Considering that there are SEOs who use unethical tactics, which ultimately harms their sites and clients, it’s not a bad idea to consider the legitimacy of your strategy. So—is backlinking ethical? The truth is, it depends on how you go about getting them.
There’s no doubt that this can be confusing, especially for those who are just starting to delve into the field of SEO. Some people will say that focusing on getting backlinks is a mistake; others will tell you to go full steam ahead. But who’s right? To answer that question, we’ll start by looking at the difference between “white hat” and “black hat” SEO strategies.
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What is “white hat” SEO?
In Wild West movies, wearing a white hat was a sign that you were on the side of the good guys. You were a sheriff, or perhaps a deputy. Wearing a black hat usually meant you were an outlaw, running from authorities and hoping that today wasn’t the day you got caught.
Today, “white hat” and “black hat” are commonly used to describe ethical and unethical SEOs, and the ones who use black hat techniques often find their sites penalized by Google.
Video: Link Building Basics
What is backlinking?
Now, let’s take a look at what backlinking is. Think back to when you were in school and had to write essays and research papers on topics you knew little about. You used information from various sources, and added citations that indicated where it was from.
In other words, you were telling anyone who read the essay that if they wanted further information (or to check the validity of what you were saying), they could refer to your sources. The same holds true when site owners write copy for their pages.
Every time you add a link to your site, you’re indicating your readers and to search engines that the page you are linking to is useful and worth their time. If other sites also link to that page, search engines will recognize it as high quality, and rank it higher in their results.
This type of backlinking is as ethical as it comes. It’s completely natural, and it benefits everyone involved. Readers find interesting content, and site owners gain traffic, brand awareness, and possibly even conversions. Sounds great, right? What could go wrong?
In a word: Impatience.
How to avoid unethical backlinks
Humans are known for being impatient. We live in a society that expects—even demands—instant satisfaction, and we hate waiting to see results from anything we do. Considering that getting white hat backlinks as described above takes time, some site owners make the mistake of trying to speed up the process.
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At that point, they may be tempted to try some black hat—unethical—linking techniques. These include:
Paying for links
There are companies that will promise you as many links as you want, as long as you’re willing to pay their price. Here’s how it works: You send them money, and they add links to your site to their spammy, low quality sites that only exist for linking to “clients.”
Your company’s name then appears on a “link farm” along with thousands of other companies, and the site has no content of actual value. As soon as Google discovers this—and believe us, they will—they’ll penalize the site, and all of the sites it links to will suffer. This means that even if the links you buy temporarily boost your site in the rankings, they’re ultimately a waste of money.
Joining forums to get links
There are forums relating to virtually every industry in the world. And because anyone can post on them, some site owners think it’s a good idea to join a few and post links to their site all over the place.
Links from forum sites makes it look like people value your site, right? Wrong.
Most forums automatically add “nofollow” attributions to all links, meaning that they’re worthless for SEO purposes. Search engines won’t take them into consideration, and as added bonus, as soon as a moderator notices what you’re doing, they’ll likely ban you from the forum.
Using software to add your link to blog post comment sections
You’ve probably seen this before on the blogs you visit. They’re comments that make absolutely no sense, and aren’t pertinent to what’s being talked about by everyone else.
Not only is this annoying to blog owners, but it’s completely ridiculous. Plus, much like forums, these links are almost always “nofollow” anyway.
The bottom line
When it comes to building links, your best bet is just to create great content and let the rest happen naturally. Of course, you can share your content via social media to get the ball rolling, but if someone truly enjoys your site, they’ll share it without needing any sort of compensation.
And if someone comes to you promising a fast fix or a “surefire, quick-as-anything” backlinking strategy, run away and don’t look back. The kind of link building you want is of the ethical variety, not the spammy type—and the latter is what you’ll get if you engage with any black hat SEOs.
If you’d like assistance with developing a link building strategy for your business, feel free to contact us! Our talented team of SEO professionals is more than happy to help you create the kind of quality content that will attract links and boost your site.