In 2023, link farms are a somewhat obsolete concept. In their traditional form, these websites feature all sorts of content, pointing to various sites. Their articles are often unreadable and provide little to no value to end users. In fact, there are lots of cases where a web page only consists of links having no other text.
In this article, we talk about the concept of link farms, how they affect Google search engine, and whether you should be afraid of receiving such a link.
What is a link farm?
Link farm refers to any website that only exists for link-building purposes. These platforms might have a certain level of authority, although most of them are low-quality sites. Links received from them are usually spammy and provide little value.
According to the official Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, this process is classified as a black-hat SEO technique. Link farming goes against everything that search engines stand for, that is, building a reputable site through a steady, organic influx of outbound links. It doesn’t take much to identify link farms, as these platforms look extremely shady compared to normal blogs.
Basically, link farming works is a process where a site owner gives a link to an external platform for monetary compensation. Link farms provide value for both parties, which is why they’ve survived up to this day.
While these links might not be as great as those received from high-quality sites, they might still help manipulate search engine rankings. However, their value is progressively shrinking as Google search engine rolls out newer and improved algorithms.
How to detect link farms?
As mentioned, you can easily identify a link farm through a few basic checkups. These platforms usually write about all sorts of topics, commonly focusing on “business,” “family,” “medical,” “DIY,” and a few other subjects. Basically, the more topics a particular website covers, the more potential customers from different industries they can get.
Depending on how well a link farm was built, it might survive for a longer or shorter period. Some were created meticulously by improving the website’s authority, content, and link popularity before offering guest posts to other users. However, most of them have short-term value and are meant to provide as much impact to linked websites before Google and other search engines penalize them.
Regardless, Google hate link farming and is dedicated to eliminating all these sites. These are the best methods for finding link farms:
Low domain scores
The majority of link farms have low reputation and SEO metrics. So, the best way to establish if a website is indeed a link farm is by checking things such as Domain Authority, Trust Flow, Domain Rating, and similar indicators. However, there are certain exceptions to these rules, for example, if a link farm was built on an old, reputable domain.
Suspicious link profile
While having lots of outbound links, these sites have a small number of inbound links. While some of them use reciprocal linking or similar techniques to boost their profile, you can easily tell a link farm if the quantity of links to other sites eclipses the number received.
Many of these link farms don’t even bother posting quality content. Instead, they use AI generators and poorly spun pieces as a basis for building links to relevant websites. If the posts feel dull and provide no value to humans, this is a good indicator of link farming.
Erratic page links
One page might have numerous links pointing to external websites. In some cases, these outbound links are completely random and focus on different topics. There are also cases where a page might only consist of links, without any text or images.
Better link farms cover several main subjects; bad link farms write about all sorts of stuff. Poorly made sites don’t even have separate topic categories. Instead, they put all these unrelated articles in one basket.
Link farms vs. PBNs
There’s a lot of confusion between link farms and private blog networks. Some people think that these two terms are completely the same, although there are some major differences between them.
Private blog networks consist of several low-authority websites that boost each other’s value through mutual linking. The point of a PBN is to improve the authority of member websites, giving them a headstart in search engines.
However, unlike link farms, it doesn’t make sense for PBN owners to sell links to external entities. This would open them to search engine penalties, shutting down the whole operation in the process.
Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a private blog network will never sell links. There are cases where marketers turn these platforms into link farms if the PBN process didn’t yield the expected results or if Google noticed the activity. That way, they can at least squeeze some value from search engines before everything goes under.
Traditional vs. modern link farms
For the most part, traditional link farms are a thing of the past. Google and other search engines have become so good at detecting these platforms that most owners don’t even get any value before getting shut down. However, that doesn’t mean that the concept has completely perished.
Link farming has somewhat mutated to a new, safer form. A modern link farm site (guest posting platform) has much more authority and was built through continuous effort. They look like news sites that cover all sorts of topics. In fact, these platforms might even pass nice link juice for their clients.
Like an old link farm, a new one is selling links to other sites. However, instead of using crappy, nonsensical pages littered with links, they oblige their clients to create guest posts. These articles are well-put and won’t be flagged by Google. Still, by going through a quick site check, you can easily figure out that this site primarily exists for link-building purposes.
Keep in mind that most authors won’t refer to these sites as link farms as they’re very different in appearance and functionality. Nevertheless, for all intended purposes, this modern variation has all the qualities of a traditional link farm.
Should I get links from link farms?
Based on everything that was said so far, link farming isn’t worth the trouble. While users might get some temporary value from these links, most marketers understand this is a form of manipulating search engine rankings. In other words, they won’t pay as much as they might’ve paid for natural organic links.
Whatever the case, here are the main issues with getting inbound links from a link farm:
Simply put, relying on a link farm probably won’t give you the necessary push in the search engines. While some of these sites might have nice base stats, it’s hard to determine how much link juicy you’ll actually get. This is especially true for the old type of link farms, which will cause more harm than good.
So, when getting links from external sources, these are the things you need to consider:
- The site that gives you the link should be made according to Google’s guidelines
- Content on the page should be relevant to your topic. In fact, the entire site should be related to your industry
- The link should be placed in a natural way. Ideally, it should enhance the value of the source piece
- The source article should be of high quality. In fact, it’s best to optimize it in a similar way you would optimize blog posts on your own platform
Keep in mind that newer, modern blog farms might fulfill some of these requirements.
Aside from questionable quality, the reason why link farming has fallen out of favor is that it doesn’t provide long-term value. Given that you can no longer optimize a site in just a few weeks, you need to introduce real improvements that would stick for many months and even years.
If a link farm has lots of poorly written content, low authority, and provides a bad user experience, it will get flagged rather quickly. So, in your attempt to manipulate search engines, you’ll get a temporary boost (if any) that will perish as soon as the site gets penalized.
What are the link farm alternatives?
Basically, almost any other method will be a better alternative to link farms. It’s not even a question of whether you’ll get in trouble; it’s only a matter of when the penalty will occur. That being said, here are a few things you should consider when building links from external sources.
Focus on organic building practices
The best way to avoid penalties from the Google search engine is by following their rules. In other words, no link farming, PBNs, link exchanges, or other shady stuff.
The company wants you to gain exposure naturally by attracting attention via your own website, external sites, forums, and social media. To do so, you need to provide value to users by sharing quality web pages filled with interesting content. Here are a few tricks that can help you get there:
- Create high-quality content that provides unique insights. People pay most attention to case studies, research, and other statistical data
- While link baiting might be perceived as somewhat shady, it’s still within Google’s guidelines. So, you can test different formats and topics to draw attention to your blog
- Guest posting is a gray zone, but as long as you’re getting links from legitimate websites, you should be in the clear
- Use social media and other external channels to your advantage. These platforms can help you reach audiences that might not be your usual website visitors
You might even get value from a link farm. However, before accepting the link, make sure that the platform is good enough and that you won’t get in trouble.
Avoid suspicious links
Some SEOs suggest that every link is beneficial, regardless of the site’s quality and content relevancy. However, this isn’t completely true.
While link farming and other low-quality links might provide some value, especially in terms of profile diversification, they’re usually not worth the hassle. They barely pass any juice, and they definitely won’t have any major impact on tough queries.
That being said, here are a few procedures you need to employ when vetting a site (whether it’s a link farm or otherwise):
- Start by checking how long a website has been in the business as well as its metrics. While this isn’t detrimental, it’s the initial step that might give you some important insights
- Check the site structure and topics it covers. If it looks like any other site and is connected to a legitimate business, this usually indicates that the link will also be safe
- Skim through the About Us and Contact pages. If you can’t find the site owner’s name anywhere, this is a major red flag
- Avoid links from other niches unless they’re from solid sources. Most importantly, avoid anything coming from gambling and adult industries
- Check the site’s content. Do they have a tendency to link to no-name sites? How many links do they have per page? Sometimes, just being associated with “bad” sites can also raise a flag in Google search engine
- Don’t buy links from people who sell links. Most of these are results of various schemes, whether we’re talking about farms or something else
Lastly, if you notice anything suspicious, it’s much better to remove that link than to risk having it point to your domain.
Directories vs. link farms
Although you should be cautious with your links and avoid anything coming from a low-quality source, that doesn’t mean you should delete everything that you deem suspicious.
For example, one of the bigger issues for beginners is differentiating between a link farm and a directory. While they might look similar at first glance, there’s one major difference: a low-quality link farm is much more chaotic, covering all sorts of topics.
Directories often specialize in one area and are genuinely trying to help their users. They also have much more extensive information about the company/owner.
Directories can be fantastic for your link-building efforts, especially when talking about local SEO. So, be very careful how you’re handling these links. If you’re not certain whether a directory is legit, you can perform a Google search to see what other sources say about the site.