Can link building give you or your client a bad name?
In the age of online reviews, your brand reputation is everything.
Before visiting a business, 63.6% of consumers check Google reviews. And 35% of respondents ranked “trust in the brand” as one of their top reasons for choosing a retailer.
Because a bad review can cost you sales and a bad reputation can be disastrous, reputation management has become an important part of any digital strategy.
But even if you do all the right things, promote good reviews, respond to negative posts, and carefully monitor your mentions, you can still damage your reputation or even earn a bad one from bad links.
And it’s not just people who might view you negatively – bad backlinks can also negatively impact your reputation with search engines.
But don’t worry, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll look at how poor link building can hurt your reputation and give you some ways to help keep yours spotless.
But first, let’s look at how external sources can impact your website’s authority and reputation.
How External Links Can Positively Affect Your Domain Authority
You probably already understand the correlation between backlinks and search engine optimization. If not, or if you need a little refresher, read this (but come back right away).
And one of the ways external links impact your SEO strategy is the effect they have on domain authority. It can be both positive and negative.
For example, if you have a lot of inbound links pointing to a page, it can increase that page’s PageRank.
Google may, in turn, take this as a sign that your content has good authority and will reflect this in your search engine rankings.
Quality links also increase your domain ranking. Google evaluates incoming links differently, depending on the site they come from.
For example, an inbound link from a reputable government agency or university tells the search engine that your content is credible, which is reflected in your rankings.
Building a bad reputation through link building
Unfortunately, it’s not all sun, ice cream and puppies with backlinks. The wrong inbound link can also negatively affect your rankings and reputation.
Let’s see how your link building campaign could negatively affect you or your customers.
1. Links in bad neighborhoods
We hear it over and over: try not to get links in a bad neighborhood. It seems like it’s pretty easy to avoid bad neighborhoods when building links, but sometimes they’re unavoidable.
Let’s look at blog commenting, for example. You find a blog and add your comment with an occasional link to a website. Everything is fine at that time. But then you come back to check your comment to see it followed by the following.
If a potential customer came across these comments, they wouldn’t want to click on any link on the page, assuming it’s similar spam, including yours.
WordPress blog owners can go one step further. If they see a comment that they consider spam, they can mark it as such using spam filtering programs. This will save the website URL to a database and prevent comments including this URL from being added to other WordPress blogs.
And that means that if a customer uses a link building service and that service gets the customer’s URL entered into the spam database, the customer will (usually unknowingly) be blocked from commenting.
Now imagine finding the perfect blog, seeing all the right people, and one well-placed comment could pay off big for your business.
Only, you cannot post a comment with your URL, which means you miss the opportunity, all because a spammer flagged your comment.
2. Being exposed as a link builder or using a spam agency
This warning is especially for agencies that send bulk, non-personalized link requests.
Programs that make these types of link requests often send multiple requests for multiple clients to the same website owners.
Needless to say, if the website owner gets annoyed with them, they can do anything from adding company information to a blog post (including the name of the link submitter, the name of the agency and client name).
Annoyed webmasters can also report agencies to spam deny lists.
Sites like Domain Name Systems Blacklist, or DNSBL, will list the agency and all clients that are linked to that agency. It doesn’t take much searching on their site to find a list of known agencies and clients who use them.
If your business is built around generating links for your client and you end up on one of those deny lists, that’s going to be a problem.
3. Misrepresent the client
Alternatively, if an agency receives an email from their client’s domain, that agency now represents them in any communications or requests they make.
Can you imagine if you were a website owner and you started getting spammed with requests from your favorite business? Or if your blog was spammed by a brand you liked by someone who appears to work for the company? Your opinion of said brand would probably plummet, right?
4. Going overboard with directory submissions
Web directories can be beneficial in improving your search engine rankings.
They were more popular and had more impact on SEO two decades ago, but they still seem to be a small ranking factor, especially for local search.
And a good directory, usually industry-specific, can be a good source of traffic and trust. But, of course, not all directories are created equal.
And if we’re being honest, many of them, maybe even most, do (at best) nothing for your ranking and (at worst) actively hurt it.
This is because many directories are filled with nothing but spam.
If you submitted your site to be listed in one of these spammy sites, search engines will devalue it.
Do you remember that bad neighbor thing I mentioned in the first point? This is another iteration of it.
5. Being a bad member of a community
Forums are a great place for people to discuss their interests and ideas online.
Facilitating conversation can also be a great way to get attention and clicks through a URL in your signature.
But there are plenty of ways it can take you south.
For example, if you join a forum and then make the same comment in all sub-forums in hopes of building positive links, generating clicks and building your reputation.
It won’t take long for the moderators to figure out what’s going on and label you a spammer. And just like that, you created negative links.
Hurt Your Reputation With Search Evaluators
So far, we’ve only mentioned how bad links can cause you to go against search engines. But you need to consider another part of your website’s reputation – the experience of real users – including Google search raters.
And one of the things they measure when evaluating your site’s EAT (Expertise, Trustworthiness, and Authority) is your external reputation.
To determine the authority of your website, these evaluators use several third-party sources to monitor customer concerns and complaints.
Sites like Yelp, Amazon Customer Reviews, and Facebook Ratings and Reviews help them understand the typical customer experience.
And if they determine that your site has low authority, they may flag it as a low quality return to a search query, even if Google’s algorithm ranks you highly.
How to keep your reputation intact
Now that you know the dangers low quality backlinks can have to your reputation, how can you avoid getting a bad reputation when building links?
These are just a few simple suggestions:
Don’t take shortcuts
Link building takes work, and so does building your brand reputation.
Remember that many people’s first exposure to your brand will be when you appear in search engine results – and if you don’t appear, you get no exposure.
So please don’t play too fast with your linking strategy.
Be thoughtful and intentional, and make sure you’re looking for high-quality backlinks — the kind that will help your search rankings rather than hurt them.
With a little care and effort, you’ll be able to build the links you want and keep your reputation intact.
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