6 Types Of Links You Don’t Want To Build

Our host today is Alex. If you're interested in getting in front of the readers of Site Sketch 101, check out our guest posting invitation here.

In my business we do a lot of link building for our clients and we always try to make sure that what we are doing is effective and up to date. Things have changed a lot over the past year or two in the SEO world and what used to work well doesn’t necessarily work now.

So whether you are doing your own link building or paying for professional SEO services, here are 6 link building strategies to avoid…

1. Directories

This is an oldie, but really it just doesn’t work nowdays. Firstly there are just thousands of directories all over the internet not really offering any value. Directory links have little editorial weight and hence are heavily discount by the search engines.

Another thing to consider is that in most directories your specific listing will likely be in a deep page, buried along with everyone else’s links. So a good proportion of the time Google might not even find your link, and that means you don’t get the credit for it.

2. Article submissions

Articles aren’t a terrible way to build links, but they really don’t carry the weight they used to. Ezine articles is of course the one site that always used to be worth it, but since the recent “Panda Update” they have lost 90% of their rankings. If Google has dropped so many pages you have to think that the links on these pages have lost some value too.

Ultimately, the value of article linking remains to be seen; but our experience has been that automatic syndication to 50 different directories at a time just doesn’t work anymore. If article marketing does still have a future the emphasis will very much be on quality and not quantity.

3. Purchased links

Hopefully you already know this one, but no list of link building sins would be complete without it. Quite simply, buying links is against Googles Terms and Conditions and if you do it for SEO purposes you risk being banned from the search engine altogether.

4. Reciprocal links

Another old favourite, unfortunately reciprocal links are pretty close to being a waste of time these days. Swapping links with other (related) sites might be a good way to get some new traffic, but it is virtually irrelavent as far as the search engines are concerned.

5. Multiway link swaps

When reciprocal links stopped being effective, some SEO’s started finding more complex ways to swap links. You might well have had emails before offering to get you a link from one site in return for a link to another.

Google is cleverer than that though, if you get into this practice then you risk ending up being grouped into a certain “neighborhood”, and that is never good for your SEO.

In general, if your link building strategy requires giving away links then you’re probably not going to acheive much.

6. Anything automated

This final one is more of a general philosophy to cover lots of different strategies. Nowdays a really good link can be more beneficial than a thousand bad ones.

In general, any link building technique which is done in an automated way by some clever software should set off alarm bells.

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55 Vibrant Comments

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  1. April 18, 2011

    Kiesha @ We Blog Better said:

    Hi Alex,
    This is a great resource that so many people need to read!
    There is no substitute to for producing awesome content that people naturally want to link to. Most of these methods are just huge wastes of time – or course if you’re just trying to drum up some traffic and maybe get a little more exposure to your blog, then okay – but to do it solely for links, I think disappoint will be the only sure result.

    • April 18, 2011

      Alex said:

      Hi Kiesha.

      I couldn’t agree more. Whilst many of these techniques used to work, they just don’t any more, or at least not as well as higher quality link building.

      Even in terms of traffic I often find they don’t make sense. We recently built a link for one client, and as well as the SEO boost they got over a hundred visitors through which at $3 (on Adwords) per click pays for itself in no time…

      The lesson is the same every time: quality is what matters most to Google and everyone else too…

    • April 18, 2011

      Nicholas Cardot said:

      You comment about there being ‘no substitute for producing awesome content that people naturally want to link to’ is so powerful. I’m convinced that this is the number one most important key to creating any level of success online: create something awesome!

      • April 18, 2011

        Alex said:

        Another point that people often forget to consider too:

        It’s so much more fun. I would much rather be networking and talking about SEO (etc) with like minded people (like I am doing right now) than spend the next 2 hours submitting my site to 20 or 30 generic directories…

        Ok so business prevails, but it seems a lot less like work if you actually enjoy it. πŸ™‚

  2. April 18, 2011

    Paul Salmon said:

    That is a great list. I can’t count the number of times people still ask about Directories, and whether they are effective.

    Article writing was good, as you mentioned above, but since the Panda update – not so much. I’m just thinking about the amount of time people spent writing articles, only to have all that linking value reduced to very little.

    My most popular articles are still those that have been naturally linked by others (more commonly in various forums).

    Social media links are now all the rage, but I wonder what will happen in a few years if people exploit those too much?

    • April 18, 2011

      Alex said:

      That’s a great point you raise about those links. Certainly this time 3 months ago articles were still worthwhile, but now all of that hard work has been lost.

      So even if what you or your SEO is effective right now, if it’s not high quality then you can bet Google are coming after your links next.

      The best possible way to build links which will be still be effective 6 months down the line is to focus soley on quality and forget any way of cutting corners.

      Unfortunately, it is always tempting to go back to the older stuff, especially if you are working for someone else because let’s face it, a link report with 100 links looks a lot better than a link report with 3 links…

      This is the main problem in SEO right now, and until people start to embrace these changes, we will still get back quality companies building bad quality links and as Kiesha said above “wasting time” and hence money.

      Ok, rant over πŸ™‚

  3. April 18, 2011

    Ryan Critchett said:

    Totally agree with all of this. It really now boils down to learning how to effectively get natural links, ones that matter!

    I spent a lot of time in an internet marketing forum, The Warrior Forum for quite an appreciable amount of time over the last year and unfortunately, the majority ambition is to automate as much of their SEO as possible.

    They went A.S. (ape sh**) when Google made those algo changes around the end of January.

    I’ve always been about doing it honestly and effectively. An awesome person named Morgan Griffith wrote a guest post for Nick called “Concerning SEO, Honesty Is the Best Policy” which really lays it out succinctly, but definitively.

    Great post, we all should read it.

    • April 18, 2011

      Alex said:

      Hi Ryan.

      Yeh that was a great post, you’re right.

      The thing about these methods of automation etc, is that for a long time they worked and it was totally possible to get good results from tons of bad links.

      I think these latest updates are game changers though, in terms of effectiveness, low quality has still been ok for a long time, but this is the first sign we are seeing that it’s just not going to cut it any more.

      It will be interesting to see how many SEO companies keep up with the times… I’m sure there will be more than a few that don’t.

      • April 18, 2011

        Ryan Critchett said:

        Sure was!

        You’re right, they use to work, and now people’s inherent resistance to change is jacking them up!

        You’re right, low quality is dead and this is definitely the first major crackdown.

        Great point, who will keep up!

        Thanks for replying, Alex.

    • April 18, 2011

      Nicholas Cardot said:

      I think it’s hilarious how people react to Google’s Algorithm changes when they update it, but I enjoy seeing how they as a company continue to evolve in reaction to the way people work to game the system. They exist for the user, not for the webmasters, and as such, they are doing a terrific job molding their business model to provide the most effective results.

      • April 18, 2011

        Ryan Critchett said:

        I know, right Nick? I got a kick out of watching the frenzy happening on the net.

        You’re right, and it’s interesting to see how people will work to game the big G again, as they change things! (sometimes called the permaflux)

        Certainly from a standpoint of quality, Google is as precise as possible. Great of you to link up Morg’s post!

  4. April 18, 2011

    Dennis Edell @ Direct Sales Marketing said:

    It’s my understanding, the panda came in and swiped out all the crap…woosh!…but if you’re delivering quality, how is that no good anymore?

    • April 30, 2011

      Jason Acidre said:

      Agree. I believe that there’s still value in article directories and web 2.0 sites, as long as you are providing exceptional content.

      And that’s actually an advantage, knowing that link spammers will be stepping away from article submissions. That’s just my opinion.

      • April 30, 2011

        Dennis Edell @ Direct Sales Marketing said:

        Exactly, make sure all articles are of linkable quality, and you’re good. πŸ™‚

  5. April 18, 2011

    ah hong said:

    Google show SEO Link Builder who is the real Kung Fu Panda. I think the best way to build link is by writing quality content and attracts people to link to you naturally. Rule to beat the Kung Fu Panda, build your site for readers and not for search engine πŸ™‚

  6. April 19, 2011

    Steve said:

    So which links do we want then Alex ?

    PS Small typo in NΒ°3 “purposed”

    • April 19, 2011

      Alex said:

      Well spotted, my bad with the typo.

      It sounds a little vague but you want the sorts of links which are hard to get.

      Things like publishing really unusual, ground-breaking and awesome content. Networking and guest posting to build your brand etc…

      Basically the more trusted and the more interesting you are the more people will link to you…

    • April 19, 2011

      Nicholas Cardot said:

      Good catch on the typo. I think I got it fixed now. I appreciate you letting us know.

    • April 30, 2011

      Jason Acidre said:

      We all should want clean and natural editorial links from other websites.

      I totally agree with #6, but not totally with #3 and #4.

  7. April 19, 2011

    Gabriele Maidecchi said:

    It’s a leap in the past to read this article Alex, all these methods were so used in the past, and I still receive the occasional monthly email asking for a reciprocal link to some of the websites we manage. I actually never engaged in such link building activity but it’s kinda evident the old habits have died definitely, and it’s time to move on (even if not everyone realized it).

    • April 19, 2011

      Nicholas Cardot said:

      I used to get some heated emails complaining that I didn’t have a blogroll on the sidebar of the site linking to others, but in reality I always felt like doing that would be somewhat useless as the most important types of links are those that are placed in the content surround by personal commentary about the site being linked as it relates to the content. I still firmly believe that those types of links are the most important.

  8. April 19, 2011

    Seth said:

    This is such garbage. Link building is basically dead and most smart consumers know it. Any SEO charging for “link building” services is wasting time.

    If none of these work anymore, there aren’t any other ways of link building!!!

    Instead of saying what not to do, why don’t you offer some ways of “healthy” link building to the readers?

    Chances are, it’s because there aren’t any healthy ways of link building any more, it’s an old way to continue to bring in new money from innocent consumers and these old tricks are the only ones people still continue to use.

    I’d be interested in hearing how you go about building links for clients. My guess is your answer will be “it’s behind the current, proprietary and secret. That’s why I get paid the big bucks”.

    Ha. Stop the charade.

    • April 19, 2011

      Nicholas Cardot said:

      First, if this article is garbage then which of the above link types would you recommend engaging in and why do you think it would be effective?

      Second, here’s a list of 40 ways that I recommend to people to build inbound links: http://www.sitesketch101.com/40-ways-build-army-inbound-links.

      Granted a few of these items are slightly out of date according to the latest Google updates, but it still provides quite a few ways to gain some inbound link love.

      The top things you can do to build inbound links is to create something worth linking to. Failing to do that is the number one failure that I see.

      P.S. Your anger at a person who you don’t even personally know or have any personal knowledge of his reputation is an appalling revelation of your character and of how you approach people with whom you disagree.

      • April 19, 2011

        Seth said:

        Next big plugin?

        Put spell check on your blog, so you don’t look sheepish while leaving replies to other people’s comments.

        • April 19, 2011

          Nicholas Cardot said:

          I can only laugh, my friend, that instead of adding anything substantial, you’ve:

          1. Attacked spelling
          2. Engaged in stereotyping
          3. Utilized Personal Insults (Ad Hominem)

          I’m thrilled to have you here even though you disagree, but if you disagree, then argue your points. Give us an alternate view that we can respect. All you’re engaging in is ranting which doesn’t bring anything to the discussion.

        • April 22, 2011

          Eren Mckay said:

          I agree with Nick.. you need to give your opinion wihout being rude. You said:
          β€œIf none of these work anymore, there aren’t any other ways of link building!!!”
          Yes there are several other ways to build links the Google compliant way..
          β€’ Guest posting
          β€’ Social Media Marketing with a Link Bait post
          β€’ Social Networking in order to get know and therefore linked to relevantly
          (to name just a few.)
          While I disagree with 3 points in the article – simply because I have done tests that show me otherwise and I also don`t base my seo knowledge on hypothesis ideas, I wasn`t rude when commenting.
          Also Seth, you are assuming that all SEOs are snake oil salesmen probably because you have run into a few bad apples in the SEO industry. In other words you have formed a prejudice in your mind against SEOs and this isn`t healthy fo you… Since they are the ones testing and finding out what works behind the scenes, you should actually be listening to them to grow your online presence.
          Anyways, those are my 2 cents.
          All the best,

    • April 30, 2011

      Jason Acidre said:


      We don’t build links, we let our readers build links for us.

      Good luck with your sites πŸ™‚

  9. April 19, 2011

    Daniel Sumner said:

    Lol I just submitted an Article to Ezine Articles πŸ™‚ The only one I really do submit to and not very often to be honest.

    It does seem that the only true traffic is coming from guys who really take an interest in your content and want to link to you via Social networking and their own blogs and sites.

    Will the internet become smaller, more interesting and full of less and less auto generated content? It’s becoming quite common around the blogosphere that originality and great content are the seeds of change.

    Time to get out of the comfort zone and start guest posting!

    Great stuff Alex and some great interaction in the comment thread.

    Well done.

    Dan Sumner

    • April 19, 2011

      Alex said:

      Thanks for the compliments Dan. Ezine is certainly the best of the bunch, it is just a shame that they have let people abuse the site by accepting some pretty poor articles.

      That said, since the update they have really tightened up their criteria. I think it’s a bit knee jerk right now, but it will be interesting to see what Ezine looks like in 6 months time.

      Certainly, a smaller, more interesting and less spammy web is what Google, and everyone else would like. I don’t know if it will every be a reality (there’ll always be spammers right?), but maybe as the SE’s improve we will become less and less aware of it.

      I think traffic is a great way to look at it though. Rather than worrying about how good a link is for your SEO, we could just focus on how much traffic it will bring… that kinda makes a lot of sense actually.

      Thanks for the comment!

  10. April 19, 2011

    Seth W said:


    I think your article is spot on. Right now everyone wants to use “link building” to promote the crappy websites they still want to pretend are good. I think the reason why Google pulled the “Panda” is because it was tired of low-quality websites/content being supported by tactics.

    I think the sites providing high-quality information are always found and made popular. If there is a market for the site’s content then someone will find it and share it.

    The trick now is just making it easier to share yourself (better design, better branding, better visitor/admin relationships).

    • April 19, 2011

      Alex said:

      This is a great point. I think link building still matters, but you have to do the whole package. Trying to build links to a crappy site is pointless.

      Good SEO, in my opinion is about making your site as good as it can be, figuring which bits are best and which bits are worst and then doing what you can to encourage links – just like you said: branding, design etc…

      Ironically, SEO is getting a lot closer to traditional marketing in terms of the basic principals.

  11. April 19, 2011

    Fisayo @ Secrets of Entrepreneurship said:

    These are very useful info, thaks for sharing

  12. April 19, 2011

    Kok Siong said:

    Hi Alex! I have to admit that those link building strategies are no longer work right after the Panda Update. But, we cannot just sit there and wait for the miracle. Besides producing high quality content, what else can we do? Thanks for your nice article!

  13. April 20, 2011

    Francis from Eurocasino said:

    I know there are crappy directories out there. But consider directories like DMOZ and YAHOO directory. I think they still pass juicy links to your site.

  14. April 20, 2011

    Allyson Stewart said:

    Great post, Alex!

    The rules are ever-changing. Posts like these keep us informed. I had heard something through the grapevine about article submissions.

    I’m guessing, you wouldn’t recommend article submissions since Google’s “Panda Update?” Unless, of course, for quality submissions, which I believe is vital.

  15. April 21, 2011

    Jasmine said:

    Someone said this is garbage?! I disagree! This article is informative and it serves as a reminder that we should only produce good quality content and forget about building links the quick and easy ways!

  16. April 21, 2011

    [email protected] Lifestyle said:


    I have no doubt you are right. It certinaly seems that Google is making a strong push to only reward quality content.

    There may still be loopholes to rank with less than quality content, but if they are not closed they are likely closing.

    Thanks for a great article

  17. April 21, 2011

    Melody said:

    I really love this discussion. I participate on a forum called “bloggeries” and on almost a daily basis I see people suggest that good link building is directory submission and link exchanges.

    By the way, Nick, I never noticed that your blog does not have a blog roll until you pointed it out in the comments below.

    I also like the “fun factor” of just being able to produce content that you – the blogger love – and only worry about sharing it with people who love it too. We, as bloggers, can free up our time to worry about content and connecting. πŸ™‚

    In the comments, Francis mentioned that there are still a few directories that are juicy. I might add that in addition to a Yahoo directory, I might consider an Alltop.com listing to be juicy.


  18. April 21, 2011

    Allie said:


    Since Google started to show your social networking friends in your searches I wondered if the traditional ways of backlinking would lose weight. I am starting to read that they are.

    Google is looking like it is getting more and more into the social media side of the Internet, say, with it’s +1 feature.

    This is when I really switched to making any backlink I place more quality than quantity. I do more commenting and socializing than worrying about bookmarking and link building in directories.

    I love this article. It truly is great content.


  19. April 22, 2011

    Kavya Hari said:

    This article would be more helpful to avoid links to build. And, it could be more useful for all the newbie blogger like me.Thanks Alex πŸ™‚

  20. April 22, 2011

    Eren Mckay said:

    Hi Alex,
    while I agree that paid links, automated and multiway link swaps are not good (and Google says so)…
    Truth be told… directory links, article submission and smart reciprocal links ( notice I said smart – not a links page), still do work nowadays for ranking long tail long competition keyword phrases and even some short tail.
    Not only that.. they are also not against Google`s Webmaster`s Guidelines.
    Just sayin`.
    All the best,

  21. April 23, 2011

    Delena Silverfox said:

    Hi Alex,

    I love blog posts like this. It’s always awesome to give examples of what not to do, sort of a “Don’t let this happen to you” sort of thing, and it always makes me smile.

    And then I have to wonder at the people who still need reminding! Especially after the Panda Update, the thing that we really need to remember is simply to be excellent to each other. Just take a few minutes’ time and actually write something that people want to read.

    Just be cool. Have a cool blog, with cool content, and be the cool person that people want to interact with. All these things you list are “not cool.” Some people never learn, no?


  22. April 27, 2011

    Brian said:

    Dang, I’ve been hooked on your articles the last couple hours! lol. So in summary some link building may be good then? Like:
    Yahoo directory
    And altho it may not get you near the top of the search engine quickly, but doing some guest author blogging is still somewhat important from time to time just as regular networking and great content are important. You have great articles and some great comments on your articles Nicholas!

    • May 1, 2011

      Nicholas Cardot said:

      Thanks, Brian. I really appreciate that warm expressions. Although most directories are useless, there are a few that are good. Just as some others have pointed out, Google has a love affair with DMOZ and a very niche specific directory link may be useful like a link to your basketball page in the basketball section of a sports directory. And even that sports directory could be useless if they allow trash into it.

      Thanks again, Brian.

  23. April 29, 2011

    Ryan Biddulph said:

    Hi Alex,

    Solid tips here.

    Purchasing links is definitely a no-no. In truth, the best links are links created with value.

    Google likes when you bring value to the table. Create awesome content that makes people actually want to click and learn more, and you’re on the right track.

    Thanks for sharing!


  24. April 30, 2011

    BeltwayBoy said:

    Things are changing and everything I learned in the 2 years of learning this stuff is now completely useless! lol, What are the best type of links to be getting in your opinion? Thanks for any feedback you can give me.

  25. April 30, 2011

    Jacob said:

    I like what you say, but I’m not sure I agree with everything you say. These are links, generally, you don’t want to build, but I do think that we can break it down and pinpoint instances in most (I agree with #5 and #6) where you want to build those links.

    1. A link from a niche directory would be a great link. If your niche is sports and you got a link in the basketball section on a sports directory, Google would see that directory linking to a like site. In their eyes, that’s a decent link. And, if the directory is structured properly, Google should find every deep page. Besides, let’s not forget their love affair with DMOZ.

    2. Article marketing…Yeah, Ezine Articles is pretty dead. But, I think it was Jason in the comments below that said that since it sucks, spammers will leave. That might help increase the value again. Moreso, let’s not forget that guest blog posting is a type of article marketing. And guest blog posting is a great way to get backlinks. So, it all comes down to niche again.

    3. Buying links. If you are going to buy links on high PR sites that don’t fit your niche, yup, dumb. Otherwise, of course you should buy some links. If you can get a good link from a site that is in your niche, why not? Google can’t tell a purchased link from an non-purchased link just by looking at the link. There are so many other parameters that go into it that Google pays attention to. So, why not buy links so long as you’re getting them from good sources.

    4. Reciprocal links might not pass much link juice, but a reciprocal link could pass traffic. And, traffic is why we do SEO, right?

    I agree with what you say, but the evolution of link building has made it that even these tactics could work in a certain scenario.

  26. May 3, 2011

    Kavya Hari said:

    Those tips would be more helpful to get high traffic to your web site πŸ™‚ Thank you so much for given up here πŸ™‚

  27. May 3, 2011

    Toby Aletha said:

    This was a great post. I’m pretty new to the whole backlinking thing and this post was great. Gave me a lot of info about the different types of links and what they are good for. Before this, I was just going by what made sense.

  28. May 6, 2011

    Som said:

    Ya , this is right that now-a-days we have lots of directories in the web to submit our sites and maximum of them are worthless . But I think RSS Submission Directories are quite helpful in SEO process.Sometimes, articles submission works well as maximum of the article submission directories have high page rank in Google.I know about the purchased link but I have never used this trick.I think .It’s better to build links myself .According to me the most worthless process of getting backlinks is automated link submission process . The links are often marked as spam because of topic irrelevant link submission . I used to get this types of links previously submitted by so many bogus applications. However , the topic is very nice and useful .Thanks a lot for sharing all of these information.

  29. March 19, 2012

    Victor@ iPhone Application Development said:

    Thanks Alex for this wonderful post.
    Now a days after the panda update article are not worth doing. It has very less weightage. Regarding the directories they still help us to get the traffic to our website while our websites are new. The best way to get natural and quality backlink is forum posting and Blog Commenting.
    Social Bookmarking also helps to achieve traffic on the website.