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Warning: Backlinking Tools that do More Harm than Good

Incoming links. I’ve seen a rash of automated backlinking products being promoted recently, but the way they’re promoted and what they offer makes me angry.

Google makes around 500 changes a year to its search algorithms (there were 40 in February alone).

Its major focus is on eliminating abuse (particularly automated abuse) of any aspect of the way it ranks pages.

One of the trends that have emerged over the last several months is a re-evaluation of the way it treats links, particularly as it incorporates more signals from social media in its ranking algorithms.

Here’s how Google referred to links in its latest round of algorithm updates:

Link Evaluation: We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often re-architect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable

So what does that mean in English?

Of course, as so often happens with Google, they’re being particularly obscure, so what they’ve said is open to interpretation.

But the definition from HelpMySEO that I’ve inserted below is pretty much in line with most other interpretations I’ve read (excuse the big chunk of text, but that's how it was published originally):

Link building as an SEO strategy is dying and true PageRank (as opposed to the one publicly displayed) as a website ranking factor is a thing of the past. Link building, which spawned some of the most notable Black Hat SEO companies has been under review since 2007 with Google edging further and further away from it. In keeping with Google’s practices it is never going to be ignored but it will be increasingly discounted on its own and will acquire value only within a complex web of social re-sharing. Google does not make clear whether this is a permanent turn-off of a particular characteristic of a link’s assessment or an experiment to see if the accumulated data they will get will be sufficient to maintain or increase relevancy of search results while stopping abuse and spam. Bear it in mind and we shall see, I guess. PageRank is likely to be succeeded by TrustRank which is harder to game and sits very well with Google’s concentration upon assessing authority on the web

Here’s the full evaluation of the latest updates by HelpMySEO, should you be interested!

The reason I get so angry with the way these backlinking products are advertised is that, most times, they offer features that are out of date.

They may, therefore, penalise rather than help the people who buy and use them.

Worse, the potential buyers are often newcomers to working online, the very people who are likely to be permanently put off the industry as a result of losing money through bad advice.

If someone is going to release a backlinking tool they should ensure they’re absolutely current with the latest updates to Google’s search ranking criteria – as per this commitment from SEO Consult, (also in response to the latest update from Google):

We are particularly interested by the changes they are making to link evaluation and we are already testing to find out exactly which method of link analysis they are going to stop using in their algorithm, as this could potentially impact our Link Building services

That’s the kind of commitment you want to see from someone who’s trying to sell you link-building products or services.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about (it’s a special offer that ended on March 12, 2012).

The advertising copy on that page talks about exploiting back-door SEO techniques, using automated linking methods, getting backlinks from private blog networks and guaranteeing top Google ranking.

Firstly, as I’ve said before, no one can guarantee top Google ranking.

And as for the back-door SEO methods, link building networks and automated linking – Google’s on to those already.

So please, if you see products like these being marketed, review them with extreme care, and look for the kind of commitment that SEO Consult offers (the one I referred to above).

There really is no substitute for doing the work to develop and market high quality content.

Even if you do get a short term boost from one of these products, it will not be sustainable.

Google’s army of exceptionally smart people will close down those ‘back-door SEO methods’, sooner rather than later, and your investment will have been wasted.

Update - 27 March, 2012:

I just read this excellent (long and detailed) article on the SEOMoz blog about using unnatural methods of getting links, what happens when you're spotted by Google and what to do about it.

You can find it here.

Update - 15th April, 2012:

And here's another article, also from SEOMoz, on how Google is penalising sites that are over-optimised, with too many unnatural links:

You can find it here.


Martin Malden.

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