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How Avoid Low-Quality Backlinks with SEO “Street Smarts”

Want to grow your business?

Getting your site to rank well on top search engines like Google can do just that.

But if you’ve been in the SEO world for any length of time, you know that not every “expert strategy” or “secret tip” is all it’s cracked up to be.

Along the way, there are plenty of SEO gurus with under-the-table strategies to get your site ranked quicker, faster, and with seemingly less effort on your part.

But don’t trust these techniques—known in the industry as “black-hat SEO.” While they might work in the short-term (and many used to work years ago), search engines are constantly getting smarter.

In 2017, Google accounted for 94% of organic traffic.

That huge market share means the engineers at Google take their job seriously, and continually update the algorithm to root out spam and only deliver top-notch content.

If you’re getting lots of spam links, your traffic is bound to disappear any minute. Today, you’ll learn how to stay out of the “bad neighborhoods” online and keep your site credible for years to come.

What makes a bad neighborhood?

A bad neighborhood on the Internet usually comes about because of a simple fact: people are looking for SEO shortcuts.

Typically, someone finds a strategy that seems like a quicker way to SEO results, and a new type of “bad neighborhood” is born.

A quick look at the data shows why this happens. In 2016, an engineer at Google said that backlinks are one of the most important factors for ranking.

But getting these backlinks—that is, links from other sites—is really difficult. According to data published in 2018, 65% of marketers said that link building is the most difficult SEO tactic.

So shady SEO operators have created different types of bad neighborhoods that offer easy backlinks, and learning what these neighborhoods are is one of the Google SEO basics to learn.

You can tell this is their category because it includes one or more of the following elements.

Bad links. These are usually pretty easy to spot, because they lead to even seedier parts of the web.

In the SEO world, these links are known as bad PPC, which stands for pills, porn, and casinos. If you see any of these, get out of that neighborhood ASAP.

Too many external links. Some websites thrive on internal links to more internal content on the same site. Every other word on a Wikipedia article might link to another article, and that’s fine.

But if a page on a website has too many links to outside sites—especially sites that aren’t directly related to the content the site is about, beware.

Spam. Sometimes, even though there are not too many links or bad links, there are still pages that have a disproportionate amount of spam on their pages.

These usually look like worthless comments or bizarre content that doesn’t seem to provide any value. A seemingly innocent site might be cluttered with spam comments and look fine.

But if nobody is moderating the spam, bad links are bound to come next.

Over-abundance of ads. If a site runs ads, that doesn’t automatically undermine its credibility. But if it seems like there are more ads than content, be wary.

In fact, Google itself has been cracking down on sites that show more ads than content, oftentimes even banning Google Ad users who don’t follow their guidelines.

Poorly-written content. Okay, this one is a little bit harder to spot, and everyone has their own standards for what “good” content is.

But generally, if it’s not content you would feel comfortable linking to from your own site, then you need to watch out.

Oftentimes really bad content isn’t even written by humans—it’s created with a type of software that “spins” existing content into new articles that look original.

And if the site owner doesn’t care about quality content, there must be another reason he or she is keeping the lights on, and that reason is rarely good.

Now let’s take a look where you might encounter bad neighborhood elements, along with some examples of what to watch out for.

Blogs and blog comments

Yes, this is a blog article—but I’m not talking about high-quality content on a reputable site.

Instead, I’m talking about old or spammy blogs without recent updates or less-than-stellar comments.

Blog commenting has been a popular form of link building for a while now.

But today, many site owners don’t let commenters link to sites in their posts or in usernames, and if they do they’re given mostly worthless nofollow links.

But some people still try with low-quality or irrelevant comments or posts, and once that happens you know you’re not in a good place on the internet.

If the comments don’t apply to the article you’re reading, it’s a good sign that you are looking at an unmoderated neighborhood, and it is not where you want your link to be placed.


Another area for link spammers and other seedy content is within forums.

If a forum is not heavily moderated, and you find posts like these, it’s a good idea to skip the site. There’s not much good to expect from forums overrun with poor content.

Usually when forums have been hit with this kind of spam, it’s a sign that the community has moved on. Your best option is to follow suit.

Resources pages

If you are ever offered a link exchange—where you link to one site, and the other site links to you—beware. These sort of agreements usually don’t bode well for either party.

If you feel you have to take a site up on this offer, make sure it’s a reputable website that’s fully aligned with your industry.

You should also do your due diligence and make sure the link is going to be placed on a relevant, high-quality page and not a throwaway “links” page hidden in the background.

While we can’t prove exactly what factors play into Google’s rankings, having multiple links on one page—exactly like a resource page—most likely devalues each link.


Similar to resource pages, if you find a directory that allows any site to apply for a listing, you’re best avoiding the exposure.

The best way to find out if a directory is worth using or not is to look at the criterion for entry. If it’s little more than an application—and especially if you need to pay a fee—look elsewhere.

Article directories

Just like site directories, do your research before submitting a piece to an article directory. Make sure they don’t allow any and every type of article on the page.

These types of directories are easy to get access to, and thus the links you get on them aren’t very valuable at all.

A great way to tell if a directory is worth applying to is looking at the content versus the advertising on the site.

If the page looks like it provides real value, and has a defined review process for submitted articles, it might be worth looking into.

Otherwise, you’ll probably only hurt your site if you try to game the system with an article directory.

Hacked sites

Last but not least are hacked sites.

Sure, they don’t happen very often. But if you happen to come across one of these, run as far away as you can.

What does a hacked site look like? Typically, it’s a normal-looking site that has a multitude of links hidden behind the scenes. Oftentimes, these are placed in invisible text off-screen.

They’re done that way so only search engines can see the links.

The problem? Today’s search engines recognize these links as spam, and you won’t get any credibility from a hacked site.

If you find a service that offers “guaranteed” backlinks on authoritative sites, this is often what’s happening behind the scenes.

Once the site owner figures out what’s going on, your link is almost guaranteed to disappear—never to be placed on that site again.


If you’re just starting SEO, you should know that it isn’t an easy game to win. But it doesn’t need to be difficult to play.

If you’re going to venture into the world of search engine traffic, it makes sense to start with a solid grasp on what is and isn’t okay in the world of SEO.

Understanding bad neighborhoods is the first step.

Look out for blogs and forums where anyone can comment or add their feedback. Those links are usually discredited by search engines, and can sometimes actually hurt your site.

If you find a directory or resource page that seems too good to be true, it probably is. And if you need to pay to get featured, run away.

Finally, be wary of anyone who can promise links or has seemingly “impossible” strategies to getting your sites featured. They might be operating on hacked pages and can’t be trusted.

In general, remember this basic rule: if it’s that easy to get a link, everyone is already doing it—or will be soon.

And if everyone’s doing it, it’s not valuable in the eyes of Google anymore.

How do you stay out of bad neighborhoods?

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing, including social networking strategies and blogging tips.

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