Spammy Backlinks: Everything You Need to Know

If you’ve been investing in ongoing SEO and content only to find your site barely ranking on Google, then you should consider spammy backlinks as one of the reasons why.

Backlinks play a massive role in SEO, and the sheer competition and effort required to acquire high quality niche-relevant backlinks fuels the temptation to rely on black hat techniques to earn links quickly.

Before buying 100 backlinks from Fiverr, you should know there are always consequences for building low-quality, spammy links.

Not only does link spam trigger severe Google penalties that hinder SEO rankings and decrease revenue, but it also may have significant long-term impacts on your domain. Full recovery could take months to diagnose and reverse the damage properly.

To avoid getting in trouble with bad links, we gathered everything you need to know about the types of link spam, what they are and how to spot them.

What are Spammy Backlinks? 

In a nutshell, backlinks are URLs in other websites that point back to your domain or page. Backlinks, from an SEO perspective, are counted as a vote of confidence in the eyes of Google. The more votes a page gets, the higher its chance of ranking highly for its designated keyword on Google Search.

Business owners should know that not all backlinks are created equal. Some backlinks drive genuine traffic and move the needle of your keyword rankings; while others may have malicious intent designed to cause quite the opposite. 

We call these types of links: link spam, spammy links or low-quality links.

Good & Bad Links: Why it Matters

Determining between good and bad links boils down to identifying their source, essentially, what websites they are coming from.

Backlinks from an authoritative or reliable site are considered good (if not great) links, while those you get from sketchy and spammy websites are mostly regarded as bad links.

But why does it matter at all?

Two words: user value.

Google’s whole purpose is to provide high value content to its searchers quickly. 

This means that the website’s ranking at the top of Google most likely provides the best information on the given topic and receives the highest quality backlinks from other highly credible websites. 

Common types of spam backlinks

There are various forms of link spam, some easy to spot and others not so easy. For the most part, this is because of the ever-changing nature of SEO and how Google has evolved its stance on what is considered low-quality or spammy.

In essence, everyone should know about key standout types of link spam. We break it down below!

Ahrefs Bad Backlinks

1. Private Blog Networks

private blog network (PBN) is a group or network of domains whose sole purpose is to provide links to websites and pages in an attempt to manipulate their search rankings.

In theory, artificially boosting a page’s backlinks will also improve its perceived authoritythat is, how Google perceives the site and ranks it among competitors.

PBNs are typically the most common type of link spam found online. This is due to their ability to be masked as well as legitimate websites. However, there are always tell-tail signs and they aren’t hard to spot if you know what to look for!

2. Automated Link Building

Automated link building violates several core Google spam policies, including link spam, doorways, and spammy automatically-generated content, among many others.

Automated link building is the black hat practice of using tools to build massive amounts of links pointing to your site.

Automatic link builders can produce direct links, but they may also produce tiered links (as a way of masking the manipulation).

Ahrefs Tiered Links

As illustrated, automatic link generators can produce tier 1 links that point directly to your site, with the addition of additional layers of links pointing to tier 1 links counterparts (tier 2, tier 3, etc.).

3. Hacked Links

Hacked links usually come as part of hacked content. This involves bypassing access to a separate website and injecting codes, content, or redirects pointing to your site.

Some hackers do this on existing pages to minimise detection. But with bots becoming smarter in detecting malicious and sketchy content, you’ll easily get a manual penalty.

The hacked website also takes damage from the activity. If you think your site may be hacked, here are some tips from Google to fix hacked pages and prevent your domain from getting hacked.

4. User-Generated Forum & Comment Spam Links

If you’ve been around the internet during the golden age of blogging (think 2003-2009s), you may have seen comments like these:

Comment Spam Links

Source: Hard Facts about Comment Spam – Google

Forum spamming becomes a source for spam backlinks when a bot or a person leaves irrelevant comments on a forum/blog to acquire a backlink within the post.

This rarely happens in this day and age. However, due to its previous widespread nature, we felt compelled to include it in this list.

5. Hidden & Cloaked Links

A famous school hack says that if you’re still short of your essay’s required word count, add extra words, then change the font colour to white.

Clever and funny! But some people use this trick beyond the classroom and into the competitive SEO world.

Hidden links are a blatant link spam tactic that directly violates Google’s spam policies and is unethical, no matter the context of using it.

Hidden links are usually cleverly placed by:

  • Hiding keywords and links behind an image
  • Changing font size to zero (0)
  • Using white text on a white background, black text on black, or setting opacity to zero
  • Using symbols as anchor texts, such as hyphens, commas, or periods
  • Using CSS or other style codes to hide text and links off-screen.

More often than not, your site admin (or a hacker) can do these without you knowing. If left unchecked and undetected, hidden content can land you a serious Google penalty.

6. Poor Site/Business Directories

Creating a business/website profile on directory websites like Google Business Profile, Yelp, or Bing Places is key to expanding your online presence sustainably.

But if you don’t pick the best ones and start building profiles at scale (even on low-quality directories), it slowly turns from a legitimate link method into a spammy one.

Nobody wants that. Not you, not Google, and most especially, not your customers.

If you want your name to get out there and blow up, we highly recommend sticking to the best practices and not wasting your time with low-quality sites.

7. Paid Links

Google loves natural links and strongly advises websites to earn links naturally. Obviously, paid links don’t fit anywhere in that statement.

Paid links are a link spam tactic where you buy or sell links (for money or goods) to boost your ranking. This method capitalises on the fact that link building is a core Google ranking signal but ignores the fact that acquiring excess paid links may have the reverse effect.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, thinking that paying for links is the be-all and end-all. More often than not, we see businesses shilling out thousands upon thousands of dollars on paid links, only to receive very minimal SEO value, sometimes if any at all.

8. Reciprocal Linking

Have you ever received an email from a site offering to exchange links? It may be an offer to guest post with a high-quality website.

Link exchanges aren’t directly against Google’s link spam policies. However, it’s generally a good idea to refrain from trading links just for link building. There are safe and legitimate ways to make trades and it generally involves providing actual value to the other party in exchange for a high quality backlink.

Link Spam and SEO Don’t Mix!

Link spam has a ton of adverse effects on your website’s SEO. But despite Google’s efforts in rolling out successive link spam updates, a few manipulative tactics may still slip its bots and rank, at least momentarily.

Don’t get us wrong. It’s much harder to rank with black hat SEO now than before. Still, webspam remains a massive issue despite being invisible on the surface.

If you’re serious about your business growth and want to grow for the long term, we advise against cutting corners and taking shortcuts.

At Red Search, we have produced lasting results with all our clients. It’s never worth compromising with get-rich-quick SEO strategies that risk penalising your website. 

Google’s Advice About Spammy Backlinks

Former Google senior search analyst John Mueller talked about what to do when you find spammy backlinks pointing to your site.

Should you act proactively? Or ignore these links like they don’t exist?

Here’s what John has to say:

“For the most part, unless you’re aware of kind of regular activity that… a previous SEO or like someone in the past has been doing for your website with regards to links, then I wouldn’t worry about it.

That’s something where if a website has been around for a long time, it has links from all kinds of crazy places. …These are things we see on the web all the time.”

It’s safe to say that a low volume of spammy links isn’t going to cause a big dent in your top SEO rankings. But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep on top of them and take preventative steps to safeguard your website. 

Detoxifying your site from bad backlinks

Clearing all corners of your website will require the help of an SEO specialist.

First, you must determine where and how to find spam backlinks before taking action. That includes performing a link audit to identify which sites are linking to you.

Low-quality links typically are easy to spot and follow similar characteristics. They include:

  • Come from pages with hundreds of external links
  • Come from site-wide URLs
  • Come from websites that act as link farms
  • Come from new or low-traffic domains
  • Come from domains with zero domain authority

If you believe you have toxic backlinks that are harming your website, contact us today for a free audit. Our SEO specialists will perform a deep dive and dig them out in no time.

Final Thoughts

Link building is crucial to achieving high Google rankings. Unfortunately, it also becomes a primary hotspot for webspam and black hat SEO.

You’ll want to build a natural link profile by earning high-quality links from authoritative websites. Do it right, and the results will compound greatly over time.

Talk to our SEO specialists today at 1300 101 712 and let’s discuss how we can leverage strategic link building to grow your business.

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