Posted on Oct. 8, 2007

We’ve all heard the popular children’s playtime rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

While this may have been true in elementary school, it’s definitely not true in the Denver search engine optimization (SEO) game. Why? Because as much we’d prefer not to believe it, search engine algorithms are evolving at an incredible rate, so much so that their ranking algorithms have grown sophisticated enough to evaluate web sites on on the basis of what sites they’re connected to.

There’s no doubt that link building is a critical component to successful search engine marketing. The reason link building is so important to achieving high organic positioning is that all the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask) use link related variables in their ranking algorithms, the complex equations that evaluate a site on a myriad of factors and then use this data to determine which sites appear where on the results pages.

So what incoming link related variables do the search engine algorithms consider?

- Number of Links
- Quality/Origin of Links
- Relevance of Links
- Anchor Text Within Links
- Links Must Present Value to Users

Yet not every link helps. In this article, I’m going to discuss some key concepts related to link building, but more importantly, where not to build links.

As you’ve read, links are an important aspect of SEO. But not just any link. In fact, the wrong links can hurt you, badly. Now, I’ll lay out some false link “opportunities” to avoid, in the process explaining why not every link is a good one, and how some can do far more harm than good.

With growth of search engines, “spamming” has become a serious issue. There are so called “Black Hat SEO” tactics, unfair and unethical methods used to achieve search engine results using certain techniques to influence search engine algorithms.

While the results of Black Hat SEO can be lucrative, eventually they most certainly will result in loss of ranking, or even a black listing of your site (when search engines permanently stop displaying your website in the results).

Now that you’re familiar with Black Hat SEO tactics, I’ll begin to explore what constitutes valued links in the eyes of the search engines.

But first and foremost, I’ll state the First Commandment of link building as passed down from the Pantheon of Search Gods: Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Ask.

LINKS MUST PRESENT USERS WITH REAL, TANGIBLE VALUE.

This renders the defintion of a “valuable link” (one that boosts organic positioning) as a link that presents users with relevant information from reputable sources. The definition of the word “link” itself provides additional insight into the way these tools were intended to be used in an online atmosphere. A link is a connection that bonds two separate parts together to form a whole. Links can also be units in a communication system, and thus, should remain relevant, focused, and informational.

So what types of links should you avoid?

- Avoid Links Farms
- Avoid FFA’s (Free-For-All sites)
- Avoid Irrelevant Links
- Avoid Reciprocal Links (in most cases)
- Avoid Links to Sites with Lower PageRank
- Avoid Vague Links
- Avoid JavaScrpit redirects
- Avoid Domain Spam and Duplicate Domains
- Never Pay For Links

This brings us to our first SEO no-no. Avoid link farms. These are sites which sell links, often to the tune of “100 links for $100” or something like that. While they were popular in the 1990s before the search engines realized what was happening and added algorithmic countermeasures, now they are essentially worthless, and in many cases, malignant.

Because all the search engines analyze the source of the incoming link, they are all digitally conscious of the reputation these linking sites maintain. If Google, for instance, knows that 50 of your 100 incoming links are coming from known link farms, you’ll no doubt incur a heavy penalty that will keep your site out of the top twenty positions. Instead, your site will sit helplessly in a state of online purgatory, stuck somewhere neither here nor there until it atones for its sins against the user.

Your website will no doubt incur the same fate if you participate in FFAs, or Free-For-All sites, which have hundreds of links on each page. The major engines have evolved to penalize this tactic, and now discount links originating on pages that contain a high number of links. So avoid “Link Pages” on your site because the engines may think you’re link spamming.

Along the same lines, avoid irrelevant links. But what makes a link irrelevant? An irrelevant link is one that is not related to the content or contextual theme of your website. For example, a link from a computer manufacturing company to a software developer would be relevant, while a l