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The Dark Side of Link Building: How to Avoid Penalties

Link building is one of the best marketing strategies available. It can help you attract more traffic, generate leads, improve brand visibility and recognition, and even improve your trustworthiness. But if you aren’t careful, link building can also work against you. There is a dark side of link building, and one that threatens to harm your business’s visibility and reputation if you don’t know how to look out for it.

Link Building Basics

In case you’ve never heard of this strategy before, link building is the practice of establishing links to your website on external sites. For reasons that will become apparent, this is usually done by including a link in a guest article on another website’s blog.

In any case, the presence of the link combined with its presentation can immediately boost the visibility of your brand and help you build authority in your industry. Readers who encounter the link and find it interesting will be likely to click that link and follow it to your website, resulting in traffic generation. Link building is also beneficial for search engine optimization (SEO), since it increases your trustworthiness in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

The Threat of Link Building Penalties

So what’s the dark side of link building? To put it succinctly: penalties. If you build links incorrectly, or build links in unnatural ways, Google and other search engines treat your link building as an unethical practice. If you’re caught deliberately trying to manipulate your search rank or harm user experience in other ways, you could end up sabotaging your own authority, and plummeting in search engine rankings. In other words, you’ll do more harm than good to your SEO campaign. More than actively negating any benefits you would have received otherwise, you’ll be significantly damaging the reputation of your brand.

Because of this, it’s also possible (though rare) for other companies to deliberately sabotage your brand by using shady link building practices against you. This is known as negative link building, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for.

Avoiding Penalties Proactively

The best way to avoid the dark side of link building and milk the strategy for all it’s worth is to avoid penalties proactively. This is the framework you need to use to do it:

What Makes a Link “Bad”

So what makes a bad link bad, exactly? What’s the difference between a link that helps your organization and one that hurts it?

On an individual level, these are the factors that make a link problematic in most cases:

In aggregate, these are also problems:

Addressing Penalties

Let’s say your site has been the victim of a specific penalty or a measurable ranking drop. What can you do to address this?

Link building is, indeed, a powerful and beneficial strategy, but only if you’re wielding it responsibly. Fortunately, you can evade most penalties and guarantee more value from your link building efforts with a handful of basic improvements to your strategy.

Nate Nead is the CEO & Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting company that provides strategic advisory services across multiple disciplines including finance, marketing and software development. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital procurement, technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.

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