Skip to main content

SEO Link Spam - What Is It and Who's to Blame?

Over the years, unscrupulous black hat SEO scammers have used a variety of tricks—keyword stuffing, link farms, white text and others—to try to manipulate search results, and the algorithms used by Google, Yahoo and the other search engines have evolved to identify and squelch the effectiveness of such nefarious tactics.

A more vexing issue for the search engines is dealing with link spam, not only because it is difficult to detect and address algorithmically, but because there isn't even a clear definition. As a website owner, the term represents emails like this:


Dear webmaster,

As a part of ongoing campaign to increase the Link Popularity of My website I am looking for some good potential sites like yours. I review your site and find that, in SEO perspective your site is Perfect. Also, this would be a great resource for my visitors too.

I would request you to consider listing my site.

Title:- My Spammy Website
URL:- http://www.indiaspamforyou.com
Description:- miracle weight loss, make big money working from home, the usual crap

Thank you very much for your time and web support. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best Regards,
Obviously Fictitious Name
Linking Expert
Email:- temporaryaddress@hotmail.com

Note: This is not spam mail. If you think it is not appropriate for you, just send me reply with "Unsubscribe" as subject. If you are not the concerned person to handle this mail then please forward it to your "Webmaster."
Grrr. My universal reply to such emails is to respond with a link to The Wrong Way to Build External Links for SEO. The vast majority ignore this. They are spammers after all.

As a site owner, I find these emails annoying. As an SEO consultant, I find them offensive as they make our profession look cheap, tawdry and sleazy. As a consumer, I would never do any business with any enterprise that hired one of these cretins.

This is not to be confused with valid link building efforts, of course. I'm happy to link to anyone who has a valid business with a real product or service, addresses me by name (easy to find on my website and not "webmaster') and has a real return email address.

The challenge for search engines is that they aren't privy to those emails. And the final result of a link spam campaign—links from various sites with a mix of one-way, three-way and reciprocal—is often indistinguishable from a reputable link-building program.

SEO guru David Harry suggests a different definition of link spam in this post about the search engines attempting to detect link spam through search marketing forums. As David writes, search engines may start using:
"'An anti-spam technique for protecting search engine ranking is based on mining search engine optimization (SEO) forums. The anti-spam technique collects webpages such as SEO forum posts from a list of suspect spam websites, and extracts suspicious link exchange URLs and corresponding link formation from the collected webpages...A search engine ranking penalty is then applied to the suspicious link exchange URLs. The penalty is at least partially determined by the link information associated with the respective suspicious link exchange URL. To detect more suspicious link exchange URLs, the technique may propagate one or more levels from a seed set of suspicious link exchange URLs generated by mining SEO forums.' That last part is interesting as they move from the forum, to suspect URLs and then analyze the link profiles of those sites to possibly find other reciprocal manipulations. That means if you’re doing recips with a webmaster that is dumb enough to post them on an SEO board you might be penalized by association."
In this case, link spammers are sort of a self-contained group of nefarious lowlifes who host, identify and utilize sites willing to engage in spammy link trading or selling.

A final definition comes from social bookmarking site Linkatopia:
"Link spammers post links to their own web pages on as many other sites as possible in order to increase their rank in search engines. They create multiple accounts with the same links by using disposable email addresses. They generally do not care about any of the communities they post to and simply take advantage of free sites like Linkatopia. These are not useful or enjoyable links. They are pages that try to sell you something, and in many cases give misleading information."
One has to sympathize a bit here. It's frustrating, for example, to check out the Technology of Business section of your favorite social bookmarking site and see nothing but a bunch of links to discount Viagra, Acai berry weight loss and similar crap. Bad for users, bad for the host site.

On the other hand, social media sites are in every SEO's toolbox. There is nothing inherently wrong with linking to content on a valid commercial website within the appropriate category on a social bookmarking site. HubSpot includes social media links as part of the SEO grade in its Website Grader tool. Some social bookmarking sites even promote the SEO value of deep-linking from their sites (no, I won't identify any specifically, I know when to STFU).

So what exactly constitutes social media link spam? The quality of the site being linked to? That seems rather subjective. The number of links submitted to different pages on the same site? If so, what number is okay, and what value crosses the line into spamming?

Whatever your definition, link spamming is bad. I'd hate to see the definition drawn so broadly as to make nearly every SEO consultant guilty of it.

What do you think?

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: Mike@digitalrdm.com

Comments

Dave said…
Hi Tom, Dave here... (thanks for the mention)

It really is odd in this day-and-age that we still get these pathetic link exchange emails (or that SEOs are doing them in general). With the rise of social media, getting the contet out there (in hopes of links) is easier than it has ever been (as is link building).

As for the 'definition of link spam' with the engines it's pretty clear...any link developed that wasn't organic. We're the bad guys don't ya know? But they do humour us :0)

With social media, I'd say the spammers are those that post little of value and Tweet their own links over and over... that's generally unlikely to generate secondary links, which is the goal with SM ... IMHO...

All in all ... a nice rant though... Not sure the sad-sack SEOs will listen.. but always nice to get it out of one's system!

Have a great week and thanks for the heads up!
Tom Pick said…
David -

Thanks for the positive feedback, but ouch! By that definition, any SEO who does link building is guilty. As Pogo said, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Thank you also for the inspiring and education post, well worth linking!

Tom
Beirut said…
Hi Tom...

I really enjoyed your post.

I just have one thing to say to Dave...

Dear Dave, what you said about "With social media, I'd say the spammers are those that post little of value and Tweet their own links over and over... that's generally unlikely to generate secondary links, which is the goal with SM" I would have to greatly agree with it for one reason: So many people tweet their own links in addition to other valuable tweets and get great RTs and blog visits while other might not tweet anything valuable yet get many blog visits just for their "influencer" status.

In social media, there is no black and white, right or wrong..

Through my Twitter experience I was able to find that you can limit Twitter spam http://bit.ly/ToF9y and at the same time, you can highly benefit from Twitter for getting different types of advice and links http://bit.ly/nJOYn

It's all about how well you play your cards without being intrusive!

All the best to you both.

regards,

Beirut
Lee Odden said…
Great post Tom.

I agree with David.

In the end, the link either helps users or it does not. For SEO and marketing purposes, it should help users first and SEO outcomes second.
Tom Pick said…
Lee --

Thanks very much for the comment. I agree with you and David philosophically, but I still think we're left with an "eye of the beholder" problem.

Let's say I post links to two SEO tool sites on Digg. One is paying me, so I'm trying to link for SEO benefit. The other is just a site that I think is cool and want to share. Let's say further that you find value in both links, while David views both links as spammy.

Neither Digg nor Google have any way of knowing my intentions, or your reactions (unless you comment/tag my link, which the vast majority of Diggers won't bother to do).

That seems to me to remain the gray area of link spam.
There is no point of using black hat SEO because it is ineffective and risky.
Thanks for the post. Its worth. I want to know how to remove the spam links for the wesbsite.
Tom Pick said…
On your own site, moderate comments and check out every link. On social media sites, there is often a mechanism to vote content up (keep) or down (delete).
Anonymous said…
nice blog

All Time Greats

Best of 2007: Articles and Blog Posts on SEM

Search engine marketing (SEM) is one of the fastest-growing categories in all of advertising, because it is both measurable and logical: present your ads when people are searching for what you're selling. A well-crafted search marketing program can provide not only broad brand exposure at a very reasonable cost (with CPMs of $10 or less), but also high-ROI lead generation. As with any other type of advertising, however, a poorly-designed campaign will be a disappointing waste of money. In addition to best practices in search engine marketing , the following articles and blog posts were among the best of 2007 at providing helpful guidance for creating and managing effective search marketing programs. Five Common Paid Search Mistakes That Can Sink Your Campaign by Search Engine Guide Blogger Jennifer Laycock explains how common mistakes such as "ego bidding," writing a single ad for all keywords, and directing all of your traffic to a single landing page can limit the res

7 Reasons Every Business Needs to Twitter

This post has been moved to 7 Reasons Every Business Needs to be on Twitter on the Webbiquity blog. ***** technorati tags: Twitter Dell Zappos customer service influence-the-influencers market intelligence Tony Hsieh b2b Twitter del.icio.us tags: Twitter Dell Zappos customer service influence-the-influencers market intelligence Tony Hsieh b2b Twitter icerocket tags: Twitter Dell Zappos customer service influence-the-influencers market intelligence Tony Hsieh b2b Twitter Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

Best of 2008: Social Media Optimization, Part 2

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Social Media Marketing on the Webbiquity blog. ***** technorati tags: best free tools for monitoring social buzz social media marketing Six Pixels of Separation Mitch Joel Techrigy SM2 Key Web Data Chris Lang Google social bookmarking HubSpot Catie Foertsch Kate Morris TopRank Online Marketing Blog Jessica Cameron-Ruud Duct Tape Marketing John Jantsch CircleUp Traffic Travis del.icio.us tags: best free tools for monitoring social buzz social media marketing Six Pixels of Separation Mitch Joel Techrigy SM2 Key Web Data Chris Lang Google social bookmarking HubSpot Catie Foertsch Kate Morris TopRank Online Marketing Blog Jessica Cameron-Ruud Duct Tape Marketing John Jantsch CircleUp Traffic Travis icerocket tags: best free tools for monitoring social buzz social media marketing Six Pixels of Separation Mitch Joel Techrigy SM2 Key Web Data Chris Lang Google social bookmarking HubSpot Catie Foe

The 8 Layers of a B2B Web Marketing Plan

One way to think about designing a B2B technology web marketing plan is as a series of layers, like an onion. At the core is SEO—simply making your website "findable" through organic search to buyers who are looking for what you offer. Working out from the center are concentric layers of additional investment and sophistication. Small companies and start-ups with modest budgets will focus most of their efforts on the inner layers or rings, which are primarily designed for lead generation. As the company and its marketing budget grow, efforts can be expanded to the outer layers, which are aimed more at branding but support lead generation efforts. Ideally, a company eventually reaches the outer layer where pure branding activities (such as print advertising) help to maximize the effectiveness of lead generation programs (such as SEM) near the center of the circle. This diagram shows how different types of web marketing programs can be prioritized in order to maximize the retur

Getting More Out of Each Click with "Post-Click Marketing"

With the economy now officially in a recession (as if we didn't know that), marketers are under increasing pressure to do more with less. On the interactive marketing side, few marketers will get budget increases enabling them to drive more clicks. The challenge, then, is to maximize marketing productivity—to get more leads out of the same number of clicks. This is the first of two posts that will look at how to improve conversion rates to get more value from each click. One answer to this challenge is provided by "post-click marketing," a.k.a. lead automation management vendors. While the specifics of each service vary, all of them essentially: automate the process of extracting visitor IP information from your log files; match the IP address to an organization; filter out ISPs; and map the company name to one or more external databases to provide additional information (company size, industry, key contacts etc.). The better services also use geo-location filte

Book Review: Website Optimization

This post has been moved to Book Review: Website Optimization – Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets on the Webbiquity blog. ***** technorati tags: Andrew B. King, Web Site Opimization LLC, Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets, book review, Wordtracker, SEO insights, social networking, Marketleap.com link popularity tool del.icio.us tags: Andrew B. King, Web Site Opimization LLC, Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets, book review, Wordtracker, SEO insights, social networking, Marketleap.com link popularity tool icerocket tags: Andrew B. King, Web Site Opimization LLC, Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets, book review, Wordtracker, SEO insights, social networking, Marketleap.com link popularity tool Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

Top Notch Digital Marketing Tip: Google AdWords and PPC

MARKETING: 101 Looking for some online marketing strategy or social media tips to grow your business? Well, you’ve come to the right digital marketing resource! Web Market Central has been doling out the proper digital marketing advice for years. And as you already know, marketing to customers online is 100 times easier than using dated, expensive and traditional marketing tactics. Like seriously, who uses billboards in 2019? But you already know how effective digital marketing can be in the modern age. So now that you're totally convinced of what you already knew, let’s give you today's top-notch digital marketing tip! The Pure Unfettered Power of PPC (Pay-Per-Click) and PPC Campaigns Just like optimizing your site to rank for keywords, you can use our online marketing tips to pay to run advertisements on Google so that your business is shown on the first page of search engine results. Ranking this way is instantaneous whereas SEO (Search Engine Optimizati

SEO Link Building of 2008

Unless you are optimizing only for some extremely niche keywords, off-page optimization—building links from other websites to yours—is a critical and significant factor for SEO success. The blog posts cited here, some of the best of 2008 on the topic of link building, provide guidance on how and where to obtain valuable external links. They also offer advice on ineffective tactics and "bad neighborhoods" to avoid. Local Search Ranking Presentation - SMX LoMo 2008 by Website Promotion Is Not Voodoo Will Scott , president of Search Influence, shares his presentation from the San Francisco for SMX Local Mobile event. His deck actually covers the organic search marketinging basics—keywords, content and links. But his section on "where to get links" is particularly helpful for anyone seeking to optimize local search results. 8 Directory Submission Red Flags by Small Business Search Marketing Matt McGee offers advice on what to avoid when obtaining links throu