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Indistinct Links & Link Building In Difficult Verticals
Link building in social-unfriendly verticals can be a heartache. At one point, before the reasonable surfer concept was implemented, it was possible for many websites in taboo verticals like poker, payday loans and pharmaceuticals to get by on footer and sidebar links alone – meaning links that never saw the light of a user’s eyes could still pass enough value to rank for the most difficult terms on the Internet.
Now, that’s simply not the case, and those websites trying to get by solely on the same tactics are assuredly going to get swept away onto the second page of the search results.
For savvy link builders, more advanced tactics must be used to avoid most of the brunt of the reasonable surfer and also, undermine the cognitive dissonance most webmasters have towards their product offerings. These “advanced tactics” are what I consider indistinct links – links that exist and aren’t hidden – but are largely dismissed by the webmasters that place them.
Although not black hat according to traditional measures (like money exchange) many of these techniques may feel somewhat unethical, so use them with caution, especially if you like sleeping at night.
If anything, use this post as awareness of what’s being done by these savvy SEOs, so you can battle back – and be aware – of what’s being used against you, the white-hat link builder.
URLs With Intent Concealment
This is the only instance, in my opinion, where the “exact match disadvantage” comes with strong benefit. URLs containing commercial keywords can discourage prospective webmasters from linking to them, based on their non-friendly product focus.
Imagine two websites – FreeCarInsuranceQuotes.com & TheHudgensGroup.com – that both offer free car insurance quotes.If I post a comment on your website or link to this in a post with my domain name, which are you more likely to delete? By far, the former – because the commercially taboo intent is disclosed immediately.
We are inherently lazy people – if the intent is covered up by a somewhat camouflaged brand name, its possible many of your links may pass through the editorial cracks that may have otherwise not.
This runs somewhat parallel to my idea of “hyperhumor” – that many links are posted with no intent to ever be clicked. Hyperhumor occurs when links are posted with an anchor’s description a URL that clearly defines what the anchor description is. Some examples are amazing actors and deadbeat actors. These are referential to the noun, but not the content on the URLs, so you will rarely, if ever, click — as long as you can tell what the content contains based on the well-SEOed URL.
Similarly, there are many URLs that webmasters will never follow that they post to their websites, because doing so would take a huge amount of time. So, the potential for many manipulative links to fall through the cracks exists.
If intent is cloaked by the brand ambiguity of the URL, a poker or insurance website may be able to pick up the link juice from a super powerful domain it may have otherwise not been able to.
It makes sense to have a domain name that won’t also hurt user experience or persuade users that it sells toys when it actually sells insurance quotes – but something ambiguous – like a company name after an owner’s surname (TheHudgensGroup.com) allows both to coexist.
In verticals where having a “brand” can be useless (such as one-time purchase verticals that aren’t globally popular) – it may make more sense to go this route when naming your business.
Exact Match Domains With Incongruent Anchor Text
As a counter-balance to the above strategy, those webmasters with exact match domains will frequently drop their websites on strong domains with anchor text that doesn’t match the intent of their website, and as a slyly as possible, in order to pick up a link but not set off the warning bells of the webmasters (or spam filters) that monitor it.
This happens frequently in comments where webmasters will use their taboo URL as their website but post their name instead of commercial anchor text, as many spam bots are apt to do.
I have also seen SEOs use domain abbreviations (such as PGO for Poker Games Online) to get an attribution link, such as in a bio or guest post, where it otherwise might not have passed the sniff test.
Link Saturation To Mask A Taboo Link
By providing content to another webmaster in exchange for a link, it’s possible to blend in a link to a website such as mesothelioma (or many other owned domains) without ever disclosing association. This can be done by splicing in several links to other websites along with your own.
The more that are included, the less likely it is that a blogger or webmaster will follow all of them – making it more likely you can obtain a link to your mesothelioma site without it ever being loaded. It’s also possible that this saturation of links will make it less likely the webmaster will remove your link, even if they notice it, because they don’t feel it will impair on the user’s experience.
The further down the main body content, the more likely the taboo link will remain, as webmaster ADHD kicks in and focus is less likely to be retained. According to the reasonable surfer model, it’s possible that the further down on the page the link sits, the less value it will pass.
By doing this, the PageRank algorithm will of course sever some of the page’s value-passing ability every time another external link is added – but knowing that inclusion of other links are necessary to get a link at all, many SEOs will insert many other links – especially links that place them in good neighborhoods – with thought that the sacrifice of some of their link juice in exchange for getting a link at all – is a more than worthwhile exchange.
In example, I reference you to one of Aaron Wall’s recent posts. Wall’s style of frequently linking, in general, is pretty conducive to not following or paying attention to all the links. I dare you to read one of his more link-saturated posts and follow all of the URLs.
This isn’t to say that Wall uses this strategy – in fact, I’m positive he doesn’t – but it’s these kinds of posts that would allow this kind of technique to function effectively.
Blog Archive Links
I have seen many posts on the strongest blogs in the world where links have clearly been added after the fact – to pornography, poker, and elsewhere – with commercial anchor text. These “blog archive links” are clearly very manipulative, and not for users – and it’s possible (and seemingly likely) that Google might devalue new links on subsequent crawls on these time stamped pages.
Even then, it also seems probable that these links pass some kind of value, and on domains where link juice is like water, in manipulative verticals, these kinds of links can be a potential burgeon to a campaign.
Never purchased, these kinds of links are almost always obtained through business relationships, which again make the idea of “paid links” as the sole ire of our black hat disdain a pretty ludicrous thing to do. Others would argue the opposite, that these kinds of links – the ones obtained through business relationships, are the kind Google would want to count.
Whether either is true is up for debate (or the comment of a Google engineer) – but the fact remains that this practice will continue to be used in taboo verticals – as well as many natural ones.
Anchor Text Using Tilde Operators (~)
The problem with many of the above strategies is that they also lose the ability to use targeted anchor text, as commercial anchor text, more than anything else, is the first thing a competent webmaster does not want to display to their users. To offset this, many SEOs will use tilde operators to maximize the potential semantic closeness of an anchor to their original, targeted anchor text.
Tildes show other terms that Google sees as closest to the original anchor by bolding them in the search results. In example, if we do a tilde search for [~poker], we see that “card games” is in bold. Which term do you think would more likely fly with a webmaster – poker or card games?
By using socially friendly anchors with semantic closeness, SEOs can pass the most keyword value back to their websites, while still obtaining links in spots they otherwise might not have.
Beyond Paid Links
It’s very possible to obtain links in taboo verticals without ever paying a dollar. Unfortunately, obtaining many of these links may have to be reported in confessional at church, even though they will all pass an eye test done by any current Google engineer, or by any Google engineer, ever.
Whether you can live with that – or feel ethically inclined not to – is really up to you.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.