SEODark Side of the Links: It’s All Fun & Games ‘Til Google Catches On

Dark Side of the Links: It’s All Fun & Games ‘Til Google Catches On

The most prudent linking strategist will develop several different types of strategies, some purely to appeal to the search engines, others far removed from Google but designed to appeal to a demographic. Some, however, choose to take a darker path.

The most prudent linking strategist will develop several different types of strategies – some purely to appeal to the search engines, others far removed from Google but designed to appeal to a demographic that they hope will click on those links.

Link marketing must be viewed more as a PR function and less of an SEO function. Links for the sake of manipulated rank is a fool’s game.

Many in the industry have tolerated my preaching through the years at search conferences; others thought I was nuts or worse. But as the years went by, a lot of my advice has ended up being correct. Not all of it, but much of it.

The wholesale devaluation of links began years ago, and we have watched as everything that once worked stopped working. I won’t go through the A-Z list of linking tactics that have been blown up, because you already know what they are. It is worth noting though, that just this week another formerly effective linking tactic –blog networks – were blown to bits by a Google adjustment. Here’s some background on what happened thanks to Ryan Clark.

I’ve never told anyone to stop using a specific tactic unless they point blank asked about that tactic. Although I have never used any of the typical low value tactics that have become standard linking tactics over the years, my position is that you have the right to pursue any linking strategy you want, but you have no right to complain when a tactic you have used ends up biting back.

The search engines make it pretty clear what they consider to be violations of quality guidelines. While these tactics aren’t illegal, they can have a profound impact on the success or failure of your business. Go into it with your eyes open.

Disposable Links

True story. Years ago I had a client I advised on a regular basis on a variety of linking strategies and executions. He had registered about 100 domains, all with various combinations of the words DUI, DWI, Attorney, and the cities he practiced in.

Our conversations were a continual back and forth battle, and we both enjoyed and learned from them. In the end, I was forced to accept a very unpleasant reality in his particular case. His core strategy was to launch a website, pay significant sums for every sort of clean and dirty link building tactic possible, and then as his site rose in the rankings, as long as he was making more in revenue from the site than it was costing him to operate the site, he didn’t care what he did links-wise to affect Google’s results.

google-slot-machineFor him, Google was a slot machine to be played. Invariably, his sites would rise in the ranks, get blown up and vanish, and he’d begin again all over.

His logic was that if he spent $25,000 to build a website and get it linked to the point where it was sending him $40,000 in business before it was blown up, then he couldn’t care less. He’d just roll out a new site in another town and start the process all over again:

  • Create site.
  • Link spam until it worked.
  • Make money off those unearned rankings until Google caught on.
  • Start all over again.

Losing a Winning Argument

It’s hard to argue with a client who has had great financial success with an approach to link building that I have disgust for. Then again, I let him send me consulting checks and we had our weekly phone calls. I’d dutifully recommend a more subtle approach and he’d say OK and then go back to what he did. In the end, I gave up, and it was an empty feeling. He had devised a strategy that worked for him, and it was against everything I believed.

I would make suggestions to him like sponsoring the local restaurant guide or nightlife websites in each market, or speaking at the local university law school. I’d get him a guest interview in print (with link) in the local newspaper’s website. I showed him how to fully scope a local link universe in order to surface the top 100 or so highest trust content sites in each market, and then devise strategies to help him get links from those sites.

Sponsor the Symphony. Become a museum benefactor. Donate some equipment to the Boys Club. Do things that help build name recognition and credibility at the community level, and the residual bonus is those links often end up helping with Google rankings. I’ve seen it happen a hundred times.

I think he may have admired my creativity, but he didn’t have the patience when compared to his machine-gun-disposable-domain approach. In the end, I was forced to learn a humbling lesson.

What a link builder does and the way we do it may not be the best solution for every site. I’ve been blessed to work with outstanding content from large clients, but I’ve also helped hundreds of small sites do quite well in their niche with a decidedly non Google-centric linking approach. The key is having a feel for what each site needs.

In the end, the mistake was probably mine for taking on a client and thinking I could change his perspective, or at least convince him to use multiple strategies. Then again, that client is wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, and I’m here working 17 years later. Who is the fool?


Over the past six months, the lawyer has had most of his sites blown up by the various Panda tweaks. He’s brought me back on board.

The one site of his that remains in the top 5 is the site for which he tried things my way. That site survived. It’s isn’t No. 1, but for a shallow content DUI site to make top five in a major market is strong.

Still, he isn’t completely cured. He’s found a new link building network, and is on the dark trail again. Chances are he will succeed. For a while…


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