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There are a lot of ways to secure strong inbound links, some good, some bad, some truly awful. Here we take a walk on the wild side and see some of the most negative, but effective techniques.
Linking is the backbone of SEO. Every blogger, site owner and optimiser has, at some point, actively sought links. Whether by directly approaching other sites or creating content as bait, an inbound link is to be cherished and coveted by all others.
However, there are limitations – there has to be. Link lust might be fuelled by the desire to reach the summit of Google, but it can soon become an addiction. Overpowering your perception of right and wrong, the securing of links becomes bigger than any reputational or legal damage.
This might sound like a rather gross exaggeration, but it genuinely happens. Just take the recent case of decormyeyes.com (link very deliberately withheld).
Negative Publicity – Positive Links
By anyone’s standards, the story that was originally covered in the New York Times was a horrifying tale that gives credence to those who refuse to shop online. Without going into too much detail, the site sold a number of counterfeit and defective goods to unsuspecting customers [see: A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web | New York Times]. When complaints were inevitably filed, Vitaly Borker, owner of decormyeyes, would respond with vitriol filled rants, harassment and personal threats.
His reasoning was surprisingly simplistic though: “I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
Negative publicity was just as effective, in his opinion, as positive PR. So why spend thousands on providing excellent customer services and expensive SEO services when you can just force people to react angrily and link to your site naturally?
It worked too, at least in principle. Consumers kicked up such a stink that major news sources – including the aforementioned New York Times as well as Bloomberg – started to cover the story and provide links to the site. This of course perpetuated the problem.
When It All Goes Wrong
In the true tradition of the morality tale though, Mr Borker has now been arrested and charged with fraud [see: Arrogance About Your Google Ranking Can Land You In Jail | Search Engine Watch]. So desperate was he for business and online visibility that he contravened U.S. law and most common decency standards to achieve it. Despite a 50 year prison sentence looming large, it still worked – certainly as an SEO case study.
Being a nice guy won’t always get you results, but it also won’t damage your reputation or see you locked away either. The only mistake that Borker made seems to be that he overstepped the mark. You can be defamatory, you can be outrageous, but you can’t break the law.
But if you’re thinking about replicating this formula for success, think again. Google have already made changes to their algorithm to ensure that this form of negative endorsement is halted. It’s rare that the search giant moves to address particular cases and even rarer that they would announce an algorithm update [see: Being bad to your customers is bad for business | Google Blog]. So clearly this has ruffled their feathers enough to take action.
What about link building through negative content? Could that still work? You better believe it will.
This was recently covered in our post, The Anatomy of Effective Link Bait. You can write an epic, eloquent and engaging piece that will never be read or attract links. Not a lot of use. However, if you write something that will enrage or appal a large section of the online community, your figures will go through the roof.
Tabloid Tattle Offending the Social Sphere
An incendiary piece can draw ire from the Twitter hate mob. This can turn an insignificant post into big news. Earlier this week it was Richard Littlejohn who achieved this impeccable feat.
With the painful disregard most have become accustomed to, Littlejohn compared disabled student campaigner Jody McIntyre to the character of Andy from Little Britain [see: Is this Paradise? Nah, Luton Airport | Mail Online]. A few years ago you wouldn’t hear another thing about it. It would get a couple of people sending in a cursory letter to the editor and that would be that. Today though there’s no escape.
Littlejohn trended on Twitter for days. Hundreds of complaints were sent to the PCC and other newspapers were moved to add their own comments on the matter. A small editorial piece created huge waves.
Even with the barrage of hatred it has received, why would the Daily Mail want to pull this from their website? It’s perfect link bait. Apologising in advance for the continued use of the same example, one look at Jan Moir’s controversial article on the death of Steven Gately is evidence enough that this technique works.
The page now has a PageRank of six, it also has 244 inbound links – mostly from strong sites such as The Express, Guardian and TechCrunch. Bad publicity creates links. It generates SEO strength. It will get you seen!
When it comes to building links, the choice is yours though. You can use negative publicity, break every rule in Google’s guidelines or be positive.
To end on a positive note, I’d like to draw your attention to Oxford academic Toby Ord. Far from the skulduggery of decormyeyes and the questionable opinion pieces of the tabloid press; Toby has pledged to donate all his earnings above £18k to charity. His story was picked up last year in The Telegraph and was featured again on the BBC earlier this week.
Along with a few juicy links from his university, these media mentions are fantastic for a site’s link health. Great acts of kindness or philanthropy are equally effective in benefiting a site. Plus you have the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t offended or insulted anybody in the process.
They may be polar opposites, but both work. As a site owner and person you can choose to go one way or the other in pursuit of a link.
So to summarise, here are three ways that you can plunder a few strong links. No ethical SEO in their right mind would recommend any of these, but if you’re feeling brave and can accept the consequences, why not:
Become the news story
It’s all well and good sending out press releases and trying to get a little media attention, but when you become the news story they will come knocking. Outrageous acts of kindness and huge success will get you noticed, but so too will ripping off customers and other legal misnomers.
Use shock and awe tactics
Being a safe, tentative type will get you nowhere. If you start punching above your weight, throw in a little scandal and slander along the way, then you’ll soon find the links pouring in – albeit from irate site owners.
Don the black hat
Rules are for fools, right? Embrace the dark side and buy up all the links you can find. Get involved in a link exchange program (better known as a link farm) and buy your way to the top. Sure, you’ll probably get booted off Google eventually, but in the meantime you can take a few scalps.
Samantha Noble is well known within in the search industry, she even won the UK Search Personality 2016 at the UK Search Awards in November. This year, she continues to make an impact on the industry by judging not only one, but three, prestigious industry awards.