Black Hat Link Building – Why Cheaters Never Prosper


Link building made front page news this week, or at least front page of the business section of the NYTimes. J.C. Penney was caught red-handed engaging in what is considered black hat link building techniques. Although they claim to know nothing about it, someone on their behalf was littering the web with anchor text links having in most cases no relevancy to the site it’s living on. For example, a sidebar link for cocktail dresses found on an auto repair blog. The most disappointing part to this story is that it was working. They were outranking the competition on a number high volume keywords such as “skinny jeans,” “area rugs” and “furniture” because of these low blow techniques.

It’s tactics like these that make SEO success for the rest of us more difficult. The reason so many companies, both agency and in-house, engage in these shady linking practices is because they are cheaper, easier and faster than doing things the right way. We know that as well as anyone. It takes a lot of time and effort to acquire the right kind of links, and many companies are not equipped with the staff to make that happen. It’s just an effortless solution to pay a vendor or off-shore link supplier and, voila!, SEO problem solved.

This then begs the question, why shouldn’t everyone do it? If so many companies are in on it, and the results appear to be there, why not just join the party?  The reason to stay with the light is that times are a’changing and cheaters are going to feel the wrath of Google. Google really does want to create the best user experience, which is why they are constantly updating both the algorithm and the search results, trying to deliver the best possible results in the best possible way. It’s black hat tactics like this that threaten the very quality of Google’s service, and they won’t stand for it. Google continues to work to find these less than kosher links and penalize the sites that use them, and has made great strides. J.C. Penney can account for that, although many would say that they weren’t penalized enough in the SERPs for their offense. It is for this reason amongst several others that we choose to follow the rules.

Reading the NY Times article made me feel pretty great about the kind of SEO service we provide for our clients. I’m always stressing the importance of the way we conduct link building: a manual, personalized approach of building ongoing relationships with each individual webmaster. Of course this is a time consuming project and takes a good number of people to accomplish it, but at the end of the day the quality over quantity approach will win out.


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