Q and A: Is this black hat SEO / link farming?

QuestionHello Kalena

In doing my research for Assignment 4 for your Advanced SEO course, I came across something I think is pretty spammy and crosses the line into black hat SEO.

A supposedly respectable design firm has done a number of websites and lists all their client’s website URLs on their site.  They appear to try to have all their clients link back to them.  That much I can understand from a business point of view although the latter is not the best practice.  But – they appear to have set it up so all their clients link to all the other clients of this design firm, even though they are unrelated businesses and not relevant.  The links are presented as this design firm’s clients and not the site owner’s.

So links from the design firm to clients, most clients to design firm, many clients linking to all the others.  Their list is about 187 or so sites.  Does this count as as link farming if the scale is fairly small?  Would Google or Bing notice?



Hi Dolores

Without being able to see the sites in question, I can’t confirm (feel free to message me with a couple of URLs if you’d like me to verify), but it sounds exactly like a 3 way link scheme.

This tactic is definitely dodgy but something that web design firms and ad agencies persist in thinking is a good idea. It’s also something that Google has warned against time and time again. You can see the very scenario you describe listed in Google’s definition of link schemes in their Webmaster Guidelines as follows:

“…links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that may violate our guidelines: …Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites”

So you can bet your bottom dollar that Google will notice this and devalue those links, if they haven’t done so already. Bing has a similar stance on 3 way link schemes, so the sites won’t fare well in Bing either:

“Abusive tactics that aim to inflate the number and nature of inbound links such as links buying, participating in link schemes (link farms, link spamming and excessive link manipulation) can lead to your site being de-listed from the Bing index.”

The fact that you’ve spotted this link scheme signals that the SEO lessons are sinking in, so well done :-)


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Q and A: Should I source backlinks from a link merchant?

QuestionHi Kalena

I’m working through the link building course at Search Engine College, but I’m a tad unsure where to source links for my website. I know I can get them from industry related websites, but think this might be a slow process. Is it therefore deemed appropriate for me to source links from a service such as linksmanagement.com? If so, can you please answer the following questions:

1. How many links should I acquire on a weekly/monthly basis?

2. Can I focus on 1 page of my website at a time when building links, or should I spread them evenly on various pages of my website say 3-4 pages at a time?

3. Should link building be an ongoing process, or can I stop when I’ve achieved the ranking I desire….and we all know what position that is! :-)

If linksmanagement.com is not a source you would recommend me to use, can you recommend another please?

Kind Regards


Hi Alistair

Links should be acquired organically – at a moderate pace. I recommend adding no more than five new links a week to a site. Sites that acquire large blocks of links in a short space of time are more likely to attract attention from Google’s anti-spam team.

Whatever you do, DO NOT use a link selling site such as LinksManagement to buy backlinks. Links must be earned, not bought. The selling or purchasing of backlinks is in direct violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines and could earn your site a ranking penalty or removal from Google’s index altogether.

Instead, I recommend that you use Raven Tools or another all-in-one SEO tool-kit with which to manage your link building efforts. These suites of tools generally enable you to research, find, contact and track link partners all in the one location. Raven’s link research tools in particular are brilliant for finding potential link opportunities and keeping track of who has linked to you.

We are still editing the remainder of the Link Building course, so you’ll probably find that (when published) the remaining lessons will answer your questions. But in the meantime, can I suggest that you review the Link Building lessons within the SEO101 and SEO201 courses? Also look at the recommended reading and resources for those lessons. They contain a wealth of information about link building.

Finally, take a look through my previous blog posts about link building as they should give you some inspiration about where to find new link partners.

Hope this helps!


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Q and A: Should I 301 redirect my penalized domain to a new site?

QuestionHi Kalena

If my site example.com gets penalized and de-indexed from Google (some competitor spammed my site hard), can I 301 that site to my new site with the exact same content? Would my new site get penalized too?

And what happens if my new site gets penalized from spam again… can I 301 it to another domain using the same content? I wonder if i can 301 the past two domains to my new site, passing on the link juice.

What do you think?



Hi Sam

GREAT question and one that I thought I knew the answer to, but it prompted me to do a little more research to make sure.

My instincts told me that if you could simply recover from a penalized domain by implementing 301 redirects to a new domain, then there would be more incentive for spammers to create and burn keyword-stuffed sites as a tactic to gain short term traffic and long term links. This is not a situation I could imagine Google being comfortable with.

But at the same time, if penalized domains pass their penalties on via 301 redirects, what is stopping a competitor from 301 redirecting their penalized site to your non-penalized site as a nasty negative SEO tactic?

So, after digging into the topic, here’s what I found out:

1) We know that 301 redirects are Google’s preferred method of directing traffic between pages and sites, and for transferring link juice from an old domain to a new one. However, any page redirected from one domain to another via 301 is going to lose some PageRank.  So it follows that implementing a 301 redirect on a penalized site WILL pass on some of the link and PageRank value of the redirected site to the new site. Therefore, you should NOT implement a 301 redirect on a penalized site, because any link or PageRank-related penalties will be passed on to the new site as well.

2) If you 301 redirect more than one penalized domain to a new domain, you are probably going to pass on double the negative PageRank and link juice to your clean domain, so don’t do that either, unless you want double the drama.

3) If you are thinking of simply scraping the entire content of your penalized domain and republishing it on a new domain, think again. There is new evidence that Google can track the content that earned you the penalty in the first place and penalize it in the new location, even if you don’t use 301s or tell Google about the move via the site migration tool in Webmaster Tools.

4) If you’re concerned that a competitor might have used negative SEO tactics against you by 301 redirecting their penalized site to your non-penalized site, don’t be. Google is apparently quite good at ferreting out this particular negative SEO technique. If you’re still worried, you can use the Disavow Links tool in Webmaster Tools to instruct Google to ignore any links from the penalized site.

Hope this helps!


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Q and A: How Can I Get Rid of Malicious Spam Content on Google?

QuestionHi Kalena

My friend is being harassed by someone who is manipulating SEO on Google.  What should I do?

Someone is using a story to back link and I believe it is web spammed via Google. The story was politically motivated and used to destroy my friend’s character.  I am not sure if there is anything that can be done to stop this person from page ranking this story to the top of the Google page, especially if they are using possible black hat techniques and other methods to rank this at the top.

Is there anyway Google would remove the story if they are participating in such acts? My friend sent a request for removal and complained to google about the back linking and abuse of page rank, but to date, nothing has been done in removing the story that is over a year old and is at the top of the Google site. Can you help and let us know what we may be able to do to have this story taken down?



Hi Crystal

Sorry to hear that. I believe there are quite a few people who find themselves the target of malicious spam campaigns like this. I personally can’t assist as I don’t work for Google and don’t have any contacts there who would be able to assist. However, the correct place to start the process is to complete this Request to Remove Objectionable Content form.

The other step I would recommend is for your friend to have a lawyer write a *cease and desist* letter to the owner of the web site hosting the objectionable content. Sometimes, the threat of legal action is enough to make them remove it.

My final piece of advice would be to create some positive content and optimize it well for your friend’s name so that it out-ranks the objectionable content to push the spam further down the search results.

Best of luck!


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Q and A: Can a List of Client Sites Be Seen as Link Spamming?

QuestionHi Kalena

I recently finished up helping my dad remake and SEO his site. His company has been around for a long time, and his site hadn’t been updated in a very long time, so it was time for a total remake. The URL stayed the same, but we updated the content/graphics/general design of the site.

So my first question is about a page on the site for “Who Uses Our Service”. On the page there is at least 200 companies listed, and most had links to their sites included. Would Google consider this some type of link spamming to have that many links on a page? Or do they really only care about links pointing TO your site, rather than FROM it? For now we have added a nofollow thing to the robots.txt so Google won’t index that page, but if it wouldn’t impact us negatively, then it would be nice to have it indexed.

My final question is regarding SEO in general. Pretty much I’m wondering how long it takes for SEO to start taking affect, and any reasons why an updated/new site (but with a link that has been around for a long time), that is keyworded on every page for our target keywords, and has some backlinks (not sure of the quantity or quality because this was done a long time ago, not by me), would still not show up within the first 5-10 pages of Google?

We submitted the sitemap to google about 10 days ago, how long would it take for the SEO to really start affecting it’s place in results? The weird thing is it is still top 3 or so in Bing and Yahoo, but had pretty much entirely dropped off the search results in Google, which is part of the reason we remade it. But it still isn’t showing up anywhere, so maybe it just hasn’t been long enough for things to start kicking in?

Sorry for the very long post, but needed to give the details. Thanks for any help!



Hi Chris

A double whammy! Ok, let’s see if I can answer both questions in one post:

1) Google recommends a max of 100 outgoing links on any page. Any more links than that and Googlebot may not follow them or index remaining page code. To combat this, I would recommend that you break up that page listing all client sites into several smaller pages, perhaps by category? So law firms on one page, govt agencies on another etc.

In addition, if you are concerned about the page being mistaken for a link farm or directory, I would advise you to use the rel=nofollow tag on all those outgoing links. Unless you specifically want to pass PageRank to those sites, that is the best option for you. It instructs Google that you are not passing on any link juice and so Google is more likely to treat those page/s as genuine content, which is what they are.

2) New sites can take anywhere from 3 to 30 days to show up in Google. To determine if the site has been indexed, you need to do a search for your domain e.g. site:http://[yourdomain].com. If it is showing pages for your domain, then Google has indexed it. If it is showing some pages but not others, you need to investigate any indexing issues using Google Webmaster Tools and compare your site map with the pages indexed to see what could be going on. Webmaster Tools will tell you exactly how often Googlebot is indexing the site and which pages it is indexing.

Also make sure you check your robots.txt file against your XML sitemap to ensure you aren’t giving Google conflicting indexing permissions. I’ve seen many a client blame Google for a baffling indexing issue that was caused by their own instructions to Googlebot in their robots.txt file.

If there are still pages from the old site listed in Google, you need to make sure you use 301 redirects on those old URLs to point them to the new pages. This will signal to Google to update any old content listings. If you spot any dodgy backlinks pointing to the site from previous link partners, you should request they be removed, and/or you can also use the disavow backlinks tool in Webmaster Tools to make sure Google no longer takes those links into account.

If the new pages are listed, but just aren’t ranking as well as you like, it may be that they are under-optimized or over-optimized for your target keywords, OR, the keywords you are trying to rank for are simply too competitive. Keep tweaking the page and testing until you hit the sweet spot that sees the page ranking in the first page or two of search results for logical, realistic keyword phrases.

I would also recommend doing some more in-depth keyword research using some of the tools and methods I’ve previously recommended to make sure you find every possible keyword combination that your potential audience is using when conducting searches. You’ll find that targeting long-tail keywords (search terms with more words and/or that are more specific) will give you the edge over competitors when it comes to ranking. You may not draw as much traffic from them, but the traffic you do attract will be more qualified to purchase/sign up.

It may also be that competing sites have a much stronger backlink profile and so Google is naturally positioning them ahead of you in the search results. If this is the case, conduct a link audit and kick off a consistent link building campaign. In particular, you’ll need to determine how your competitor’s backlink profile compares to yours so you know how much work you need to do in order to out-rank them. My recent post about link audits should help you through this process.

Best of luck!


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