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The Five Link Building Red Flags: How to Spot Link Building Snake Oil!

The Five Link Building Red Flags: How to Spot Link Building Snake Oil!

"There are no guarantees in real white hat link building, that makes it a terrible business plan, which is why no agencies are ACTUALLY doing it. So, the question is then, what exactly are these "white hat" agencies selling you, and why is it so expensive?!"

When most people invest in link building, they believe that they are receiving a permanent kind of "authority" in their niche. Perhaps this results from the overuse of metrics such as "Domain Authority," or "Page Authority" as a full-proof sign of quality. The truth is, these metrics can be a false representation of both the strength of your backlink partners, as well as your own SEO. For starters, even if a high PA backlink is secured to a page you're trying to rank, it doesn't always help that page rank in the SERPs. Why?

Firstly, DA and PA are machine-learned keyword-agnostic predictive metrics that are solely intended to predict a site's rankings. They were not formulated as a predictor of a domain or page's likelihood to pass on a measurable ranking.

Secondly, Google has stated many times over that it doesn't use any third-party authority metrics as part of their ranking algorithms.

Thirdly, despite Moz's best efforts at keeping pace with Google, marketers have already figured out how to manipulate the score, thus if you using it to test backlink quality then it may not be accurate.

Finally, a high DA or even a high PA backlink doesn't always equate to more traffic. I like to think that businesses would much rather secure a backlink from a low DA site with thousands of monthly visitors, than a backlink on a high DA .edu domain with only 300 visits per month.

Exceeding the number of backlinks your keyword competitor has on their page will greatly contribute to overtaking them in the rankings, but you shouldn't be going out and buying those links expecting that you're going to have any long-term benefits. Sure one may be able to get a few good backlinks as a result of buying your way into the top 3, but only if the content is useful to the reader, and only if it can remain at that spot for a significant amount of time to make it worth the investment. Anyone familiar with investments will tell you one of the first things they look at is risk assessment. In my personal assessment, I'd say the best-case scenario would be that an algorithmic change a year down the road tanks the rankings of the article, but only after you've already made out on your link building investment, and because the article is now obsolete at this time thus it's rankings no longer matter to you. While the worst-case scenario would be that Google catches on quickly, issues manual action, and your entire site loses its rankings as a result. However, the likely scenario usually goes a little something like this: A new business doesn't understand SEO and decides to buy backlinks in hopes of ranking quickly. A month later nothing happens, so the business decides it needs to invest in higher DA backlinks, but another month later and the needle still hasn't moved. Eventually, the business's rankings do start to climb, attributing the success to the higher DA backlinks. When in reality, what's actually happening is that the website and its pages are experiencing a natural rankings progression as they start to mature into the index, all the while Google's simply ignoring the paid links automatically by way of thousands of yearly tweaks to their algorithm.

At the end of the day, I'm not suggesting that Moz's Authority metrics are irrelevant and that you should ignore them, I'm simply stressing the fact that website owners can get a false sense of security from them. In the past I've seen domains build up all kinds of this false "authority" over the course of many years, then all of a sudden when Google changes its algorithms, their rankings plummet and thousands of marketing dollars are lost. These people ask themselves how this is possible, first blaming Google's algorithms before ever entertaining the possibility that its the fault of their link building strategy. I mean, with all the SEO snake oil going around can you really blame them? Sure we have link building guidelines from Google but they're not specific enough, plus, can we really afford to miss out on an easy link building opportunities when our competitors are already taking advantage? According to Google, " webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit." So the answer is yes, you can afford to miss out, and you should try your best to avoid that scene altogether, and I'm going to show you how. So without further ado, here are my 5 favorite link building red flags that one should consider before making a link building investment.

1. They promise a certain number of contextual backlinks or have a placement guarantee

Sorry to disappoint, but there are simply no guarantees when it comes to true white hat link building. There are only two things a real third-party white hat link builder can guarantee:

a. They will locate unique potential link partners.
b. They will attempt cold outreach to your potential link partners.

Although there are rough outreach statistics that link builders can use to try to predict cold outreach success, this varies widely on a case-by-case basis for far too many reasons to list, but in a nutshell, each market is different. The samples they use in these studies are in no way an adequate representation of link building as a whole.

I think we can all agree on one thing with 100% certainty, there's absolutely NO WAY to guarantee a cold outreach response. Now to be fair, sure these backlink farms could (in theory) promise to conduct outreach indefinitely until a certain number of links are secured, verifying their placement and follow status, but obviously, from a time:money standpoint, they are not taking the time to do this. If they were, then with mass outreach you'd often score more links then you ordered.

For example: Let's say you order 1 curated niche edit on a DA 20 domain, if the seller is actually doing real outreach, then they are likely to score multiple links. Have you ever heard of buying a link and receiving bonus links? I didn't think so. The same goes for guest posting services. Do you really think they are conducting cold outreach until a website with the domain authority you ordered agrees to accept your anchor text rich guest post? In reality, what they are doing is conducting a type of warm outreach at best, but instead of warm outreach with a list of your own prospects, it's with a list of their own business partners in various niches. But sadly, most of the time they are not even doing that, the majority of them are simply reselling white-label guest posting services using another company's business partners. Either way, if these services are utilizing a network of bloggers, paid or not, isn't white hat outreach, it's being a middle man link dealer.

2.) They only offer social links, citations, and comments

Nothing will ruin your online reputation faster than social media spam. Passionate members of Facebook groups, and especially communities like Reddit, can spot a marketer from a mile away and they'll often make your brand pay dearly for it.

3.) They let you pick the anchor text

Link schemes according to Google: "exchanging money for links," "Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links."

In the real guest posting world bloggers hate it when you link to your own web pages, in fact, even the bloggers who do accept these types of blog posts will eventually remove your link if they notice it's going back to your website. What you can do instead is build "tier 2" links to external articles that have already contextually linked to your site in the past.

4.) They're not using your company's email access for outreach and/or can't cc you

Beware of guest posting services who claim they are doing what they call "real outreach." What they are actually doing is building paid link building relationships with bloggers in different niches, then they're simply reusing the same blogs and curated pages over-and-over for their clients. The only outreach they are doing is for themselves as they are simply selling links that put their clients at risk down the road. Even if they were doing legit outreach on your behalf, wouldn't you consider it unprofessional to use an everyday Gmail address for business purposes? Real legit white hat link building outreach requires that your link building service get POP3, SMTP, or Gsuite email account access to your business email, period! Ask yourself if you'd link to a website that emails you from outreach@linkbuildingcompany.com or mybusiness@gmail.com? I know I wouldn't take a Gmail email address seriously, unless it was from a client of course. I also find it funny that these companies can never seem to be able to cc you either, I mean, how hard would that be right? If you really want to get them going, ask them to do outreach for local pages, tell them that you want to target bloggers in your local area to promote a local page, they'll claim this isn't possible. Why? Because they're not actually doing outreach, if they were then they'd be able to do a number of things in their initial research such as using a "near=" parameter for starters.

Remember these three things

a. There is no link building research going on here, only networking or reselling another agency's networking through white-label, both of which are link schemes.

b. Just because a big box brand or one of your competitors has used one of these services before, or is currently using them as part of their strategy, that doesn't mean it will work for the average small business. Why? Because you may not be able to afford $200 a link for a temporary rankings boost, or more importantly, you may not be able to afford to dig yourself out of a link penalty as they can. 

c.) Yes, SEO can be a dirty business. Luckily though, there a slew of newfangled ways to obtain backlinks passively for a fraction of the cost.

5.) Moz spam score

Is your Moz "spam score" going up? This can not only be an indication of a poor quality inbound link profile, but also a correlation with potential link penalization.

In short, no. Google has clearly given us an outline of quality guidelines for a reason. If all link building were bad, then they would just say so and there wouldn't be any need for specific examples. Please see our article on Google's quality guidelines to learn more.