9 May 2023
8 min read

What is link farming and how it can destroy your rankings?

If you have even a small amount of SEO knowledge, you'll probably know that link building is one of the most effective SEO strategies to help you rank on Google and other search engines.

But link farming, which can seem like an appealing shortcut to backlink success, is a big no-no in the SEO industry.

Don't be tempted. Link farming can cause you to be penalized by Google and ultimately destroy your rankings.

Here's everything you should know about link farming and its detrimental effects on SEO.

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Key takeaways:

  • Link farming is when a website or group of websites are used with the sole purpose of linking to other websites.
  • Features of a link farm include a low Google PageRank score, an abundance of low-quality content on random topics, and web pages that contain only links.
  • Avoid link farming by choosing a professional link builder who uses 100% manual link-building practices or by prioritizing building organic links.

Link farming is when a link builder builds your links on a website that's used solely to collect and cultivate links (just as a real farm is used solely to grow and cultivate crops).

Link farms are created with the purpose of adding links to other peoples' websites to help them achieve the SEO benefits of link building.

What's the difference between a link farm and another website?

Most websites on Google have a specific purpose, such as selling a product or a service, and provide valuable content to the desired target audience.

Link farms, on the other hand, are created explicitly to contribute to other websites' backlink catalogs.

They don't provide any specific value, and they don't have a purpose other than building links.

Link farming is now seen as a black hat tactic that artificially improves your page rank. This is a huge red flag to Google and could get your site penalized, ruining your rankings on the search results pages.

There are a few identifiable features of a link farm to look out for:

  • An abundance of low-quality content that doesn't offer much value to human readers.
  • A low Google PageRank score (since this scoring is a measure of the quality of the website's content).
  • Web pages that contain no content - only links.
  • Random blog posts that jump from one topic to the next with no focus niche.
  • Confusing or nonsensical domain names that don't indicate the website's niche or purpose.

One or two of these features don't guarantee that what you're looking at is a link farm. But the more of these features a website has, the higher the likelihood that it's a link farm.

Some link building services build links on link farms, and it's often difficult to know when this is the case.

The company will market its service as a quick and easy way to build your backlink catalog and improve your search engine rankings.

You might be wondering why any link building company would use link farming if this tactic is likely to get websites penalized.

The answer is that link farming is easier for the service provider. It cuts out the time-consuming work of manual outreach and creating quality content, since all the provider has to do is place a link on a link farm that they either own or have a relationship with.

This will boost your link catalog and may even increase your DA, so it seems like a win-win: better ranking for you, and a quick and easy process for the link builder.

However, the reality is that putting your website link on a link farm can hugely hinder your SEO success and may get you penalized on Google, so it's actually a waste of money on your end.

How can you find out whether a link building company uses link farming to generate links for its clients?

Unfortunately, there's no way to know for sure. Link builders can be sneaky about the processes they use to build links, and you might end up paying for link farming without ever knowing.

However, there are some signs you should look out for that point to link farming, including:

  • Instant/fast results. Building links takes a long time, involving reaching out to websites, negotiating fees, and creating high-quality written content in which to place the link. So, if a link company promises instant or fast results, it can be a red flag.
  • Guaranteed links. Another possible way to detect link farms is to see if the link builder offers guaranteed links. The reality is that it's the website owner's decision whether or not they want to link to a certain website. If a link builder guarantees links built to particular websites, they might be link farming.
  • Cheap service. There are plenty of affordable, professional link building services out there, but if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be suspicious of any link builder who offers their service at significantly cheaper rates than their competitors, which suggests they may be taking shortcuts in their link building processes.
  • Little to no results. If your website doesn't grow within 6-12 months of paying for a monthly link building service, there's a chance that your link builder is using a link farm. Links from link farms don't generate good results, so they probably won't make a big difference to your search engine rankings.

If you're concerned, arrange a phone call or a virtual meeting with your link provider and ask to see some of the sample websites in your niche that they may be able to build links to. You can also ask to see the company's case studies and testimonials from previous clients that prove the effectiveness of their service.

It's usually easier to tell when isn't right if you speak to the link builder in person. If something seems off, follow your gut instinct and look elsewhere.

Why exactly does Google hate link farming, and how can link farms reduce your likelihood of SEO success?

To understand this, we need to look in more detail at Google's ranking algorithm: PageRank.

PageRank originally considered all inbound links as a vote of confidence. Essentially, this means that in its early days, PageRank would consider all backlinks from other sites to be a marker of a specific website's popularity and value.

A website with lots of backlinks from other sites was considered to be more valuable than a website with only a few links, regardless of the quality of the links. When PageRank was first established, it was difficult for the algorithm to distinguish between fake and genuine backlinks, so websites with farmed links weren't punished.

Nowadays, however, the algorithm is much smarter and more complex, and can now identify link farms and stop them from manipulating the search engine results pages.

So, if your website is connected to a link farming scheme and farmed links leading to your content are detected, you may be penalized by Google. The worst thing is that you can't appeal a suspected penalty, even if it wasn't your fault and you were unaware that your link builder had been using a link farm.

It's just not worth the risk. Not only is link farming a practice that could reverse all the positive effects of your SEO strategies so far; it's also deceptive and goes against what you should be setting out to do as a website on Google.

Google's main priority is to provide reliable, quality results. Since link farms try to cheat or manipulate Google's algorithm to artificially rank websites that don't necessarily deserve these rankings, they put Google's integrity on the line - so it's no wonder that Google deals with these sites so strictly.

Link farming certainly isn't the only solution to boost your page rank and help Google to see your website as an authority.

Here are some of the safe, effective methods you can use to rank your website with links, without the deception and the risks involved in using link farms.

Just because link farming is detrimental to your search engine optimization efforts, that doesn't mean that you need to avoid link building in general.

Just make sure that if you want to buy links online, you hire a reputable link-building agency that is renowned for building high-quality links to real websites that offer value to their readers.

Only buy links from a professional link builder who offers 100% manual non spammy backlinking. There are a few different link-building methods that a high-quality service may offer:

  • HARO - Or Help A Reporter Out, which connects journalists with authoritative sources and can be an effective way to generate high-quality backlinks and press mentions.
  • Blogger outreach - The process of convincing bloggers and influencers with a big following to talk about your product and link to your website.
  • Skyscraper posts - A strategy that involves improving existing content that proved popular with users and replicating the backlinks.

Look for agencies and companies that explicitly say that they don't sell links from a list of link farms. If the information isn't available on the agency's website, arrange a call with the owner and ask them to outline in detail the steps that the company takes to obtain links for its clients.

There should be no secrecy, either. You can always ask to review the websites that your links will be shared on and confirm that you're happy with them before your link builder seals the deal.

You should also be careful when you request inbound links from the owners of other sites, and stay away from people who try to sell links to any particular website.

The reason why so many people choose to pay for links is that waiting for organic links to be generated for your website or specific web page can take a long time.

However, if your website is ranking well organically and numerous blog posts and web pages are showing up in the top spots of the search engine results pages, you should start to notice a slow and steady accumulation of backlinks to your site.

Organic backlinks are the best because they're included completely naturally in another website's content.

You can increase your likelihood of attracting organic links by producing content that's original and unique, and provides data or information that isn't available elsewhere on the SERPs.

For example, you could conduct a study or a survey and share your findings in a blog post. If the survey results are telling and help other businesses to promote their products or services, these businesses are likely to cite your study in their own content, linking back to your web page and earning you a free backlink.

While this method will be slower and steadier than paying for links, it'll provide better long-term results and won't put your website at risk of a Google penalty.

Final word

Google and other search engines have implemented methods of detecting farmed links and punishing websites that gain inbound links through deceptive practices.

Link farming is considered a black hat SEO technique, along with keyword stuffing, spam, private blog networks, content spinning, and more.

So, if you don't want to be penalized for your link building efforts, you need to choose your link builder carefully.

Only buy from a respected, professional link building agency that has a history of positive client feedback and can prove to you that their methods of link generation are legitimate and effective.  

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