Google SEO & Search Engine Marketing Services

Artificial Content Networks and Link Farms – Outdated and Dangerous

As part of an SEO report it is often recommended that a site needs more links from a more diverse profile. When speaking with the clients there is always one person that comes up with the great idea of buying up 50 – 100 domains and using them to link back to the home site.

This may sound like a neat idea on the face of it but unfortunately the search engines are well on top of this spammy method.

Back in the day 2005/2006, Blackhat SEO’s would do this very same thing, buy out a load of domains, interlink them all and use the link juice to artificially increase the rank of their target site, it would have looked a little like this;

link farm

All the sites are inter linked with each one passing one link back to the main site.

Now, back in the day this did work but not anymore. If you think you are going to rank your site using this type of method there are a few things you should know first.

Hurdle One – Registration

OK if your even going to think about using this method you need to be thinking about registration. This is surely going to be one of the first things Google looks at, a whole bunch of sites linking to each other then passing link juice to one site and all registered using the same details?? I smell a penalty.

Let’s say you have this one covered and use fraudulent registration details, which is against the law, but let’s role with it….

Hurdle Two – IP Address

The next thing you should worry about is hosting. If all your websites are hosted under the same IP then your heading for trouble, but let’s look at this in a little more detail. For those of you who may not be familiar with IP addresses let me explain a little.

Your IP address is a unique number assigned to every machine that uses the internet, without it you have no presence and are unable to communicate with other devices.

A typical IP may look something like this 145.26.45.641 each number range is also known as a block.

eg. 145. = block A / 26. = block B / 45. = Block C / 641 = Block D.

Google now takes into account IP patterns in order to establish blackhat activities. Block D is typically related to where your site is hosted, therefore if all the sites are hosted at the same place the search engines will pick up on this fairly quickly.

But even if you get around that the search engines can also look at the C Block, again looking for patterns that may suggest unethical activity.

Hurdle Three – Link Patterns

Even if you have managed to overcome the registration and IP pitfalls you now need to worry about the actual linking patterns between the sites.

If you have 50 sites that all interlink, this looks extremely unnatural and the search engines will jump on it like a ton of bricks.

You could not interlink the sites and instead simply point a link from each back to the target site like so;

linking patterns

Ok so this look’s less unnatural but how are you going to get links to the micro sites in order to have them crawled and indexed? Your now going to be building links to 5 sites?? Plus all these 5 sites will be getting links from the exact same places, again unnatural.

This type of link building is no longer useful and search engines are very savvy to this kind of activity, I highly discourage the use of it and even if you find a way that works today, the chances are the search engines will find you out and it won’t work tomorrow.

So if anyone is thinking about using this technique in some way or form, do it at your own risk.

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Author: Tim (296 Articles)

is the owner and editor of SEO wizz and has been involved in the search engine marketing industry for over 9 years. He has worked with multiple businesses across many verticals, creating and implementing search marketing strategies for companies in the UK, US and across Europe. Tim is also the Director of Search at Branded3, a Digital Marketing & SEO Agency based in the UK.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike McEvoy July 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Tim,

Very interesting info. I have a question about the “Farm” sites you mention. Do these sites have actual content (pages, posts, articles, etc.) or are they just a page(s) of links?

In other words, let’s assume a person creates five sites and adds actual content to each of them on say a weekly basis. And each of those five sites have a number of links to another specific site. Let’s also assume that the links from each of the five sites link to content deep in the destination site and not just to a single page. Also assume that not all of the links from each of the five sites are identical with some going to the same pages/posts/articles on the destination site and some links going to different pages/posts in the destination site. Is this inviting a penalty from Google?

Just curious as to what may be considered a Link Farm and be viewed as a potential negative mark. Probably a real gray area and may not be an easy answer, but just thought I’d ask.

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Tim July 31, 2009 at 3:23 am

Hi Mike,

I’ll try to answer the best I can.

The ‘farm’ sites I used in the above diagrams were not representing ‘old school’ link farms ie hundreds of links on them and not much else. Those kind of sites stopped working before they even got started.

However, I have seen webmasters in the past, buy 50 – 60 domains, put a little relevant, info based content on them and then link back using anchor text to the site they want to benefit. This is what is known as a ‘publishing empire’ and I have seen first hand sites be penalised for this sort of behaviour, not the site the links are going to but the sites that are sending the links. I should have made that clearer in the article.

In your example you mentioned 5 sites all interlinked to differing pages within each site, a sort of spider linking pattern. I haven’t seen any tests on this but I am of the firm opinion that Google will eventually link all the sites together and devalue the links, both the links between each ‘farm’ site and the links pointing back to the target site. I don’t think the target site would suffer a penalty I simply think it would eventually lose the value of the links and a little trust.

I have seen sites that have used this sort of tactic and in the beginning it works very well, then without warning the value of the links are lost, PageRank drops and organic traffic plumets.

Having said all this, If you have multiple sites and various ones are relevant then don’t worry about firing links back to relevant pages and resources, I am simply referring to webmasters that buy out lot’s of domains plant them with low quality info and link back. If your creating these additional sites simply for links you are risking your sites ranking, trust and traffic. Short term gain, but long term pain.

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Mike McEvoy July 31, 2009 at 9:07 am

Tim,

Thanks for the insights. Very helpful. One item I didn’t make very clear in my example is that the five new sites were not interlinked but rather would just have 10 – 15 links to the single “destination” site, but not to each other. And that these 10 – 15 links would be added over time not just going from “0 to 15″ overnight.

Part of my thinking with these five example sites was how this would tie in with your earlier post where you mentioned the benefits of PR0 sites in potentially increasing PR of a site. And these five sites and their links would be phased in over time and not all hitting in a short time frame.

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Tim July 31, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Hi Mike,

The issue with this is that a link can be useful even though it’s a PR0, however the page linking to you still needs to be indexed to count. The only way to guarantee it being indexed is by getting links to it. This means you would be link building, naturally to five sites in order for your links to count, why not just point your hard earned links back to your target site? Does that make sense?

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Ross October 13, 2009 at 7:22 am

Hi Tim,

Could you not setup 5 or 10 sites and update their content say once a month. You then use those sites in a three way exchange with other peoples sites who then all link back to your target site.

The reason behind this is probably more for avoiding direct link exchanges and making links look natural.

Ross

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Tim October 13, 2009 at 9:23 am

Hi Ross,

You make a good point, however in order to make a link exchange attractive you need to have some authority. You cannot interlink all these 10 sites as Google would pick up on this quickly, so you would need to build links back to these 10 sites from external sources. It is possible but isn’t without risk, if Google picks up on it the whole network maybe classed as a farm.

I guess what you need to ask yourself is, is the work to build these sites, primarily building links to them really worth it? I would never say never but would never experiment on a client’s profile or in my own bread and butter :)

Good point though, thanks for sharing.

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Ross October 14, 2009 at 12:48 am

Would probably need to use different c-class IP for the group and avoid using any kind of linking pattern. It is I suppose a bit black hat but the policy currently employed by most webmasters when it comes to giving link love is “nothing for nothing” which makes it difficult for fairly young sites to compete with big budget corporate sites.

If the 10 sites never link to each other and never link to your target site, would that not be enough to shift the risk away from the target site but still give you control of your link building efforts?

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Tim October 14, 2009 at 1:06 am

Hi Ross,

Of course if nothing was linked back to the target site, then this should avert the risk. The only thing you then need to worry about is Google somehow discovering the network. You will still need to build oneway links back to this network of sites as you will struggle finding link partners without it.

You would also need to make the sites look natural, try and stay away from link lists. It seems like a lot of work for the amount of links you areo going to get out of it thats all. I think you can still compete using traditional methods. I have taken this site to forst page of Google for some pretty competitive terms including “google seo” and “seo techniques” , I stuck to all the traditional methods to make this happen, articles, directories, carnivals, partnerships and linkbait.

I never say never though, so if you manage some results using this method be sure to drop me a line.

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Computer Tips December 4, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Link farms are as black hat as you can go. They only make your site spammy

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