By now, every website owner knows how important link building is to their ongoing SEO efforts.
Backlinks are valuable signals that tell search engines your site is worthwhile. They’re the proof that people not only visit your site and consume your content but like it enough to link back to it and recommend it to others.
But Google and the rest of the search engines are getting smarter. They know the difference between an organic backlink that was genuinely earned and a shortcut with no actual value behind it.
Link farms are one of the shadier tactics marketers sometimes still use to quickly build an extensive backlink catalog. However, link farming does far more harm than good in the long run.
Carefully read the next lines to know more about this.
What is Link Farming?
Just as a real farm is a place that exists to grow and create food, a link farm is a website (or sometimes a group of them) that exists solely to create links to other websites.
Link farms aren’t there to get a message out or provide valuable content for the masses.
Instead, they’re sham sites explicitly created to add to the backlink catalogs of legitimate websites.
When you see all those services promising to help aspiring website owners and marketers get stellar search engine rankings, hundreds of backlinks, and dozens of pieces of content, think twice about signing up.
All that “value” can’t come from thin air. In fact, you’re potentially involving yourself with a link farm, putting the long-term success of your site at risk.
These days, link farming is considered a manipulative, black hat tactic for artificially boosting page rank — a massive no-no in Google’s eyes.
Furthermore, involvement with a link farm now carries heavy ranking penalties that can be tough to overcome, so it’s best to steer clear entirely.
How to Identify a Link Farm?
While some link farms are easier to identify, others look just like legitimate websites at first glance.
However, further examination always reveals them for what they are.
To determine whether a website you’ve found is really a link farm in disguise, look for characteristics like the following:
- A low Google PageRank score — Google-backed proof that the site isn’t seen as valuable.
- Extremely shallow or poorly written content with little value to human readers.
- Covered topics that seem random and unrelated.
- Whole pages that are nothing but lists of links without context.
- Domain names that don’t make sense or consist only of random letters and numbers.
The more of those traits you see, the more likely it is you’re looking at a link farm.
Legitimate websites feel cohesive and follow a common theme. They make sense, and you can tell what the owners are trying to accomplish, even if the sites themselves aren’t very well-run.
Why Does Google Hate Link Farming?
Link farms first started popping up in response to PageRank, Google’s ranking algorithm.
In the early days of PageRank, every link to a particular website was considered a vote for that site’s overall value and popularity.
The more backlinks a site had, the more valuable it was considered to be, and there was little way to tell the difference between genuine backlinks and fake ones created to manipulate the algorithm.
However, as the algorithm evolved and Google became more intelligent, measures were eventually taken to identify link farms and prevent them from dominating SERPs.
As a result, owning, operating, or even being connected to a link farming scheme can now get offenders penalized by Google, as well as the rest of the search engines, and with good reason.
Google is the world’s most popular website and widely trusted search engine for a reason — it’s serious about delivering quality results people can count on.
Link farms deliberately attempt to cheat Google’s algorithm to achieve artificial rankings for sites that haven’t earned them.
This damages the integrity of Google’s SERPs, making it harder for searchers to connect with the best answers to their queries.
Is Link Farming Worth the Risk?
Although link farming may make sense on the surface — especially after listening to a slick sales pitch from a black hat SEO “expert” — they really aren’t worth the risk.
The following are just a few of the many reasons to avoid them at all costs.
You can’t trust the quality
Never assume that one backlink is just as good as another.
Google and the rest of the search engines are quite adept at assessing the quality of a link’s source, and poor-quality backlinks won’t be rewarded.
Remember, high-quality backlinks:
- Are natural, genuine, and organic.
- Come from a reputable, trusted source.
- Come from a source that is relevant to the linked content.
- Are integrated into the surrounding content in a way that makes sense.
Backlinks from link farms don’t have any of those characteristics, so they will likely harm your SEO efforts in the long run.
You can’t trust the longevity
Even if the owner of the link farm runs a tight enough operation to avoid being shut down or penalized, you have no guarantee that those links will remain active over the long haul.
Link farms often wind up coming down just as quickly and suddenly as they went up, meaning all those backlinks you paid for could suddenly just disappear.
And there are no guarantees that your specific links won’t be removed or otherwise changed without warning, even if the link farm remains live.
Plus, ranking algorithms are constantly evolving. For instance, Google is currently working on quality control improvements that will better assess the reputation of the link source plus the longevity of the link to determine its true value.
So it’s really only a matter of time before farmed links become entirely worthless.
You could incur severe penalties
Poor quality links, like those associated with link farms, put your site at risk for severe penalization that will be difficult to overcome.
This goes for outbound links you add to your content, as well as backlinks pointing toward your site.
The penalties are often automatically applied via an algorithm filter. However, members of Google’s spam team sometimes manually review sites for potential violations of their webmaster guidelines and decide to apply a penalty.
It’s also possible for a disgruntled visitor or a competitor to report your site to Google for spam, which may eventually lead to penalties, as well.
If this does happen, you won’t be formally notified, but you will see noticeable drops in your web traffic and search engine rankings.
And you can’t appeal the suspected penalty. So your only course of action is to do a full audit of your site, fix any issues, and hope for the best.
What Should You Do Instead of Link Farming?
Although link farming may seem like a quick shot to the SEO success you’re after, it just doesn’t pay off over the long haul.
The only way to achieve lasting success is to run your website with integrity and make the right optimization choices from the start. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Vet your link choices carefully
When selecting outbound links to add to your content, go the extra mile to ensure the site you’re linking to is reputable.
Choose sites and content in the same niche as yours. Make sure they’re relevant, trustworthy, and rank well.
Remember, an outbound link is a recommendation from you to your audience. Choose wisely.
Be careful when requesting inbound links from other site owners, as well. You should especially avoid dealing with anyone who tries to sell you the link.
Keep in mind that if they’re selling links to you, they’re likely also selling them to many other people, meaning you’re in serious link farm territory.
2. Know the difference between directories and link farms
At first glance, a link farm and a directory may look like the same thing. However, they are very different.
Directories are organized and well-curated, while link farms are random.
Directories also genuinely exist to help information seekers find what they’re looking for. In contrast, link farms do not actually provide a useful service to their visitors.
Directories are also terrific for your SEO efforts and SERP rankings. Just assess your options carefully to ensure you’re added to the very best, most relevant ones for your industry or niche.
3. Focus on earning organic links
Although there’s nothing wrong with requesting or trading links with reputable peers in your niche, there’s no substitute for wholly organic backlinks.
And the best way to get those is to focus on building a cache of well-crafted, informative content that provides genuine value to your web visitors.
Explore a variety of topics related to your niche, as well as multiple forms of media. Approach questions your audience has from unique angles.
Present valuable information in exciting, engaging ways that inspire people to share it around or link back to it.
Naturally, this method won’t lead to a robust catalog of backlinks overnight, but it remains the best, most effective way to achieve lasting results.
Wrap Up: Stay Ahead of the Trends and Get Results
Your audience doesn’t stay the same over time, nor does Google.
So if you’re serious about staying ahead of the game, then your SEO strategy can’t stand still, either. That means staying on top of emerging trends in marketing, SEO, and evolving consumer needs.
Start by checking out our comprehensive write-up on SEO trends to know this year!
You’ll learn how to better optimize your website, create compelling interactive content experiences, and more, the better to propel you to the top of Google SERPs.