Backlinks remain one of the most important ranking factors used by Google and other search engines.
However, not all backlinks are created equal.
There’s a dark side to backlinks that every SEO should understand – fake backlinks.
In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about fake backlinks, including:
- What are fake backlinks and how are they created?
- The most common types of fake link building tactics.
- Why using fake backlinks can hurt your rankings.
- How to identify fake backlinks pointing to your site.
- Best practices for building high-quality backlinks.
Understanding fake link schemes and detection strategies can help protect your site from manual penalties and ranking drops.
Let’s dive in!
What Are Fake Backlinks?
A fake backlink is a link that is created for the sole purpose of manipulating search engine rankings, rather than for editorial purposes.
Fake backlinks are built to artificially inflate a website’s authority and relevance in the eyes of search algorithms like Google’s.
According to a 2021 survey by Semrush, over 56% of SEO professionals believe competitors in their industry use fake backlinks.
Understanding what constitutes an artificial link is key knowledge for all SEO professionals.
A Backlink is considered fake if it meets any of these criteria:
- It was created primarily for SEO value, not editorial reasons.
- The linking website is not relevant to your industry or content.
- The anchor text points to over-optimized keywords.
- It was acquired through paid links or link exchanges.
Building real, high-quality backlinks takes time and effort.
Fake backlinks offer a shortcut, but come with major risks.
Common Tactics Used to Build Fake Backlinks
While forms of link spam date back to the earliest days of SEO, schemes have evolved over time to avoid detection.
Here are some of the most common fake link building tactics seen today:
Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
A private blog network (PBN) involves creating a network of sites, blogs, and properties all linking to one another.
Oftentimes content is auto-generated or scraped. The sole purpose is to build inward links.
63% of SEOs believe competitors use PBN links according to Ahrefs.
Private networks allow control over anchor text and other link factors.
Article Spinning and Linking
This tactic involves taking an existing article, spinning the content to make minor changes, then re-publishing on various sites and directories with links back to your money site.
Article directories like EzineArticles were abused heavily for spun content and backlinks.
Many have now been deindexed or lost page rank.
Widget Link Building
Widget link building involves creating widgets like calculators or apps that embed outbound links.
These widgets are then distributed across various sites and networks. Links are built when websites install the widgets.
Widget links often use exact match anchor text and were abused frequently before Google’s Penguin algorithm update.
They provide site owners with rewards like calculators while allowing the widget creator to build links.
Social Media Links
While social shares and links can be legitimate, some activities like automated link building through bogus accounts, paid tweets, and link exchanges violate search engine guidelines.
An analysis by Stone Temple Consulting found that 12-15% of surveyed domains used some form of social media link building.
Automated Twitter links in particular tend to be seen as suspicious.
Why Using Fake Backlinks Damages Your Site
On the surface, fake backlinks may seem like an easy shortcut to faster rankings.
But the reality is far different. Here are some key reasons why using artificial link building tactics can seriously damage your site:
- Google Penalties – Usage of fake backlinks violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and risks manual or algorithmic penalties. Penalties can severely crush traffic.
- Ranking Drops – Even if a penalty isn’t manual, Google’s algorithms such as Penguin are designed to devalue sites abusing fake links. You’ll lose rankings.
- Reputation Damage – Low quality backlinks from sources with bad practices can hurt your site’s reputation with both algorithms and users.
- Waste of Resources – Building and managing fake backlink networks takes time and money that could be better spent on other organic growth strategies.
According to a 2021 survey by Ahrefs, 75% of sites hit with an unnatural link penalty took 6+ months to fully recover.
Avoiding fake link schemes from the start is strongly advised.
How to Identify Fake Backlinks Pointing to Your Site
Finding fake backlinks early and cleaning them up is critical.
Here are some tips on assessing whether a backlink looks artificial:
Check Link and Site Quality
Analyze the quality of both the specific page linking to you and the domain overall.
Fake links often come from low-value sites with thin content created for SEO.
Assess Topic Relevance
Real links to your site should be editorially relevant and useful for the site’s audience.
Irrelevant sites or pages suggest artificial links.
Analyze Anchor Text
Fake backlinks tend to abuse exact and partial match anchor text like your brand name.
Organic links use more varied phrases.
Examine Link Velocity
Real links build up slowly over many months. A sudden spike in links often indicates networks of fake links.
Monitor Rankings Changes
If you see a rapid rise in rankings without explanation, it may be due to artificial links that could quickly disappear.
There are also backlink analysis tools that combine many of these signals to detect unnatural links.
For example, cognitiveSEO’s LinkMiner tool has a “Bad Backlinks” filter incorporating multiple quality checks.
Removing toxic links can be done manually or via Google’s Disavow Links tool.
Expert help is advised before disavowing to avoid unintended harm.
Best Practices for Building Quality Backlinks
The best way to build rankings in competitive industries is through content marketing and real, high-quality editorial links.
Here are a few best practices:
- Focus on High-Quality Sites – Get links from reputable sites with relevance to build credibility.
- Diversify Link Sources – Get backlinks from a wide variety of sources, not just a few domains.
- Earn Links Slowly – Build links at a natural, steady pace over many months. Avoid rapid gains.
- Prioritize Relevance – Links should be editorially relevant and useful for readers of the linking site.
- Bring Value – Create resources others want to link to, like data studies or insightful content.
While building real links takes more time than artificial ones, natural links from trusted sources tend to be far more sustainable for long-term organic growth.
Avoid risking your site’s health with fake backlink networks.
Frequently Asked Questions About Fake Backlinks
What are the risks of using fake backlinks?
The main risks include Google penalties, ranking drops, damaging your site’s reputation, and wasting time and resources.
Usage of fake links violates Google guidelines.
How can I remove fake backlinks?
Contact the site owner and request removal.
For large-scale cleanup, use Google’s disavow tool to inform Google not to associate those links with your site.
What are some best practices for high-quality link building?
Best practices include focusing on earning high-quality editorial links slowly over time, diversifying link sources, and ensuring relevance between linking content and your site’s content.
The High Cost of Fake Backlinks
Hopefully this guide has revealed why fake backlinks come with serious risks.
While they may offer quick wins in the short-term, fake link schemes can severely damage your site’s health and rankings.
Avoid the lure of link manipulation. Focus your efforts on building real quality links that bring value to others.
In the long run, that’s the only viable SEO strategy.