Smart alternatives to dangerous link building strategies

Last December, we wrote about all the things that you should take in account when cleaning up bad backlinks. We asked Christoph at LinkResearchTools to check all of the information in there to make sure we were not missing anything.
When going over that post, we felt that we should elaborate on the subject of link building on our website, although link building is not the same (trade) as website optimization. And that is why we are pleased to present you with this post Christoph wrote for you.

In this article, you will find practical tips and smart alternatives to dangerous link building strategies.

Link building today: “Sweat plus creativity”

Smart Alternatives to Dangerous Link Building StrategiesBefore the first Google Penguin update in 2012, people just wanted to build as many links as possible, using any available means. In the Penguin era the focus has shifted to white hat SEO; building trusted and powerful links. Is this easy? Of course it’s not!

Building high quality links is no easy job. As Matt Cutts said (SMX, June 2014) it’s possible to do white hat SEO, but this takes “Sweat plus creativity”. All of a sudden link building stopped being an easy thing to do, because Google’s search algorithm grew more complex, easily detecting any attempts of manipulation.

Avoiding dangerous link building strategies and understanding how you can build links the right way is really important if you want to keep your position top in the search engines.

Industrial “Penguin Proof” link building. Really?

There are hundreds of thousands of agencies that offer link building services. It’s cheap, it’s fast, you don’t have to struggle at all and they often claim that the links they build overnight are “Penguin proof”. It looks like you found the perfect deal. What else could you wish for? It sounds too good to be true and most probably, it is.

Quantity is not quality and a link building strategy that doesn’t add value to anyone is something that Google calls spam:

“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”

Bad link building strategies and smart alternatives

1. Buying or selling links

Google clearly states that buying backlinks to improve your rankings is against their webmaster quality guidelines. They see links as votes and it’s not ethical to pay for votes. Links bought from sites that openly state that they sell links, are your ticket to a Google Penalty!

Smart solution
Instead of buying links, you can invest in creating high quality content that will attract natural backlinks. Taking this approach doesn’t cost you more than buying a bunch of bad links, and you can ultimately achieve much better results, it just requires more patience, “sweat plus creativity”.

The secret to success is placing a link inside high quality content and making sure it leads to high quality content.

Here’s what Google says about links and content:

“The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”

If you want a risk-free approach to SEO then don’t buy links. If you ever bought some, get rid of them now!

2. Excessive link exchanges

Exchanging links with people you know just for the sake of cross-linking will negatively impact your website’s ranking in search results. Here is an example of how reciprocal linking can go wrong: You have a website about legal services and you link to a bakery and have that bakery website link to you, then you may have just created a worthless link. Imagine that you continue by linking to coffee shops, clothing stores, computer repair businesses, garden equipment and so on and they all link back to you. This reciprocal link exchange may cause Google to penalize your website.

Smart solution
As long as reciprocal linking is not done excessively and these links make sense and are relevant to the users of both websites, there is nothing to worry about.

If the website of a Court Office links to a legal website and the legal website has a link to the Court Office, this link is not harmful. It may not have great value for boosting a website’s ranking, but it surely provides value to the users of both websites.

3. Massive article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links

It’s great that people write about you and link back to your website, but just as long as they create links in a natural way. Stuffing the anchor text with money keywords is far from natural and will surely get you in trouble.

Smart solution
Using brand keywords or navigational phrases is a good option in this case. Obsessing about money anchor text is wrong. It’s important to have anchor texts that are relevant to your website, but keep in mind that using money keywords as anchor text for all your inbound links is a bad practice and it may put you on Google’s blacklist.

4. Adding links to any link directory

Adding your site to any web directory just to get a backlink will have a negative effect on your website’s ranking. Most web directories out there provide no real value to the Internet users and Google has excluded them from its search results. You don’t want your website to be in there!

Smart solution
Search for trusted directories. There are a few for every niche. These directories provide useful information to you, your target audience and your potential customers.

The new PageRank is relevancy, therefore building links in niche directories and directories belonging to informative websites relevant for your industry are beneficial for you.

5. Optimized links placed in unhelpful forum or blog comments

Participating in forum discussions and adding random comments to any blog out there, overusing money keywords in your anchor texts is completely wrong and spammy.

Smart solution
Participate in an active discussion on a forum or blog that is relevant to your business and make sure that your comment provides contextual value to the discussion. Now you don’t have to worry about sharing a relevant link.

6. Web directory listings

Adding your site to any web directory just to get a backlink will have a negative effect on your website’s ranking. Most directories provide no real value to the Internet users and Google has excluded them from its search results. Again, you don’t want your website to be in there.

Smart solution
There are some good directories that also provide useful information for you and your potential customers and are closely related to your industry.

For example a business web directory that specializes in legal services and lists lawyers all over the world. With listings organized by practice area and location, this would be a place that would help a user find the best lawyer for their case.

At the same time the directory can contain a knowledge database with the most recent legal updates in the world. This web directory is both valuable for people that need a lawyer and for lawyers themselves.

In conclusion

Real link building is no easy job. Creating great links takes a lot of time and requires effort, but building links that create value for both your users and the Web is what great link building is all about.

This year I revisited my 7 Golden Rules of Link Building, first presented to the world at the A4UExpo 2009 in Amsterdam.

A lot has changed in SEO and Link Building since then and looking at the rules in the light of the Google quality guidelines in 2015, I was surprised how well they still match the requirements today!

Never buy backlinks! They will only hurt your website.  Focus on people, focus on value and spend your SEO budget wisely.

High Quality Content and Natural Anchor Text images used with permission of LinkResearchTools.

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41 Responses to Smart alternatives to dangerous link building strategies

  1. Vikas Singh Gusain
    Vikas Singh Gusain  • 4 years ago

    This is a very profitable information for every SEO Executive.

  2. Anuj Sharma
    Anuj Sharma  • 4 years ago

    Hi Christoph,

    That was quite an informative article thanks. I would like to add two cents, and that revolves around content.

    In today’s world Content is the KING. If we develop meaningful content that may be in any format video, articles, guides, info-graphic. And, that content solves someone’s problem or is helpful to the audience of a fellow blogger/ website. That kind of content is bound to get back links.

    Best wishes,
    Anuj Sharma

    • Daniela Zuckerhut
      Daniela Zuckerhut  • 4 years ago

      We agree! If you have good content it has a lot of value. You will get good links much easier this way. If you contact somebody to link you and you can provide them with a well-written valuable article, they will more likely link you :)

  3. Sonali Joshi
    Sonali Joshi  • 4 years ago

    I was about to add my site in many link directories, i din’t knew that they will effect my site negatively… thanks for the post…

    • Daniela Zuckerhut
      Daniela Zuckerhut  • 4 years ago

      Before you create backlinks you have options to make potential link checks to find out if a link there would harm you. I would recommend you to do that!

  4. Jacques Nadeau
    Jacques Nadeau  • 4 years ago

    For me, a smart alternatives to dangerous link building strategies it’s too analyse the backlinks profile of the 10-20 competitors for the keyword you want to rank for and to copy their best backlinks.

    You can do this with a tool like In backlinks section, you can see all the backlinks of your competitors. When looking this list, you’ll see some backlinks that you can’t copy, but a lot of backlinks that you can copy too.

    when you’ll have your list of backlinks that you can copy, verify their Trust Flow and Citation Flow. Google want only quality backlinks now, so copy only the backlinks with a Trust Flow higher than 20 and a Citation Flow higher than 20 and see the result ;)

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      Yes Jacques I agree. Copying the best in your niche and their links is surely the best way to outrank them. LinkResearchTools has specific tools for this purpose. With the Competitive Landscape Analyzer, Competitive Link Detox, Competitive Link Velocity you can spy and copy the links of your competitors and the type of links (which percentage of money anchor texts, what kind of link velocity is specific for that niche, which percentage of links are going to the frontpage and deep pages…) Have you ever tried these tools?

  5. Jordan Alexo
    Jordan Alexo  • 4 years ago

    Thanks, good article. I for long have been building backlinks I guess in a more black hat way. Sometimes they do work but usually not for long.

    But now in days I been building better websites, since they provide more value to the Internet and also better ROI for me in the long run. I have a question, “What about document sharing?”

    For instance, if you create a relevant guide and share them in websites like They seem to have good authority in the web and allow you to leave a backlink to your website. I’m wondering if Google is okay with this? Or, at least what is your experience with this?

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      You’re welcome Jordan, I’m glad you like the article. I think any link that is natural and comes from the same niche/theme can be good for your site, but you should test it before building links.

  6. TonmoyParves
    TonmoyParves  • 4 years ago

    Hello Christoph, Thanks for your good Tutorial. To be honest, i don’t have any idea before read your this article. I was doing wrong with my Blogs. I am going to check change the way


    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      I’m glad you like it! Which part of the article did you like best? Would you like to try some of these methods by using LinkResearchTools?

  7. martine
    martine  • 4 years ago

    I use this plugin but don’t know how to use do the site have any form site.

    • Daniela Zuckerhut
      Daniela Zuckerhut  • 4 years ago

      Do you need some specific help martine? I would be happy to assist you. Can you please write me a mail?

  8. Akash Navi
    Akash Navi  • 4 years ago

    Hello there,
    Thanks for this awesome article, now i will change the way i build backlinks to my blog.

    Akash Navi.

  9. Nigel
    Nigel  • 4 years ago

    At last, Quality and relevancy of the link is all that matters and in the long run, natural is the way to go.

    • Daniela Zuckerhut
      Daniela Zuckerhut  • 4 years ago

      Yes, and that is why you need good tools to check the quality and relevancy of a link after all :)

  10. Peter
    Peter  • 4 years ago

    This post was very useful for me.

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      Peter, thank you very much for your feedback.

  11. Nigel Abery
    Nigel Abery  • 4 years ago

    Interesting post! Can you clarify if these are related to manual reviews, the computer algorithms or both. Cheers!

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      Hello Nigel, bad links can cause manual penalties but also algorithmic penalties, so in both cases you need to be careful which links you are building to avoid all dangers. In case you want to know more information about the links you need to disavow, please check our our ebook here:

  12. Julie
    Julie  • 4 years ago

    Thanks for the post, Christoph. There’s no good shortcut, but the thing is, if you really love what you do, generating good content shouldn’t be a problem. Just be naturally curious about your own industry, and the content will follow, as will the links.

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      Thank you very much for your feedback, Julie! However I think it is necessary not only to provide good content, but also find opportunities to place the links. And this is where professional tools play in. It is hard to get links at reputable news sites, if they never come across your website.

  13. Ratchaphol @SMMTIPS
    Ratchaphol @SMMTIPS  • 4 years ago

    Lately i do a lot of forum commenting and relevant blog comment. Can’t believe it paid off very well, sometimes in non competitive keyword it can move you from n/a to top 20 with few comments.

    This is because the real website are full of referring link and real people. You also got a great traffic and gain more exposure as well.

    Very great post btw, i rarely read though every word but i did for this post :)


    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      As long as you are posting in forums and blogs with a relevant topic and adding some content with value for the users, this strategy can work. To be sure that the pages are good and have quality I would however suggest you to use the Link Detox for a final proof before you actually create the link.

  14. Maurizio
    Maurizio  • 4 years ago

    I have a bad experience with link detox, after found bad link and create disavow file nothing is changed after one year, an answer by technical support says ” in many cases you can waiting some algorithms changes for Google clean your bad back links. .” . My question is link detox a valid tool or just a flash in our eyes ??? Tanks to all and long live to Yoast team

    • Daniela Zuckerhut
      Daniela Zuckerhut  • 4 years ago

      Hello Maurizio, here is Daniela, we talked last December, if you remember? As I told you last time it can have several reasons why you have not got your rankings back. At first, the last time you used Link Detox was 2013/2014. Of course since this time, we have improved our algorithm a lot. We can find more potential bad backlinks than before.

      And yes, algorithmic penalties are hard to get rid of. Especially since you get new bad backlinks all the time you need intensive Link Monitoring to improve your disavow file regularly, so that you are ready when the next Google Penguin update happens. If you have disavowed enough links and have enough good links to rank again when the update happens, then you should see a recovery. These are things you can do with the LinkResearchTools.

      But without a deep look into your backlink profile it is hard to guess why you have not recovered yet. We get a lot of good feedback from clients who had successful recoveries with Link Detox. I am sorry that it has not helped in your case.

      Of course if you are interested, we can schedule a call and will guide you through the process how to do everything correctly. Please just let me know!

  15. Yannis
    Yannis  • 4 years ago

    Thanks for the list Christoph,

    It would have been nice to include some example sites of bad and good in order to get a better idea. I am (and I am sure many others are) a visual learner.

    Just imo.

  16. Haroun
    Haroun  • 4 years ago

    Thanks for these great tips. I’ve decided to focus my efforts on creating content on my site for people and viral content techniques like share gates and a mailing list to keep browsers coming back to my site.

    Hoping it works in the long run…

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      Hello Haroun, if you are doing content marketing, then high quality link building is just one step away. You can pitch websites with matching content to promote your articles, so these things go hand in hand usually.

  17. Diwakar
    Diwakar  • 4 years ago

    Wow! Thanks Cemper, really how beautifully explained the strategies along with good examples.
    Really enjoy it….

  18. wolkanca
    wolkanca  • 4 years ago


    This post was very useful for me.

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      I’m glad that you like it. Thank you!

      • HeyDay
        HeyDay  • 4 years ago

        Are you buying links to the

        • Christoph Cemper
          Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

          No, we are not selling or buying links at all. Buying links can harm your domain and lead to a penalty.

  19. PseudoGeek
    PseudoGeek  • 4 years ago

    Many of the websites I create (not that many at this point in time, but steadily growing) have a link in the footer “Web design by…” that links back to our site. Most of them are hosted on a single server with one IP address. The types of businesses are naturally quite varied (a home builder, a cleaning service, a bed & breakfast, a photographer, a realtor, etc. etc.). Will this hurt my ranking, or simply be irrelevant? My point in providing a link is simply to let anyone who likes the site (or has a broken link to report) to be able to find us. Would it be better if my own site had a unique IP address? Also, we provide a site for local businesses to list their website under categories of businesses – is this a problem?

    • Christoph Cemper
      Christoph Cemper  • 4 years ago

      It is hard to say without looking deeper into your specific case. In general a situation like this can get detected as a link network especially if these domains all link to each other additionally. This led to Google penalties in the past.

  20. Indri Lidiawati
    Indri Lidiawati  • 4 years ago

    thanks for your nice info sir it’s very useful for me, I want to try for linkresearchtools free trial and I hope got a nice result

    • Daniela Zuckerhut
      Daniela Zuckerhut  • 4 years ago

      If you need help with registering the trials or if you need help with the tools, please contact me. :)