SEO Poison: What you get when you hire a link farmer

by Jonathan Barrick

Ever get a phone call from someone claiming to be from XYZ Digital Web Services who’s been researching your company’s website on Google and noticed that it isn’t on page 1 for important keywords? Then they’ll kindly tell you that they can help get you ranked on the first page of all major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? After all, it’s a lot of work to get on page 1 of Google. You’re competing with all the really big sites for those top spots, and it’s a real tough fight!

There’s just one problem: They get you there by flooding the internet with garbage. It’s called ‘Black Hat SEO’, and it is the scourge of internet marketers worldwide. It relies entirely on exploiting search engine algorithms for their loopholes and selling these tricks as legitimate services to unsuspecting companies.

For example, let’s look at one of the most common exploits employed by these scammers: Backlinks. Most seasoned SEO pros will tell you of the importance of backlinks. These are links found on other sites that point back to yours. In a nutshell, the more backlinks you have, the better. The quality of those backlinks is the second half of the equation. Backlinks to your site that are found on popular, relevant websites are worth far more in the eyes of search engines than those found on sites that have nothing to do with your company or industry.

However, these SEO magicians that claim to boost you to page 1 on Google simply ignore the ‘quality’ side of the equation and just go after ‘quantity’. They employ their armies to scour the internet for any blog or website that allows comments to be posted, and randomly post gibberish text containing links to your site. These poor victim sites and blogs end up with junk comments piling up on their posts, with little else they can do but manually delete each one. Often times they slip by unnoticed, perpetuating the problem for everyone.

There are a few telltale signs that comments are being posted by a link farmer. Often riddled with horrifying grammar and spelling mistakes, within each comment there will inevitably be a backlink embedded in to the text of the comment so that it doesn’t immediately get caught at a glance. You actually need to read it to be sure of what it is. Once you do, you’ll notice how completely irrelevant they are to the content of the original post.

Fortunately, Google and other search engines aren’t just sitting on their hands. They don’t want their systems gamed any more than we do, so they’re constantly tweaking their algorithms to close loopholes and make results increasingly more ‘real’ based on what you’re looking for.

Often times what happens with companies who fall victim to link farmers and Black Hat SEO will notice a massive drop in their rankings whenever Google releases a new major update to their algorithms. This is because whenever those exploits and loopholes get closed, Google slams the door really hard on sites that have been gaming the system.

Here’s the thing about SEO: No matter what detailed changes occur in their algorithms, search engines will always reward websites that:

  1. Have quality content
  2. Are updated regularly
  3. Are linked and backlinked with relevant partners

If you cover those three bases, then you shouldn’t see any drastic swings when an SEO update occurs. There’s no magic bullet for SEO. It’s a long term investment, and rewards those who focus on quality, above all else. So the next time you get a call from someone promising magical SEO results guaranteed to push you to #1 – Politely say “Thanks, but no thanks”.

But we can each do our part to help minimize the problem:

  • Delete any comments like these that find their way on to your site or blog.
  • Don’t hire any company making lofty promises about page 1 rankings.
  • Spread the word to colleagues to they don’t fall victim either.
  • Focus your site content on quality, and release new material as regularly as you can.

Black Hat SEO and link farming sucks for everyone. Customers hate it because there’s no guarantee that the companies on page 1 of Google actually deserve to be there. Companies hate it because even if they are the most relevant company for the keywords, they can be bumped down on the list of results because of sites who game the system. Unsuspecting companies who do hire link farmers take a major reputation hit when they get found out, and when algorithm changes cause their rankings to plummet. It’s just bad news all around. I hope this post sheds a bit of light on how link farmers operate, and why you should avoid it like the plague. If this post saves at least one good company from getting involved with the ‘bad crowd’, it’ll all be worth it.

This article originally written for http://crowdshifter.com