Creating a solid link profile is important for two reasons: Improving search engine ranking and making it easy for people to navigate to a website from another source. However, some caution is required when building links as some links can be detrimental to website authority, reputation and search rankings.

Is link building dangerous to SEO? There is no standard answer. How a link profile affects a website depend on the backlink strategy.

Link building and SEO

Search engines do reward websites that have an authoritative, natural, and contextually relevant link profile. What this means is that the website has links coming from reputable websites (ideally with a good PageRank) and the content on these websites is similar to the website being linked to. Additionally, the content surrounding the link should be relevant to the anchor text keyword, or keyword phrase, used in the link. This is known as “anchor text keyword distribution”.

Link building is an important aspect of an SEO strategy, but only if it’s done right. An bad link strategy can have a negative result on SEO and result in a drop in search engine ranking.

Google’s Penguin algorithm

As an example of why link building can be dangerous to SEO, one of Google’s search engine algorithms called “Penguin” specifically looks at backlinks and anchor text keyword distribution. In simple terms, the Penguin algorithm is designed to weed out unnatural or manipulative links and links with over-optimized anchor text keywords, and it penalizes websites not following what Google attributes as a natural and valuable link profile. *More information about Google’s view of a natural link profile can be found in the Link Schemes section of Google’s Quality Assurance guidelines.

What will a Penguin penalty do to website’s SEO? A penalty is another way of saying “quality score reduction”. If Google lowers a website’s quality score, the likely outcome is a significant drop in search engine result placement. The drop could potentially be anywhere from 10 to 100 places, depending on the severity of the penalty, and could even see a website or webpages de-indexed.

What makes a link profile unnatural?

The difference between an unnatural link and a manipulative link is sometimes a little hard to discern. An unnatural link tends to be one that has no place been where it is or appears totally out of context. For example, Google suggests that the following may be seen as an unnatural link:

  • Irrelevant links in forum profiles
  • Links embedded in the footer of websites (where the link has no relation to the source website’s content or topic)
  • Low-quality links, such as non-reputable directories
  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites

What makes a link profile manipulative?

In essence, a manipulative link is one that attempts to positively affect search engine rank through deception or manufactured means. Google lists the following as “link schemes likely to negatively impact a website’s search engine performance”:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
  • Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
  • Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

For clarity, manipulative links can be viewed as unnatural. Some other link pitfalls, not mentioned above, would include link farms and link exchange websites, link building services offered at too-good-to-be-true prices, and article spinning.

Linking through advertisements

Promoting a website through advertisements placed on another website sounds innocent enough but it could negatively affect a website’s SEO, unless the advert is modified. As far as Google is concerned, an advert linking back to a website is fine as long as it doesn’t pass PageRank back to a website.

So how can the advert be made Google-friendly? Well, the advert’s link could be written in JavaScript (Google does not spider JavaScript) or the link could have a “nofollow” attribute added.

Guest posting – good or bad?

Guest posting refers to submitting an article to another website or blog for publication. There has been recent speculation whether guest posting was good or bad SEO-wise after Google hinted that the latest update of the Penguin algorithm (update 3.0) would view links from guest posts negatively. However, the Penguin 3.0 update arrived in October and so far there appears to be no penalties for links in guest posts.

Whether a link from a guest post has a positive effect on SEO in terms of improving a link profile is debatable. One crucial caveat is that any link should be in the author’s bio at the bottom of the article and the text used for the anchor link should relate to the content. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid placing extra links in the main content as this could be viewed as spamming. It’s best to view guest posting as the opportunity to increase reputation and attract visitors, who found the content engaging and want to read more, via the link in the author bio, rather than an SEO strategy.

Build links to increase user experience

If search engine position was purely a result of a link profile, what websites would deserve to be the first results for queries – the websites with the most backlinks or the websites with links from authoritative sources that can be trusted for recommendations? Hopefully the latter. Even though there are many more aspects involved in deciding which website will rank where, a good link profile is essential.

Search engines aim to provide users with a positive experience and this means displaying the websites with the most relevant and useful content at top for a specific query. Building a link profile is no different – aim for relevant and useful links. Link building doesn’t have to be dangerous to SEO, as long as it’s built sensibly and naturally.

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