17 Ways Link Building Can Go Awry

This is a report from SMX East 2016. Search Marketing Expo (SMX) features speakers from industry-leading digital marketers and search engine representatives. Subscribe to the BCI Blog to get coverage of key sessions sent to your inbox.

Shah Menz at SMX East
Link building specialist Sha Menz

Link removal specialist Sha Menz has a word of warning for SEOs: Manipulating the link game is like everything else — it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

A superhero SEO can come along and save your site, but there are much more powerful things your superhero SEO could be doing rather than link cleanup.

Menz shared 17 areas where link building can go awry and 3 ways link earning/building can be done best!

17 Ways Link Building Can Go Wrong

1. Anchor Text

link anchor text slide

2. Paid Links
There’s nothing wrong with a sponsored link, by the way — but call it out. Note that it’s sponsored, like Search Engine Land Editor Barry Schwartz does in the below example.


3. Reciprocal Link Exchange

These seem to be having a resurgence, said Menz. If you’re shaking hands and agreeing to trade links with someone, it’s not necessarily a bad thing — if there’s some actual reason that both of your sites can link to the other in a natural and useful way. BUT if this is the case, don’t hesitate to use a nofollow tag. Getting traffic and being useful are the key things you’re doing here.

4. JavaScript and CSS Tricks

Don’t hide things here. Search engines will see it.

5. Irrelevant and Spun Content

6. Footer Links

People can get very sneaky. In the below example, the word “C-o-p-y-r-i-g-h-t” actually has a link on every letter.

linking from every letter

7. Comment Spam

8. Wiki-loading

9. Bad Directories

10. Guest Posting

11. Kiss-of-Death Domains

kiss-of-death domains list

Learn about suspect domains at DomainTools.com.

12. Link Networks

13. Redirect Madness

Watch out for third-party redirect passes through high-quality domains. This might appear in the form of intentionally misspelled domain names in the code. Use the SpamFlag Chrome extension in conjunction with Majestic SEO.

14. Coupon Capers

15. Link Builders You Forgot to Fire

This may sound ridiculous, but it can happen. Ensure previous link builders have been informed and are not building additional links.

16. Rogue Themes, Toolbars and Plugins

17. Black Hats Masquerading as White Hats

3 Ways Link Building Works

It’s all about doing the work. None of the tricks are worth it. Investing your time in actual work is much more profitable. Consider, then, doing the following:

1. Help Others to Help Yourself

Sometimes you’re just out there in a forum being really helpful, or you have written a blog post that’s really valuable. Those kinds of things can pay you back dividends with links.

2. Share Your Expertise

Loan a developer, teach a local class, etc.

3. Do the Unexpected

The Elephant in the Room: Penguin in the Wild

Menz would be remiss if she didn’t bring up the elephant in the room: Penguin. Is the newly hatched real-time Penguin the light at the end of the tunnel for your site, or are you clinging to a runaway train?

“Recognition of your cleanup work will be quicker by the search engines, but results will be harder to spot,” said Menz, adding that the only real results she’s seen (so far) have been people who are ill-affected.

One thing she wants to note is that disavows are still important, which we also confirmed with Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes earlier this week:

Bruce Clay, Inc. is a global digital marketing agency specializing in SEO penalty repair, SEO services, SEM PPC management, content development and social media marketing. Looking for a partner to grow your online business presence? Let’s talk.

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (19)
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19 Replies to “17 Ways Link Building Can Go Awry”

Wow really good post!! This article is full of information and I can’t wait to utilize these strategies for my business.

For now some more techniques are there for link building like skyscraper technique, broken link technique and backlink oppurtunity search.

This is an absolutely fabulous post! Very useful resource that we’ll be sharing with our new team members.

Thanks for the mention!

Hi Reene, yes there is a ton of information out there. It can get a little overwhelming at times.

Try not to get too concerned about it. Just focus on building links from sites that are relevant and post quality content. On that note, what link building methods are you using right now? Maybe I can provide some guidance.

Thank you for posting this will help a lot of beginners in SEO just like me.

Hi there Faye,
I don’t know how this post couldn’t get the exposoure that it needs to get, because simply it’s the best on it’s categories (link building). I’m so happy that I found this kind of article.
Clay Smith

Seo Reseller
This article is very usefull to building a backlinks.

I believe having good links for the effective content in the posts can draw attention of users to websites that inturns beneficial of your website. You have explained every aspect of links. thanks for sharing this information.

This is a good list, but I think Guest Posting isn’t a bad way to link build. Well, it depends on how you do it. If you’re just going to submit articles unrelated to the site and include links, that’s a bad way. But if you write good quality contents with links (which are related to the content that you write) from your site, then it is not a bad way.

Virginia Nussey

I agree with you, Faye. I consider a link as part of the equation, along with a good fit blog, topic and related content on your site to link to.


This blog is very nice,must be readable post.
These linking building stories will help me a lot to increase my rankings.

How Kiss-of-death domains can harm my website?

Paula Allen

Coursecrown: A “kiss-of-death” domain — ha! That’s a great descriptor for a low-quality linking site. Google probably recognizes such a site for what it is, and since the release of a real-time Penguin, is able to devalue incoming links from such a site and not demote your site (at least in Google SERPs). Nevertheless, it is still recommended that you disavow these types on incoming links. Here’s more information about removing unwanted links: http://www.bruceclay.com/seo/link-pruning.htm

I think what could be said is the above mentioned points “could” backfire if they’re done too much or done poorly. Commenting on
high quality websites (like this) can be a decent way to boost your link profile or get traffic. Doing it repeatedly as your only source of links though could get your site penalized. Guest posting and directories are good if they are high quality, if they come from bad neighborhoods then your rankings could drop. I agree you do have to be careful on all of them though, great article Kristi!

Great information I have been trying to learn SEO for my business but get differing opinions from every website I read regarding what a good link is. It almost makes you paranoid in terms of what to do and what not to do…

Paula Allen

Will Vo: We hear you. SEO is not for the feint of heart, and there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Even information that was once correct can become wrong as time passes and the search engines change. My best suggestion to give you a firm footing would be to attend one of our SEO Training courses. We continuously update the class materials, so you’ll be learning the best practices that are current and applicable to your site (the beauty of an in-person class is that you can talk to the instructor about your specific questions!). Here’s where you can check out the cost, dates and locations for SEOToolSet Training: http://www.bruceclay.com/seo/training.htm

Hello, I am following from years and I learned many new techniques under you. This is one really great topic and I got it completely.


Thanks Kristi, that’s really helpful! I am fairly new to all this, so it’s a little overwhelming for me! If I’m concerned about dubious links, do you think I should check with my website designer to find out if they are doing everything the right way? I don’t want to get in bother, especially as I don’t really know much about it. Thanks! Leanne

Great tips on building backlinks. I will try these tips for getting good result.
Thanks for sharing this blog post.

Really interesting article. But I will have to disagree with you on point.10 guest posting though. In fact I think guest posting is one of the best to earn links as far as you are posting your articles on relevant sites.


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