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Building back links is a large part of any SEO engineer’s working day. As a result there are numerous articles, tips, and tricks freely available. This article covers white-hat SEO techniques many SEO companies use and the transparency that our in-house approach is proud of.

I want to make it clear that I don’t claim to be an expert, as I believe only Google’s engineers working on the ranking algorithms can make such claims, but I have many hours experience tinkering with websites and no social life.

Commenting and spam

I am going to say something that many consultants working for seo companies rarely admit; most of the time building back links is very similar to spamming. The line between commenting and spamming largely consists of the reader’s interpretation!

You wouldn’t think of shouting your sales pitch at people walking past you on the way to work so the e-quivalent shouldn’t be an option for online marketing.

While I may have no exceptional interest in the websites being posted to I expect to gain a link from the comment therefore must abide by a few common sense rules:

  • Every website deserves quality content relevant to the page or website.
  • Consider how you would react to receiving an identical comment on your website.
  • Provide content that will add value to the website rather than use it as a means to acquire a link.
  • And lastly, weigh the benifit of writing a noteworthy comment with the time required to do so.

We should assume our clients enjoy working in their chosen profession and have a passion for the communities involved. Taking into account how their reputation could be effected by our work is an essential consideration while building links. If I am visitng a pink shopping website with a largely female user-base adding a few extra “fab”, “wub”, and kisses is an example of how a fashion site owner may comment but, obviously, a mechanic would not… Usually.

For this reason we must make our comments insightful, authoritative, kind, witty, informative or otherwise noteworthy. Being lazy and posting something similar to “Great article, thanks!” will, most likely, just get ignored and in the worst case get your I.P. address added to a blacklist!

By now it should be fairly clear that building back links is a a murky grey area in which our moral compass is the only guide and culpability the only restriction. While it may be tempting to take shortcuts to save time and/or money the effects will be short lived and could end up doing more harm than good in the long run.

So far, so Captain Obvious.
Let’s get into some of the more esoteric differences between commenting methods.

Blog commenting

I won’t go over old ground covered by Dom’s Blog commenting post but consider this a contributory addendum.

Blogs have been hit hard by spam over the years so it’s often a struggle to gain any traction unless the comment is personal, informative, or inquisitive.

With WordPress taking a huge chunk of the CMS pie the biggest risk is being blocked by Akismet, the built-in anti-spam plugin, which can happen for several reasons and is very hard to get reversed.

Currently, on this blog, Akismet has blocked 15,843 spam comments with 278 still to be checked, so I can understand the habit of emptying the spam folder without checking for legitimate comments. We must, therefore, make our comment worth reading or it could end up getting us a red mark… black mark… certainly not a gold star! Not only should our comment be pertinent, but the page to which it’s posted relevant to our website for maximum effect.

Forum commenting

Forum commenting is much the same as blog commenting with a few, small differences; forum posts tend to be a lot shorter than blog posts which can make commenting quicker and less formal. The added bonus of being involved with forums is the profile and signature links and while signature links are often not allowed or removed, profile links are rarely prohibited or restricted to minimum post count or account age.

Forums rarely have posts verified before being published but often have penalties for replying to old threads and other arbitrary rules so it’s worth reading through their terms or rules first. You may just find that you need 100 posts to add a signature link, making it an inefficient way to gain a link except for rare cases such as a long term project.

An easy way to increase the benefit from forum links is to make sure the content and URL are of a similar nature. Linking to a web design company from a construction forum probably won’t be as effective a website in the same industry or with matching URLs.

Profile links

Deja vu? Yes, forums usually allow profile links. But forums only make up a small section of available CMSs so we should widen our net, so to speak. Profile links are an easy way of gaining many links from unique I.P. addresses in a short period of time, which is effective if combined with a lesser amount of higher quality links. There are many highly ranking websites which don’t allow any linking but provide a publicly visible “website” or “URL” field in your profile.

The downside being you cannot usually set any specifcs such as the anchor text so have to hope the URLs are “friendly” enough to be seen as relevant.

Buying links

Google doesn’t condone buying links unless clearly marked as such so it’s considered a grey area in which to develop link relationships. Possibly due to their main business being the sale of links and the traffic therefrom. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence though… Maybe.

Many companies subcontract directory submissions to save money. The obvious flaw here being the lack of accountability and, often, low quality or short term results.

I hasten to add that I think directory submission, en masse, is a terrible strategy as it can cause several of Google’s flags to be raised. If directory submissions are to be a part of the campaign, they should be of high quality and with minimal risk of becoming a “bad neighbourhood

Link exchanges

Link exchanges are a low quality method of link building whereby links are placed in reciprocity. The two way nature of the exchanges isn’t a very professional approach and can clutter up prominent places on the website. While these links are usually easy to obtain they are often frowned upon by professionals and search engines alike.

Link exchanges can quickly become link farms if not monitored and becomming associated with a link farm could cause major damage to your rankings, even resulting in your pages being blacklisted.

Social Media

It can be difficult to gain links from social media websites as they are mostly obfuscated by URL shortens, not publicly visible, or only visible for a short time due to the high content generation. This doesn’t mean we should give up on social media as there are many websites and social profiles from which we can link. Google+, for example, seems to encourage such self-promotion.

The traffic gained by being social involved has it’s own advantages such as higher chance for conversions and a more prominent public image. But as this article is about link building I wont digress.


I have followed the development of HTML over the years and was originally concerned by the introduction of the rel=”nofollow” tag. When Google first announced it wouldn’t pass any “Google Juice” onto links with the aforementioned attribute it set SEO circles into a fit of panic. The fear has remained where logic seems to fail. I will explain why I think Google places far more emphasis on rel=”nofollow” links than it may have you believe.

There are many quotes of Google stating something to the effect of: “and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest”. My favourite Google quote is a fairly mundane but sums up my opinion: “In general, we don’t follow them [nofollow links].”. If my Sherlock Holmes like powers of deduction are correct, the loss of ranking power from such a large part of the content management system market is a big loss of usable data to a company which places high value on exactly that.

My experience has lead me to believe it makes more of a difference than most SEO engineers would have you believe, even if substantially less than a “dofollow” link (that is a link without the nofollow attribute).

Are you a spammer?

It’s a question I think about a lot. I have spent years working on my own websites using the techniques above for their promotion and ranking improvements. Google’s algorithm has developed to not only encourage this but has built an entire business around it! If the only way to gain more exposure and more relevant search engine placement is to use methods such as this, I guess I am.


I’ll get back to posting code next month, I promise 🙂