link to my client’s website. We could literally see the time stamps on the pages. All pages were created with a week of each other, at the end of the month.
I emailed several of these websites, and indeed they confirmed that this activity is in violation of their Terms of Service and told me that the pages would be removed:
“Newsvine is a social news site that prohibits advertising. Our content is focused on journalism, not traffic direction.
That’s really unfortunate that Newsvine is being ‘sold’ as part of a SEO package. Our system’s pretty good – users start out in an area called the Greenhouse, meaning their content doesn’t reach the majority of the site until they’re confirmed to not be spammers. The accounts will probably be gone by the end of the day.”
“It is a violation of our terms. Your profile must describe you, an individual person. Examples of inappropriate profiles include, but are not limited to, profiles that purport to represent an animal, place, inanimate object, fictional character, or real individual who is not you. The Multiply Web site is for the personal use of individual Members only and may not be used in connection with any commercial endeavors. Organizations, companies, and/or businesses may not become Members and should not use the Service or the Web site for any purpose.”
We generally frown on using Wetpaint as a link farm in order to try to increase search rankings. Also, most link building companies don’t realize that Wetpaint imposes a “nofollow” on all outbound links, so the benefits of using Wetpaint for such purposes are probably negligible.
Upload, post, email, transmit, or otherwise make available any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, promotional materials, “link farms,” “junk mail,” “spam,” “chain letters,” ‘pyramid schemes,” or any other form of solicitation.
So let’s review:
1. They claimed to create 700 “high-authority” links in one month.
2. They provided evidence of building 85 pages that contained links to my client’s website.
3. All 85 links were from 26 domains, all of which are free places online where you can create a webpage.
4. All 85 pages had duplicate content, the same 4 articles were copied and pasted over and over.
5. All 85 pages were brand new subdomains and pages with ZERO authority, ZERO page-rank.
What does this mean? It means that every single one of the links they created are completely, utterly, worthless at best.
At worst, Google might even detect this paid link building scheme and penalize my client’s website. Seriously – paid link building can actually be damaging.
What’s the moral of the story?
If you’re tempted to outsource your link building to a company – be very, very sure you know exactly all the details of what they plan to do BEFORE you pay them any money. Be sure you understand what Google considers good and bad link building. After looking all around online for advice, I’m not even sure that I now think outsourcing link building is a worthwhile endeavor – this is one of the best discussions I could find and many of the commenters recommend never outsourcing link building. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
“Outsourcing link development is risky business whichever way you look at it. I know of recognized SEM agencies in the UK who offer this service to their SEO clients, but who, upon hearing you wish to terminate your SEO contract, claim they will have to remove all the inbound links they’ve been maintaining. Now this may be calling your bluff to make you sign another 1 year extension, but the fact of the matter is that if these guys are doing it and doing it well, they probably own the network from whence your inbound links come.
Do you want to be held to ransom like this? I don’t.”
And another great quote from the discussion:
“We need to be honest with ourselves here folks… sooner or later the engines will identify these “highly effective, yet 100% ethical” bought link networks. If you’re paying someone to link their network of sites to you, you are effectively manipulating your listings by artificial means…. in other words the natural/organic listing ain’t so natural after-all.
Short term gains may be there for the taking, but long term we need to stop chasing algorithms and get on with developing great user content and websites that make other sites WANT to link to us. “
So before you hire an SEO company to outsource your link building – you need to really do your homework to make sure you understand exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it, and whether it’s really doing your website more harm than good.
I did manage to find one good article that contained tips on link building – but be warned, it’s a ton of work over a long period of time. And maybe that’s exactly as it should be.Jill
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.