What’s all this about link building?

I’m always on my soap box complaining about link builders, and some people have asked me why I have such a hive of bees in my bonnet about them. This posting is an attempt to explain my take on the issue. As always, if I’ve got it wrong, feel to use the comments box below to correct me or to give your own views on the matter. This is just how I see it.

Recipe for success

Several years ago, there was a simple recipe for success on the Internet for those who didn’t have the skills to create their own products or even to add anything useful to the Internet. The simple recipe was to do keyword research, find high value keywords, provide ‘good enough’ content, do a link building campaign, rank high in Google, and rake the money in. Much of it was automated – there were tools to churn out websites by the dozen, automated article spinners, PLR, and business-in-a-box products.

Some of these tools did work for a while, but those days are long gone. What most of these things had in common was that they relied on having a high rank in Google to get the free traffic. Most Internet-savvy people know that this doesn’t work any more.

Many of those people who relied on ranking well in Google saw their incomes disappear overnight when Google made major changes to its algorithm. More experienced people, such as Clinton Lee, had been saying all along that reliance on Google traffic made a website less valuable. A lot of people were badly hit in 2011 and 2012 by the Panda and Penguin updates to the Google algo, and they started to come around to this point of view too.

You cannot rely on getting free traffic from Google, because it could all change tomorrow. There’s nothing difficult to understand about that. But what can you do about it?

Build traffic by other means

There are loads of ways to build traffic without relying on search engines such as Google. You can find plenty of ideas here on this blog, which started out as being Kay’s Traffic Blog, until I decided to change the blog name and write about other subjects too. The point is that you need traffic to your website to succeed on the Internet – although, despite what some people would have you believe, traffic does not necessarily equal money. But I’m digressing. I want to talk about link building today.


Even though we’ve seen how relying on free traffic from Google is like building your house on shifting sand, there is still a big myth out there which persuades people that getting free traffic from Google is the main goal of life on the Internet. How can this be?

Well, for starters there’s the MMO brigade. These are the snake oil salesmen who make money online by telling people how to make money online. Most of their ‘products’ revolve around the old recipe – and a big part of that is concerned with ranking high in Google to get the free traffic it sends you. But is that traffic really free if you have to spend hours trying to achieve such high ranking?

But I’m digressing again. Once I’m on the soap box it’s hard to stop me.

The point is that the majority of people still believe that ranking well in Google is the key to success on the Internet. I don’t know if they’ve all been brainwashed or what, but once people have got this idea into their heads it’s almost impossible to persuade them otherwise. And so… we get to link building.

Link Building

Back in the old days – when ranking high in Google was a major goal for many, if not most, people trying to make money on the Internet – a major method of achieving such high ranking was by building links to your website. Incoming links, also known as backlinks, told Google that your site was trustworthy – people were linking to it, so it must be useful. No?

Needless to say, this led to a whole industry of link building. It started off in quite a small, unsophisticated way where people went on massive reciprocal linking campaigns: “You link to me and I’ll link to you.” Reciprocal linking is older than your Granny, but it’s amazing how many people still go for it. Anyway, the way the Google algo worked, even until a couple of years ago, was that links into your site influenced Google’s algo and helped your ranking in the search results (SERP).

After reciprocal linking as a strategy was discarded by most webmasters in the early 2000s, the next fad came along and that was building one-way links. Just links in to your site, without you having to link back to them. The aim was to try to collect as much “Google juice” as possible.

You could pass on Google juice too, and even make money out of it. If you had a website with a high PR, a link out to someone else’s site was worth their paying for. They got Google juice out of it. (It helped to increase their own PR.) And so it went on. But Google didn’t like to be gamed in this way and they changed all the rules. Heck, we all know about Panda and Penguin, don’t we? But meanwhile a whole link building industry had emerged.

Link Builders

The link building industry mainly employs people on very low wages in the less developed countries. These poor sods often work on quota systems. Given that many hapless business owners in the West still have this outdated idea that if they have lots of inbound links to their website, they’ll rank higher in Google, and that will lead them to Internet success, they’ll pay for ‘services’ such as “5,000 links within a week! Guaranteed!”

The problem is that they don’t give any thought as to where these links are coming from. You have to ask: who is creating these links and how are they creating them? Now, there are ways to do a link building campaign without spamming, but I’m just talking about the basics here. How these cheap link builders go about their ‘business’ is to spam blogs and forums.

How they work

Remember, most of these link builders are on a quota system. They need to score, say, 50 links per hour. They don’t have time to read anything and respond intelligently. In many cases, they probably don’t even have the level of literacy to be able to do so. They join forums and the first thing they look for is to get a link in their profile. A professionally-run forum won’t let them do any edits to their profile at all until or unless they’ve earned the privilege of doing so.

Another thing that spammers are always very keen on is having a signature in their forum posts. Some are even stupid enough to make a first posting to say, “How can I get a sig on here?” If that isn’t a big red flag to the forum owner, then I don’t know what is. Others even try the fake sig trick – if they can’t get a proper sig, they type in a fake one at the bottom of their post. Oh, purlease!, we’re not that easily fooled. Tsk.

Mostly they don’t even say anything useful at all. It could be a copy’n’paste of something that’s in acceptable English, but it’s not particularly relevant. Sometimes they dig out an old post on another thread in the forum and copy’n’paste that. Sometimes, especially with blog spam (blam) they try to win you over with flattery, eg “I have rarely seen such an interesting blog post. I will bookmark your site.” With experience, you can spot these a mile off.

So, in my not very humble opinion, link builders are a darned nuisance. I have enough to do without cleaning up crap that someone has dumped on my blog or forum. It’s hard not to despise the people who do it, but can we really blame these people who are making a few dollars per day by what is perhaps the best way open to them?

No, I blame the idiots who hire them in the first place. “Oooh! I can get 5,000 links for $10.” Bah!

I have more to say on this subject but I have to go and make wor tea now…


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