Which Kinds of Backlink Building Tactics are Harmful?

In the grand scheme of things, link building through inbound links serves a good purpose for a website. Search engines analyze backlinks to a website, which helps to determine the website’s popularity, importance, and ultimately, search engine ranking. This is one of the most important aspects of SEO. In fact, inbound links are considered by many search engine as a vote by one website for another website, either in terms of content, layout, professionalism, products, services, or usefulness.

On the other hand, some inbound links are harmful and should be eliminated. The types of inbound links that can cause issues for a site are: reciprocal links, incestuous links, link farms, webrings, and bad neighborhoods. Google routinely checks for and detects bad backlinks. When it is discovered that a website has bad backlinks, PageRank will be negatively affected along with the link and domain equity. This could cause the page to fail link value, and even worse, the website could get penalized for activity that is considered to be sneaky or devious.

A penalty might be relatively minor, such as stripping a website of all link equity. In other situations, punishment could be more serious. For instance, rankings on the search results page may be reduced due to the impact of link building.  In the most severe cases, a webpage or even an entire domain could be completely removed from the search engine index and blacklisted because of issues related to link builders. In the event that a website has been blacklisted, it will no longer be indexed and will never again appear in search results. In effect, the website is dead. This is why webmasters must know what bad inbound links are and how to deal with them immediately, especially when engaging in link building strategies.

Reciprocal Links

When one site links to another site and the second site links back to the first, this is called a reciprocal link. This is generally the least harmful of bad backlinks. However, it is still thought of in a negative way by the search engines in the context of link building efforts, and it does diminish the link value on both sides. A simple link exchange such as this could be considered to be just like a banner ad in the eyes of the search engines.

Incestuous Links

This is where one entity has multiple domains and each website link to the other. The owner tries to pretend that they are not part of the same organization and attempts to pass the backlinks off as relevant links from an outside source. Incestuous linking is designed to trick and deceive Internet users, usually for monetary gain, but more than that, they are trying to fool the crawlers through their link building strategy. This is a tactic that is not always easy to spot at first, but eventually get uncovered.

Sites utilizing this sort of incestuous backlink strategy in the realm of link building will be punished. To start with, the links in question will automatically be devalued. More than likely, all of the links on the website will be devalued and the site will be labeled as spam due to their link building tactic. Rightly so, if a website is marked as spam for this kind of trickery and deceit in the context of link building strategy it will be blacklisted and never again listed in search results.

Link Farms

For good reason, many search engines are actively fighting back websites that propagate spam and we should all thank them for their tireless efforts. In the early Y2K era, spamming webmasters were out of control and something needed to be done. It was these types of websites that created the need for SEO. Spam sites utilize all sorts of sneaky, underhanded and deceitful techniques that are designed to trick many search engines into handing out higher search engine rankings. Literally hundreds, sometimes even thousands of sites all link together. Link farms are programmed to have a multitude of build links pointing to a large number of sites, all with the intent or purpose of building link equity. In turn, this will enable those sites to achieve a higher rating.

A link farm can actually link to webpages without permission, and that can cause problems with many search engines for a completely innocent website. If a webmaster uncovers evidence that the site they maintain has unknowingly become part of a link farm, they should immediately ask for their site to be removed from the exchange as soon as possible. If no action is taken, a website that remains part of a link farm runs the risk of losing link equity or even becoming blacklisted.


Not necessarily considered to be spam, a webring is a group of websites from all over the Internet that interconnect in a group structure through building links. When a website joins a webring, it is automatically part of a group of similar or genre-related websites. It is pretty easy to spot a website that belongs to a webring, because there is usually a section on the website that advertises the webring.

Joining a webring is not going to cause a website to be blacklisted or even devalue the links contained within. However, those links will never increase link equity on any of the websites involved, and what’s more, the inbound traffic is likely not very valuable in terms of conversions either when considering link building tactics.

On the other hand, some link building tactics such as paid links, selling links, and excessive guest posting, especially when used for the sole purpose of manipulating search rankings, can be seen as manipulative and may lead to penalties. These tactics can harm a website’s SEO efforts and affect its search engine ranking. Instead, it’s advisable to focus on ethical link building strategies, high-quality content creation, and natural internal linking, as these methods are more likely to provide long-term benefits for a website.

Bad Neighborhoods

Often times, a website is not indexed. This could be for a variety of reasons. Of course, it is entirely possible that the website is just too new and the crawlers have not made it to that site yet, which might require attention to site structure and internal linking. However, it is usually more likely the case that the domain has come from what is known as a bad neighborhood. As you have seen in this article, which really just barely scratches the surface of this topic, websites routinely get omitted from the engine indexes for good reasons, and this can be detected and managed through tools like Google Search Console.

When websites have been blacklisted, generally it is because of unscrupulous webmasters who have committed a number of cardinal sins, either by programming their website to propagate spam or they make use of sneaky, deceitful, crooked, and dishonest methods simply in an effort to fool the advanced algorithms. These practices, such as buying links, link exchanges, and engaging in link schemes, can harm a website’s reputation and affect its chances of obtaining links from relevant sources, including other sites or third-party websites. It’s important to maintain a clean and ethical approach to link building services and site structure to ensure a website’s long-term success in the search engine rankings while preserving link juice.

Websites that shelter other websites, which have been banned from search engines, are considered to be just as guilty of the same cyber atrocities. Therefore, if a website is part of what is known as a bad neighborhood by accepting backlinks from a site that has been blacklisted, then that can cause problems, even for the truly innocent and unknowing victims of sneaky webmasters. In effect, this would be akin to associating with the kids in school with the bad reputations. Yes, even in the virtual world, there is such a thing as guilty by association and a website can be accused of using spam techniques despite the fact that it is a perfectly legitimate website and otherwise not affiliated with the dishonest website.

If a webmaster notices that an undesirable website has linked to theirs, they should take appropriate measures to request that their site be removed as soon as possible. This can be addressed through methods such as reaching out politely and professionally, especially when dealing with irrelevant links, or footer links, and links associated with a link scheme. It’s essential to maintain a clean and ethical online presence and avoid any impression that anything unethical is going on. This commitment to ethical practices is crucial for every webmaster and should be emphasized in every blog post and communication related to website management.


Timothy Carter