Not Every Google-nay Link Building Tactic Is Bad (Unless It’s Unethical)

This post is about Link-based Visibility, Native Advertising / 12 minutes

If you’ve been following this blog a while, you know my stance on Google’s way to “boss” over the linking freedom of webmasters.

While it’s completely up to a webmaster to choose whether to adhere to a search engine’s guidelines or not, it’s perhaps worth repeating that telling webmasters how to link and when to (or not to) do it is in net contrast with the guideline suggesting that webmasters should “act as if search engines didn’t exist”.

But let’s get to the core of the question.

The post you are reading is pretty much a 13-point IAWSEO response to Roger Montti’s SEJ article on link building tactics to avoid, an interesting read that gives considerations based on Google patents and doesn’t shout out absolutes, but it provides food for thought.

I appreciated that (and I wouldn’t expect anything less from a fact-oriented professional like Montti) and I wish there were more analytical articles like his.

The point is that, if most of those considerations turned out to be the real thing, it would get immensely difficult for webmasters to handle their links without “triggering” Google’s spam algorithms, whether they were doing things for SEO or link-based visibility.

Naturally, since this is the IAWSEO blog, in this post I’ll show how even normal linking acts may accidentally end up in the “spam group” and how some link building tactics are unethical from a transparency viewpoint more than a Google one (but often I agree with Montti on this).

My two-panel comic strip for this post. Link says: I'm a legit reciprocal link! What do you want? - Google says: I don't like you. You mess up my SERPs. - So link replies: Ah, and how is that my problem? Rank whatever you want, I'm the fruit of true love between two webmasters. You were not even invited. - Google does not know what to say now.Yes, I know, my mini-comics tend to take a specific side. 😉

Disclaimer: This post is a friendly “My site doesn’t have to do what Google says” IAWSEO response to Roger Montti’s SEJ article and it is in no way a post against Montti or SEO practices or even Google. Depending on what you, as a webmaster, will choose for your website, following search engines’ guidelines or deciding to disregard them entirely is a matter of free choice. There is no right or wrong path, as long as you abide by national and international law and don’t engage in practices that deceive human users.

Not Every Google-nay Link Building Tactic Is Bad (Unless It’s Unethical)

1. It Makes Perfect Sense to Add Links to Existing Pages Without Updating the Content

According to Montti’s analysis of this Historical Data patent, Google may trigger a penalty for spam (i.e. the backlink will carry less value compared to the other links on the page) if a link were added to existing content without the content itself or a portion of it getting updated.

I’m sure you could imagine at least four legit reasons for a webmaster to add or change a link in an existing page without touching their old content:

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You can see what I mean.

None of these reasons has anything to do with SEO or ranking manipulation. Sure, they may be used that way, but if you forget SEO for a moment, you can see how these four items represent normal linking acts that are part of the regular maintenance of a website.

So if you run a website, updated links on a page and now Google thinks you’ve been spamming… it’s Google’s problem, not yours.

If you were deranked and you care, by all means submit a reconsideration request. If Google’s opinion doesn’t affect your marketing plan or only does so marginally, you can still choose to ignore the “penalty” and that won’t make you a bad webmaster.

2. Badly Planned Discount Link Building Is Bogus Even for an IAWSEO Website

Simply put, discount link building the way Overstock did it (and as reported in Montti’s article) is not only geared toward manipulating search engines in the most direct way, but it also gets in the way of a webmaster’s freedom to link back the way they want to link.

That’s the same as badly planned blog advertising: you ask a publisher to link back behind compensation of some sort, but you tell them how to link (i.e. giving them the exact – and often spammy – anchor text along with the URL to link to).

Don’t manipulate webmasters into linking the way you want them to. Respect their freedom to link to your content however they please. That’s the only way to call that link “natural” (or more properly, editorial.)

3. Free Product Link Building Without Disclosure Is Unethical

You’ve got to make it compliant with consumer transparency laws, national and international (think the FTC if you’re based in the US, or the GDPR if you work with the EU).

Get as many links as you like from distributing free products, but at the same time, also request that webmasters add a disclosure statement at the top or bottom of the sponsored content before it gets bad for both of you (legally.)

Seriously, SEO is the least of the problems here.

4. When it’s Advertising, Label It As Advertising

I have fallen into this trap before.

It was the year 2012 and I was working hard for my first SEO plus content marketing gig. Client asked me to promote them on a site I was writing for and the site owner was okay with it, so I just went ahead and wrote the blog post and got it published.

To date, that’s still one of my best blog posts because I truly believed in the client’s project and I think it did bring some good traffic to my ex-client, but it needed a disclosure paragraph at the top for the sake of transparency (ethics and laws.)

While I can still definitely email a line to the site owner to ask for the edit, what matters is that I have grown out of that naivety over the years and realized that it wouldn’t benefit users not to know that there was an exchange behind that post and some of its links.

So when you’re doing content marketing in the form of an advertorial (or a sponsored post) make sure to let readers know that and label it as “sponsored content” or “advertorial”.

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5. Viral Link Campaigns Are Mainly A Sales Tool

I strongly agree with Montti that a viral link campaign that tries to acquire as many links as possible with little or no relevance or context, is a doomed campaign and will fail.

As Montti says in the article, “some of the value in viral link campaigns lie less in link creation and can be in awareness building. Building awareness for a company has value.”

This, dear readers. THIS.

Do it for the sales, not for Google.

6. Badges, “Powered by” and Widget Links Exist to Credit the Tool Creator

While I completely agree with Montti that, from an exclusively SEO viewpoint, widget backlinks are an outdated tactic, there’s some wording from Google that troubles me not little.

Quoting from the Google Webmasters Blog:

Also, we would like to remind webmasters who use widgets on their sites to check those widgets for any unnatural links. Add a rel=”nofollow” attribute on those unnatural links or remove the links entirely from the widget.

Sure, you can get in touch with the widget or badge creator and let them know you are forced to nofollow the link to adhere to Google’s Guidelines (hint: don’t do it if you don’t care about Google).

But that last part is troubling. If a tool is linkware to use, it is so by license: if you remove the link entirely, you lose the right to use the tool, period.

So either remove the tool / widget / badge and pick another link-free option, or limit yourself to nofollowing that link and “unspam” its anchor text, if you have to.

It’s interesting (and troubling) how Google goes on to tell webmasters to break someone else’s usage license, isn’t it?

7. Real Blog Comments (For Humans) Will Always Work

Blog commenting as a link building tactic never died, because posting comments is a social act, not an act of spam.

Google’s implementation of rel=nofollow in 2005 to fight comment spam has nothing to do with blog commenting per se, whether you do it for SEO or just to have a meaningful conversation with another website owner.

What matters is that you’re having a conversation.

The backlink (regular, nofollowed, or any XFN relationship attribute you may think of) is a pleasant consequence that says you’re actively engaged online.

But most of all, good, meaningful comments can bring in business and open to opportunities for guest posting and freelance gigs.

(No kidding – I mean, it happened to me).

8. Buy a Website if It’s Meaningful Business. Buy a Domain if You Like the Traffic

Acquiring a whole website can bring in a whopping amount of business.

If that’s your goal, by all means go and place the order (sites like Sedo and Flippa exist for this reason).

Buying a “used” domain with traffic (hint: ensure that the domain is related to your niche) means you get some nice referral traffic and that now you have the power to give those users what they’re looking for.

Definitely legit, isn’t it?

Just don’t do it for SEO – and if rankings improve, let it happen as a pleasant consequence, not your main goal.

9. Let Charity, Scholarship and Sponsorship Link Building Do What’s Humanly Best to Do


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If your primary intent is a genuine interest, this is fine even in the eyes of Google.

Again, SEO benefits are a nice and welcome consequence of your generosity.

10. Content Syndication Is Golden!

Content syndication is hardly worse than guest posting, since it primarily gives visibility to content and ideas and it’s one of those things that would definitely work in a world where search engines didn’t exist.

It doesn’t matter if the backlinks from syndication are regular links or carry a nofollow or sponsored attribute — they are still good traffic generation sources!

11. Linking Back to A Contest Page or Contest Holder Is Not A Bad Thing

You are supporting and crediting the contest holder, nothing more, nothing less.

Sharing them on social media is exactly the same concept.

And you don’t have to do it for SEO, but only to say ‘thank you’ for the contest opportunity.

Besides, contest promotion generally comes with extra points or credits to up the chances to win, whether there’s a raffle or you are chosen for the effort you put into promotion.

(It’s fun stuff to do.)

Off topic? Probably not so, but if it is, make sure that you really want that kind of content on your website and you aren’t rushing to delete everything after the contest is over.

12. Yes, Press Releases Aren’t Really An SEO Thing

They’re a PR thing – as in Public Relations, not PageRank.

That’s not to mean that links in press releases don’t matter: they do, just not for Google (as Roger Montti says in the SEJ article, Google tries to ignore them.)

Use those links to give journalists, publicists and blogger more information on the topic at hand, so they can cover it thoroughly and give you the publicity that you seek.

13. Profile Link Building Is A Bad Idea (Even For IAWSEO Mindsets)

What does a profile backlink tell us about you?

Exactly nothing. All we know is that you are a member of that forum or community and that’s your website.

Definitely worthless for SEO, but it’s a bad idea to rely on community profiles for simple visibility purposes, too.

Unless you’re doing a good job at being an active forum member, then I will be interested in what else you have to offer at that website you linked from your profile, because I’ll want to learn more about you.

Still, not a good SEO idea. Roger Montti has a point about this.


I agree with Montti when he says:

Don’t let anyone tell you that knowing about patents or research is useless. Knowledge is useful. Understanding how search engines treat links can save you from needlessly tanking a website’s rankings.

If you’re to leverage search engines as a marketing tool, reading their patents and documents works better from an SEO standpoint than reading thousands of guides on industry blogs (but don’t take it as an absolute when search engine spokespeople get into the “company politics talk” because that’s not science.)

If you choose to embrace the IAWSEO mindset (whether you do some SEO or avoid it at all, search engines are not your obsession and lower rankings are no big deal for you) feel free to disregard search engine guidelines and any industry guide out there that focuses on them, and create your own (law-abiding) link building tactics.

But, for the sake of knowing your playground a little better, read about the technology that your marketing tools are based on. In the case of search engines, that’s scientific papers and patents.

Originally posted on: Written on December 15, 2019, Sunday

Luana Spinetti is a B2B blogger and artist for hire based in Italy. She has been in business since 2009. When she's not busy writing or drawing for herself or her clients, you may find her reading a Sci-Fi book or scientific articles on robotics and Computer Science. Get in touch with Luana on Twitter (@LuanaSpinetti), Instagram (@luanaspinetti) or Goodreads.

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