Backlinks: Shortcuts & Booby Traps

There are roughly two kinds of backlinks – organic and inorganic. Organic means that regular visitors to your site and readers of your blog who are potential prospects are sharing links to your posts and pages in various places on the web, like Digg. They’re “digging” your stuff. Inorganic means you’re either masquerading as such visitors, or you’re paying someone else to do that. Lots of companies falsely sell “organic” backlinks; we say falsely, because they do not actually control lots of mindless automatons who live in your coverage area, are potential prospects to your business, are reading your site, and are sharing their enthusiasm about it with other potential prospects.

backlinks xsite alamodeNope. They’re calling it “organic” but it’s a sham – they are doing one of two things: 1) feeding your domain into an automated software “bot” that you could probably buy for $40 and letting it ‘SPAM’ sites with your fake sharing links. “See this great plumbing site!” or “What a great construction company.” 2) paying low dollar foreign workers to do the same thing.

First off, sites like Digg and Delicious use artificial intelligence to spot these links and clean them up. In fact, they’re very good at it even for one-offs, and they’re known to ban and delete profiles of site owners ‘digging’ their own stuff. There’s a fairly good calculus to determine these things from the text itself, choice of keywords, etc. But if you’re a link builder with an IP address in Bangladesh commenting on a law firm in Texas, there’s a flag right there – just one of many.

Secondly, most of the backlinks created by these bots and foreign workers are very low quality backlinks. People often ask me, “I probably need to buy some backlinks, don’t you think?” No, I don’t think that. But heck, I’ll sell you piles of crappy backlinks for cheap, if that’s what you want (we really don’t do that, I’m just making a point). Backlinks have a value based on the page rank of the page linking to you, and the actual relevance of the page to your locale and your business. And it doesn’t freaking matter if they’re linking from a “PR1 blog” to your site, if the page on that blog has a PR0 (that’s zero as in ‘can’t get any worse’). Most of these robolinks, whether human or bot, are from creating blog and forum profiles – and a mere profile has little or no page rank unless that person is always organically commenting on hundreds of blog posts in the same related field. And if you believe that these guys are doing that, I think you should invest in moon rocks – you’ll get a better return on your investment.

Lastly, backlinks can hurt the hell out of you. I don’t care how many happy reviews seem to be on their web site, or how many satisfied customers they seem to have (think of all the bloated dead people the burger and pizza chains have fattened up for the coronary kill), if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re liable to hurt your business. That’s because a) most of those blog and forum profiles are deleted in a few days (because blog and forum owners know they’re fakes) – so now you’ve got a lot of broken back links – and the same is true with a lot of blog comments, because blog owners mark them as SPAM – which declares your link to be… guess what? SPAM. and b) Google and other search engines routinely use a calculus to watch for spikes in backlinks that might be SPAM, to catch, penalize, and even blacklist sites that are doing exactly what you’re doing.

So how can companies offer this kind of service, and how can they have so many good reviews, and how can it be guaranteed and with so many assurances? Doesn’t it work a little bit? Dude, ask yourself what you’re saying. Seriously.

  • How can they offer it? The same way guys can sell you sure-fire get rich systems. The real question is what kind of people buy such a product or service. I mean, if they’re right, who wouldn’t pay such modest fees for super results? Simply put, they depend on people who think they can take shortcuts to success with no thought or involvement, by just throwing money at it. If that’s you, you’re likely to be very excited by their offer.
  • How can they have so many good reviews? Let’s see, you’re basically talking about paying people to create fake (inorganic) reviews of your site, and you’re asking how the company selling that to you can have so many good reviews? Uh… Ahem! Besides, those backlinks can work for a little while, before the payback begins.
  • How can it be guaranteed? Two answers: 1) look at the fine print. 2) most people don’t return items when they get screwed. Most of the “return it free” items sold on TV are never returned; most lifetime warranty items are never sent for repair. And if you sell a thousand watches that cost 99cents at $9.99 each, and you replace 10 of them, your profits are huge. We could list more examples using trial offers, service contracts and plans, and impulse buy product positioning, but if you are fooled by a guarantee, you’re probably buying all those things, and we don’t want to create too much buyer’s remose.
  • Doesn’t it work a little bit? Sure. Definitely. But what do you mean by “work”? Demand a spreadsheet with every back link created – not the *site* on which they are created, which could have a great page rank, but the direct link to the actual post, profile, etc. with your link. Don’t be fooled – it’s possible to show you a page with your backlink without that being the actual page that search engines think it appears on. Get the real deal. Then do the following: 1) Check how many of them are blog and forum profiles (e.g. PR0 pages, regardless of the popularity of the blog they show up on), and how many of them are SPAM blog posts – “Great article. If you’re interested in plumbing, check this out…”, and also go to the main domain of the site and see how many of the sites are even relevant to your locale or business – a site about fishing in India doesn’t count for a plumber in Texas. 2) Revisit the list in two weeks. See how many of the links are broken, missing, or still in existence. You’ll likely find that links are either gone, or are on pages of such low value that no one even bothered to delete them (e.g. profiles or useless blogs). 3) Watch your site traffic. Have you got a serious spike in hits, as webmasters tested the link to see what it went to, or other people who were looking for a grave digger in China got directed to a real estate agent in Utah, but your actual contacts stayed the same? Get ready for the hammer, too, if the search engines figure out that this traffic spike is due to SPAM links. Bad news.

Be absolutely sure to track your contacts. How are they finding you, exactly? When a new client calls, ask them exactly how they found you – was it a particular web site – tell them it helps you to have this information. How many are saying they found you at a link that’s in the list your backlink company created? I’m willing to bet there are very few. Buy a thousand backlinks, and lets see if even three of them are responsible for confirmed prospects who become clients. Three of them might be worth the fee you’re paying.

Besides, what exactly are they linking *to*? Just the home page? That is the plan? A static page that almost never grows in content or changes? We already know that links to static pages are treated second class to dynamic content such as individual blog posts – so even if the inorganic “organic” backlink providers were doing something valuable, be prepared to pay and keep paying if you’re going to be effective by linking directly to your growing number of blog posts. And be prepared to do some work, or pay even more, because someone needs to be updating the site frequently with new blog posts, to make it dynamic, and to provide a growing number of permalinks (links to individual blog posts). In other words, before you start thinking about backlinks, think about what you’re linking to, and whether that will pay off.

So is there a right way to do backlinks? Yes. This is the question you should be asking. But it’s not the lazy way. There’s a lazy way and right way, and they aren’t the same. If you don’t believe this… if right now you’re saying to yourself, “ah he’s got to be wrong about this – there’s got to be a way to get great results with no effort” then close this window, and go on to the sites selling you the guaranteed super results at a low price from “hundreds of high quality back links”. Seriously – you’re not listening, let’s not waste anymore of each others’ time. I’ve nothing to tell you that you want to hear.

If, however you’re with me, then here’s the deal. The right way is organic links. Not fake ones you create – real, organic backlinks. Five, good, solid, organic links in the right places are worth 500 that you pay $99 for. Forget the cash, spend the effort. In the short term, call up your 50 most satisfied and happy clients, or 15 if you don’t have 50. And ask them if they’d be willing to write a positive review of your services on a web site with a link back to your site, or of one of your blog articles with a link back to the article. Any time a client is wow-ed, from now on, ask for the same thing. That’s how the companies I see being successful are doing it. I was recently asked to do it for Plugable Technologies – a company I like and had praised in a support forum (they told me they get the most play out of their reviews, if I could help there). Asking people who love your services to create organic backlinks with real reasons behind them is slower, but it’s doing it right, and companies get very high returns on it. Their 5 links kick the every loving shit out of your 500 crappy bought online backlinks. Again, if you’re not ready to hear that, you’re reading the wrong blog.

Next, make sure your site is optimized for organic back links. It needs to be a social site, and a dynamic site.

  1. Have a “share this” type button that gives people an easy way to “digg” your content. Why make it hard?
  2. Have links to your own social profiles, and use those profiles – if you can hear tumbleweeds going by, that means you’re not interested, so why should anyone else be. Deliver value via social media – we’ve talked about this in other articles.
  3. Use Twitter and Facebook a lot. They’re very different, have very different purposes, and very different best practices. We can help with that, by providing some consulting time if you want, and/or some training time. But start with this fact: There’s good science showing that a tweet (Twitter post) that’s re-tweeted about 4 times by others begins a snowballing escalation of interest in what that tweet points back to – in other words, it’s a traffic driver. Again, a handful of people kick the crap out of hundreds, done right.
  4. Post to your blog. And do it with interest, enthusiasm, and consistency – original content. If you want overnight results, that vanish quickly, and bite you in the butt later, this isn’t for you. If you want to build a burn that can last a very long time, your blog engine is the way to do it. But you can’t cheat. You plagiarize, Google is penalizing you – better not to get up in the morning. You “throw some crap” at your site (dry, uninterested, uninvolved), no one will read it. You won’t have proved blogging doesn’t work – you’ll have proved that you don’t. Engage your audience. There’s more to this, and it can be learned, and we can help, but again it’s got to be consistent, original, frequent. If you’re posting twice a month some random stuff you copied from Inman News, you’re better off just deleting your blog and admitting to yourself that you’re going to spend money not time.

You can have it cheaply, effortlessly, or effectively – you get to pick two of those. Someone selling you all three is selling snake oil. There are those of you who won’t believe me, who will go out and “try” it. Just be aware, you’re experimenting with your business – it’s harder to come back from a search engine whack-a-mole as a SPAMer, so do what you do with your eyes open. On the other hand, if you want real search engine optimization, and real help with social media, we’re your people. Let us know. We don’t have a lifetime warranty, or even a guarantee – for one simple reason – doing it right is a well-documented science, with a bit of art in it – it’s not magic. Some of it will depend on you, but the stuff we do is stuff that’s in the playbook of every pro, so it’s not something we have to prove, defend, or act like it’s our own proprietary, super secret mystery system. What you get with us is not magicians but professionals. I don’t want my electrician to come up with his own personal way of wiring – I want him to be really good at doing it according to Code, and then also being smarter than the rule book.

Best wishes, and happy holidays from Market Moose internet marketing.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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