You know that backlinks are important in SEO.
Although, the most interesting part about SEO is the simple fact that.
The more you learn, the less you know.
Perhaps you have been utilizing white-hat link-building strategies for a while and you’ve started to see results, but you also feel like your progress has been slow.
The more you learn about SEO the more you consider using gray-hat or black-hat techniques to “give you a boost”. If this is you, you’ve likely stumbled upon the concept of link farms.
But, what is a link farm, how do they work, can they be effective, and most importantly what are the consequences of using them?
Please remember that black-hat SEO techniques are against search engine guidelines and well-documented best practices. Therefore, the creation of link farms is seen as a manipulative and unethical practice done solely to gain an unfair and unnatural advantage over their competitors.
What is a Link Farm?
A link farm is a group of websites that have been created with the sole intention of linking to a particular website (the money site) in order to manipulate its search rankings.
These websites are typically very ”thin” in the sense that they have no real content or purpose. You will notice one of these sites when you encounter them. They will have minimal content or lots of unrelated short articles. If they do have content, it will often be spun or generated solely with AI.
Typically, the backlinks on these websites are placed in the footer or sidebar of the website and are often labeled as “Sponsored Links” or “Link Partners.” Often, they will have really silly domain names (consisting of numbers). Finally, there will be no person or team behind the website, no about page or contact page.
Last but not least, link farms will often have a “Write For Us” form page where they will have prices for guest posts, sponsored posts, and display ad space. Ironic considering there is virtually no organic traffic to these websites.
All in all, link farms are super spammy. You won’t struggle to identify one even if you’re new to SEO.
Stay away from link farms!
To put it politely, these websites don’t care about building a real business. Instead, they only serve to increase the number of inbound links pointing to the money site.
Link farms can be effective though. Typically they will have really good DA/DR metrics in third-party tools as they will have tons of high-power links pointing at their website.
However, they should be avoided.
How Do Link Farms Work?
So that was a brief intro and hopefully gave you some idea. To go into a bit more detail, link farms work by artificially inflating the number of backlinks pointing to a given site.
The key thing to remember is that these links often have very little contextual value, they are bad links.
In the past search engines were not able to make this distinction. Traditionally they saw a large number of links pointing to a website and made the assumption that the website is popular and relevant, and that all the content is valuable.
This would allow the money site to rank for highly competitive commercial keywords. Good rankings for these keywords directly translated to money. Black hat SEOs saw this opportunity, as such link farms become common practice.
However, search engines have become increasingly sophisticated in their ability to identify link farms, so link farms have nowhere near the same amount of strength that they once did. Automated low-quality links are now actively ignored by Google and in some cases, websites that are clearly trying to manipulate their rankings will be penalized.
The Negative Impact of Link Farms
If you involve your website in a link farm, you’re making a mistake. There are various negative consequences associated with doing this, for example:
Penalization by Search Engines
Search engines have algorithms that are designed to detect and penalize websites that engage in manipulative tactics, such as link farms.
The best-case scenario is that Google will identify the link farm backlinks and ignore them. However, the worst-case scenario is that your website will be heavily penalized.
- Decreased rankings
- Pages de-indexed
- The entire website de-indexed/sandboxed
This SEMrush case study found clear evidence that penalties given out by Google for “unnatural links” often came from link farms.
Not good at all. Stick to HARO and write guest posts on real websites, it’s much safer.
Decreased User Experience
Even if you are fortunate to avoid the intelligence of search engine algorithms, your satisfaction will be short-lived.
That’s because link farms are low-quality websites that lack purpose or a real business agenda. Instead, they are cramped with NSFW ads and links everywhere, no users want that.
Do you really want your website to be associated with sites like this? You know the websites I mean. It’s the same ones pushing viagra and casino deals.
These sites will always leave users disappointed and as search engines do notice that behavior the value of their backlinks (to your website) will decrease.
Alternatives to Link Farms
If link farms were the only way to build backlinks, we’d understand.
However, the truth is that while link firms may seem like a shortcut, they are not.
Instead, focus on the two things that will help you rank… building links from authoritative and relevant sites and developing a proper content marketing strategy.
Quality Link Building
Take part in white hat link building and organic SEO.
Guest posts, the skyscraper technique, podcast appearances, infographic design, and HARO are all very legitimate and very effective ways to build backlinks.
Wouldn’t you rather target backlinks like this? I definitely would.
Although any sort of link-building is technically against the rules, it’s common practice across all industries. You need to build links if you wish to stay competitive and outrank the competition.
Content content content.
Websites are content-driven businesses.
No matter if you’re selling financial consulting services or glowsticks. You need content to attract new customers.
It’s the doorway between a lead and a sale.
When you have high-quality content marketing pieces on your website you don’t need to worry about finding new leads. Your content finds the leads for you.
Trust in the power of content marketing and SEO… trust me.
The History of Link Farms
Link farms were first introduced in the late 1990s. Back then, search engines had no way to distinguish between high-quality links and spammy links. This was a big problem given that the ranking algorithm was largely based on the number of links.
As a result, link farms became a popular tactic for webmasters to quickly and easily improve their website’s rankings.
All they had to do was create hundreds or even thousands of low-quality websites and then link them back to their main website. This helped give the main website the illusion of popularity and authority.
So, search engines would reward the website by letting them rank for highly commercial keywords. It’s a good thing search engines have developed.
Think of it like this: if you were looking for the best lawyers in Ohio would you rather go to the seasoned practitioner of 30 years or the newly qualified lawyer who knew how to manipulate search results?
Google’s Response to Link Farms
As search engines like Google became more sophisticated, they began to crack down on manipulative SEO tactics like link farms. In 2003, Google introduced the “Florida” update, which was designed to penalize websites that engaged in manipulative SEO tactics.
And it worked. Kind of.
Google’s Florida update did manage to destroy lots of websites participating in link farms, however, the update also affected lots of innocent websites.
This led to many businesses losing 90-99% of their traffic overnight, causing many people devastating financial losses.
Since Florida, Google has continued to refine its algorithms to detect and penalize websites that use manipulative tactics like link farms. Updates like Panda and the 2012 Penguin update have made it much clearer what links Google likes and what links they don’t like.
Flash forward to 2023 and link farms are widely recognized as an unethical and unsustainable SEO tactic. Unfortunately, for link farm enthusiasts these backlinks firmly fall into the “don’t like” type of backlink.
Websites that rely on link farms to expand their backlink profiles are at risk of the severe consequences we mentioned earlier.
My advice would be to avoid link farms at all costs they don’t work anymore.
Other Black Hat Techniques
Link farms are not the first black hat SEO technique, nor will they be the last.
As long as search engines (as we know them) exist, so will SEO. This means that there will always be people trying to find loopholes and ways to get a leg up. Can you really blame them?
To people only getting into the industry in 2023 you wouldn’t even think of doing these things, however, in the past manipulating rankings was way easier. There are still websites trying to manipulate search rankings this way.
Cloaking is a technique where the website shows two different versions of a page.
There will be a version of the page’s content that will be served to crawling bots, and another version entirely presented to real human visitors.
Google hates cloaking, as you can tell!
Additionally, even when cloaking works the search engine algorithm will be tricked into ranking the website higher for certain keywords, despite a lack of relevancy. This can lead to human readers being served with NSFW images and political propaganda, not good.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of repeating the same keywords over and over again on a web page, in an effort to manipulate search engine rankings. For example, if I was trying to rank for “best dentist in NYC” I could create a page with that as the title and spam that exact phrase over and over again (perhaps in a white font).
This used to work really well. However, nowadays search engines use semantic keywords to get a more accurate understanding of what a page is really about. Keyword stuffing leads to penalties and de-indexing now. It’s not worth the risk.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
A Private Blog Network, or PBN, is like a link farm. However, the websites in a PBN link out to the money site (which isn’t part of the PBN itself).
PBNs are a manipulative black-hat tactic because they give the illusion of popularity and authority, but are actually similar to a link farm. The difference is that PBNs often have lots of legitimate content and the capability to help websites rank.
The idea that PBNs don’t work is a myth. Some PBN links can lead to fantastic results. Regardless of whether Google condemns this technique.
One thing is that PBNs are really complicated and most SEOs struggle to get their heads around how they work. So, it’s much better to avoid PBN backlinks unless you are an expert.
What is the difference between a link farm and a private blog network (PBN)?
A link farm is a group of websites created solely for the purpose of linking to one another. In contrast, a PBN is a network of privately owned websites that are used to create links to a separate website. Google can easily identify link farms. However, it’s much harder for Google to identify a “good PBN”.
Is it ever okay to use a link farm?
No, using a link farm is a bad idea. It will be immediately clear to Google if you get a backlink from a link farm and they will simply ignore the link.
Can link farms be identified by search engines?
Yes, search engines have become increasingly sophisticated in their ability to detect link farms. It’s not 2008 anymore. Google has a great ability to recognize patterns automatically, links being shared between a group of websites is a very detectable pattern that will trigger a penalty.
What are some examples of content marketing?
Content marketing includes blog posts, YouTube videos, short-form video content e.g. TikToks and Instagram Reels, other social media posts, and podcasts. Any type of content a user consumes can be a piece of “content marketing” if the intention is to find customers, make sales, etc.