Link BuildingLink Building Basics Types of Backlinks You Should Avoid

March 16, 2019by Kevin Rowe

Both quality and quantity of backlinks have their place. according to Neil Patel, some businesses and their goals will benefit more from quantity and less from quality, and others vice-versa. But no matter your strategy, there are some types of backlinks your should be cautious of.


Non-Contextual Links

A contextual backlink is one that is relevant to your site on all levels: the site offering the backlink is closely related to yours in topic or vertical, and the specific article, section, and anchor text in which the link appears all make contextual sense to place a link to your content.

Let’s say your site sells specialty cookware, and you want to link to your product page for pizza stones. An contextual link to would come from a site about cooking, in an article about specialty kitchen items. An even more contextual link would appear in an article about essential equipment for making professional-quality pizza.

A non-contextual backlink is, predictably, the opposite. A non-contextual link comes from a domain, article, or section that has little connection to the topic of your site.

To continue the example, a non-contextual link for our pizza stone product page might come from a site about sports, or perhaps from a more relevant domain, but in an article unrelated to pizza.

Non-contextual links are less beneficial because of Google’s ability to accurately determine how closely related two domains, pages, or even topics of specific content pieces are, and then factor that heavily into search rankings. The more contextually relevant a backlink is, the more it helps your ranking.


Foreign Language Links

Backlinks from content written in a different language than yours isn’t the most sound strategy for a few reasons.

First, if it’s a language you’re unfamiliar with, it could be very hard to determine if the site, article, and anchor text of the link are contextually relevant.

Second, the kind of traffic foreign-language sites offer likely won’t be valuable to you. Readers of the foreign sites will be less likely to read your language, and if they did, the odds are good that your goods or services aren’t available in their country.

Lastly, too many links from sites in a different language than yours can make Google suspicious.


Hidden Backlinks

A hidden backlink is a link that has been hidden in plain sight. Oftentimes, this means placing a link in the background of a page with the text’s color changed to match the color of the page’s background. This used to be a common tactic for getting lots of links onto a page without appearing obviously suspicious or disrupting the site’s aesthetics.

Google can see links even if humans can’t — otherwise the tactic would have never been developed in the first place. The difference between when the tactic was popular and the current day is Google’s reaction to seeing hidden links: where they used to drive ranking, Google now views them as black-hat spam.


Sidebar, Header, and Footer Backlinks

These are exactly what they sound like: backlinks that are placed in the header, sidebar, or footer sections of a site that generally carry over and appear on every page within the domain.

It can be tempting to see these backlinks as a win, as a link appearing in one of these sections would then seem to also appear on every page of the domain along with the section it’s in. In reality, Google doesn’t weight this heavily, and will usually simply view this as a single backlink.

As such, it isn’t an outright negative to have a backlink placed in one of these sections of a site, but if you were banking on the tactic generating hundreds of links out of one, you’re out of luck.


“Too-Good-To-Be-True” Backlinks:

Hiring “link builders” on sites like fiverr is generally not recommended, as they will often result in extremely low-quality links that will be useless at best, and penalty-worthy at worst.

These people will often promise wild results that, to an SEO novice, can seem too tempting to turn down. But as with most other things, if someone is offering you links that seem too good to be true, they probably are.

Here are some examples of common promises made by users of these sites and what the actual result will likely be:

5. “I’ll get you a link on Google” = “I’ll create a Google Doc and paste links to your pages in it”.

6. “I’ll get you a link on [extremely valuable website]” = “I’ll spam the comments of the site’s blog”.

7. forum spam

8. “I’ll get you 100 links in a day” = profile backlink spam

9. “I’ll get you a link on Dropbox” = “I’ll create a document with a link in it and upload it to drop box”.


Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

A PBN is a “Private Blog Network” — a network of privately-owned sites that are made for the sole purpose of mass-linking back to a single site to drive its search ranking. This has a tendency to work well on driving ranking cheaply, but should not be used if you have a strong brand and/or a low risk tolerance.

This is another tactic that used to be much more common back in the early days of SEO, but much like many other early link building tactics, Google now views PBNs as a black-hat practice, and it’s gotten exceedingly good at spotting them.


High Spam Score Sites

There are a lot of factors that go into how Google determines the quality of a website. Some SEOs use metrics such as Domain Authority alone to judge a site’s quality, but this is not a best practice, as a healthy, natural backlink profile will contain a decent spread of different DA scores. Another metic that should be considered to gauge the general quality and trustworthiness of a site is Moz’s spam score.

Sites with a very high spam score (>50%) should likely be avoided as Moz initially developed the score as a way to measure the likelihood of a link from a site earning you a penalty. That said, I have seen high spam score sites that are a great source of links


Unindexed sites

An unindexed site is a site that does not exist in Google’s eyes — it won’t show up in search results no matter what. A quick and easy way to determine if a site is not indexed is doing a Google search of the site’s exact url. If the site doesn’t show up in a search for it’s own url, it’s unindexed.

Sites can be unindexed by Google for a couple very different reasons. Most commonly, an unindexed site is brand new, and simply hasn’t had time to be indexed by Google yet. Links from these sites may not be the most desirable, as a brand new site doesn’t carry with it any kind of authority and the link won’t have any effect at all until the site is indexed, but it will get indexed eventually, and could potentially grow into an authoritative site.

The other reason sites can be unindexed is if they’ve been hit with manual penalties so numerous or so severe that Google unindexed them entirely. This is effectively the most drastic action Google can take, and as such it’s not commonly seen, but for obvious reasons, a link from a site that Google has unindexed won’t do you any favors.


(Some) Directories

In its simplest terms, a directory is a website that accepts submissions of other websites’ urls and then lists them.

There are directories that are fairly reputable, such as yelp, and a well-known directory that is relevant to your vertical can definitely drive valuable traffic. Businesses with a physical, brick-and-mortar location can also benefit from local directories.

But by and large, Google now essentially views most directories as link farms. Due to this, getting links on directories won’t necessarily harm your site, but most of these links certainly won’t have the kind of effect you would hope for.


Exchanged Links

In a link exchange (also sometimes called “reciprocal linking”), you link to a site in exchange for them linking back to you. It’s a simple enough concept, and it used to be widely accepted as a valid strategy.

Exchanged or reciprocal links aren’t necessarily to be avoided at all costs, but they do fall under what Google views as unnatural links. To that end, Google’s algorithm has become better and better at detecting when a link exchange is going on, and will take actions against the practice.

So while an exchanged link here and there won’t hurt, it is best to avoid this type of link building at scale.


Penalized Sites

There are many different versions of a Google penalty, but all of them occur when Google judges your site to be in violation of their webmaster guidelines.

A site linking to you won’t pass its penalty on to you when it violates Google’s guidelines, but the effects of it will still be felt. Matt Cutts has stated that a penalized site can lose anywhere from 30 to 50% of its page rank, and if a link from that site was carrying a lot of weight in your backlink profile, that loss in rank can be handed off to you.


Hacked backlinks

A hacked backlink will have been placed into a site’s code by hacking the site. Obviously, you would never pursue this tactic knowingly, but you should be cautious of individuals and services who may resort to hacking backlinks onto sites and passing it off as a naturally built link.

This tactic isn’t just in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines, it’s blatantly illegal, and can land you in some very hot water if any links pointing to your site are found to have been hacked into existence.


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