Search Engine Land reports that Google has taken action against (another) Polish “link network,” also known as a link farm. This sent some ripples through the searchosphere over Thanksgiving weekend, and surely has customers of the link network—who paid money for the privilege of having their search visibility penalized—caught by surprise.
The real surprise here, however, is not that Google penalized the link farm and its customers—it’s that anyone was still paying for these types of schemes.
Link directories, link farms or link networks are all different terms for the same thing: an attempt to increase popularity with Google—many times with keyword-rich anchor text—by hyperlinking customers’ URLs across hundreds or thousands of websites (mostly owned and operated by spammers). Many link farms allow users to link out over and over to their own sites, in the hopes that all the backlinks will boost their SEO.
That would have worked several years ago, but Google is a lot more sophisticated than that now. Not only can it spot these unnatural links, it will actively penalize the sites that they point to. These penalties are both algorithmic, or built into the search engine itself, and manual—meaning a punitive action by Google staffers.
Manual penalties can make an entity disappear from search results even for the business’ own name. They’re bad.
And it was a pile of manual penalties that Google handed out last week, to every website that a major Polish directory linked out to. The action was confirmed in a tweet, and although the directory in question wasn’t named, some careful sleuthing has revealed it was likely Prolink.pl.
Today Google took action on a large link network in Poland.
— Karolina Kruszyńska (@karo_krus) November 24, 2014
Prolink definitely deserved the hit. It charged a fee per link, in sets of up to five links per page, to websites hoping to manipulate Google’s algorithm.
Once the penalty was announced, Prolink generously removed the links and suspended its service, but that won’t undo the penalties Google already handed out. That will take a lot more work, as we’ve covered before.
The Lure of Cheap Links
There is nothing new about what happened last week. Google’s ability to detect and penalize unnatural links has been well-known for years; the effectiveness of paying for links has fallen to practically zero. And Polish link networks have been hit by these kinds of mass actions several times just this year. You’d think sites like Prolink would have seen the writing on the wall and quietly closed down—or at least run out of paying customers. So why didn’t they?
There are a few reasons Prolink could find so many customers willing to dance with the devil. Those include:
- Misinformation: Even in the U.S., many business owners don’t feel that they understand SEO well. This problem is more pronounced in Poland where Internet marketing is comparatively young. Many site owners may have simply been acting on a vague or faulty understanding of SEO. They heard that Google rewards links, but didn’t know the rules involved.
- Disinformation: Sadly, fly-by-night SEO companies continue to peddle outdated tactics. They know that the link strategies they provide aren’t going to help their clients and they don’t care.
- Dubious marketing practices: Last, we have the companies that know exactly what they’re getting into. Link networks do get taken down eventually—but how many months before they do? If you’re a spammer or throwing together a quick and dirty ecommerce site, a temporary boost to search traffic may be all you need. When your site gets hit with a penalty, you just close it down and start a new one.
Obviously, none of these approaches is compatible with building a successful long-term business. For a brand to succeed online, it needs to develop a strong reputation, create lots of valuable content, and put in the time and effort to understand how SEO works. (We can help you with all three of these, by the way. We even offer a free consultation.)
But until companies around the world figure that out, there will be plenty that pay good money for bad links—and quickly fade into the abyss.