When Did Link Building Companies Become "Black Hat" SEOs?

Nov 25, 2008 • 7:44 am | comments (10) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEM / SEO Companies

I've been in the "SEO industry" for a long time, relative to the industry. Over time, the industry and the perception both externally and internally, has changed. I guess that happens with all industries, but quicker in more evolving and newer industries, like SEO. A few years back, I doubt many people would consider "link building companies" as being on the side of "black hat" techniques. So when has that shift been declared?

Jim's WeBuildPages company is trying to change their name from a "link building" company to a "internet marketing" company. In Jim's most recent post, he wrote that one of the most visible link building companies has stopped buying links. Yes, a link building company has stopped buying links. Do I believe it? I think so. Of course, a paid link is not always black and white. So, in order for Jim to change the perception of his company, he must of felt, let's take the extreme alternative and say, we no longer buy links. If we no longer buy links, then we must not be a link building company anymore.

If you want to make the argument that link building companies are not on the "black hat" side of things, then fine. But as Jim said in his post, "I don’t want to risk my business’ future by buying links…and if you’re worried about your site’s future, and you’re buying links, you might want to think twice." Google has come out against paid links and artificial links, with penalties. So it is hard to say that today, a link buy is not something more on the dark side of things, even if you don't believe it or I don't believe it.

But why and when did this happen? Clearly a milestone is when Danny posted Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google on October 7, 2007. If that wasn't enough, on November 12th, the first penalties hit sites selling links, including this one. And the penalties continued. So by then, I would think it was clear, link building companies might have shifted over to the dark side.

Before October 7th, 2007 - a link building company, to me and many others - would have been considered white hat. But that has changed, changed with the nofollow attribute in 2005, changed with the October 7th announcement and changed with the real penalties coming down.

Looking back, I just find it interesting it has come to this. We Build Pages, one of the most well known link building companies decides to send out a press release that they are no longer building links. They hire top names in the industry to blog, make widgets, and get social, but do you hear of We Build Pages letting employees go? They can be retraining all their "link ninjas" in the art of getting non-paid links. But how? Link exchanges don't work, three-way links aren't as good, you can't buy links anymore - are you training them in content development. Jim said they are still going to be getting links, but they won't be buying them. It just seems very odd to me.

Some are as skeptical as I am at the Sphinn thread. Don't get me wrong, I really like the folks at We Build Pages, really. But something just doesn't seem right. I hope this transition works for them and it is sad to see it come to this, on some level.

When did it all come to this?

Also read SEO Book and SEOish (SEOish works for Jim).

Forum discussion at Sphinn.

Previous story: Daily Search Forum Recap: November 24, 2008


Lisa Barone

11/25/2008 02:44 pm

Hey Barry, No one is saying that link building is a black hat SEO technique. We're saying that Google has made it pretty clear that they'll take action against sites that buy links and as a result we won’t be buying links for clients anymore. We don’t want to jeopardize their rankings or our ability to survive as a company. And make no mistake, We Build Pages is still a link building company. As Jim said himself in his post, link building is still the cornerstone of our business. We’re very skilled at building links for clients, we simply won’t be paying for them. That is the only thing that has changed in that respect (but we think it’s a pretty big change). I don’t think it’s “sad” to see this evolution take place. I give Jim a lot of credit for giving up a model that has been VERY successful for him because he wants to protect his clients and those that work at We Build Pages. A final note, we are NOT letting go of our link ninjas! Now that we are expanding our services, there is plenty of opportunity for everyone. Some link ninjas will remain link ninjas focusing on building quality links for our clients, while others will move into new positions, as we see fit. No one is losing their job, so let’s nix that misconception right now. It’s disrespectful to the folks that work here to assume otherwise. Our link ninjas are valued parts of our team and they remain valued parts of our team! Hope that helps to clear some stuff up!

Dominic J. Litten

11/25/2008 02:54 pm

Barry, you could have easily placed a phone call, email, tweet, whatever to Jim and/or Lisa to clear up the whole "letting employees go" angle in your story. Bad form.

Patrick Sexton

11/25/2008 02:57 pm

Hi Barry, First off I would like to say that, as Lisa noted, there will be no reduction in our staff. We have 46 employees and plan to grow. Secondly, if you have any questions, as you know, I am easy to contact. Please consider speaking to me prior to putting in question the future of my employees (who read SE Roundtable). I agree with you about the perception thing btw.

Barry Schwartz

11/25/2008 03:44 pm

Good thing this is a blog and you guys can comment and I can ask questions and have them answered. I asked, will WBP be letting go employees. Two WBP said no. There you go. When did link building become black hat is less about WBP and more about my personal thoughts on where the industry has moved over the years.

Tony Tellijohn

11/25/2008 03:46 pm

I didn't get any vibe from the story that suggested Barry thought (or heard, or figured, or anything related) that We Build Pages was considering letting employees go. In fact, I took the paragraph that refers to WBP hiring top names and having NOT heard of them letting anyone go as more of a complement to the job that WBP has done in what has to have been a tough change to their working model.

Lisa Barone

11/25/2008 03:55 pm

Barry, Didn't mean to come off harshly the first time. If I did, I apologize. You're right; we all have blogs and you can pose a question and we can come and comment. If you have a question about people's jobs, though, I think everyone would appreciate it if you did that offline, as it's a sensitive subject. Nothing but respect for you, as you know. Just don't want people to start worrying about their futures at WBP, especially as the holiday's approach. Our ninjas aren't going anywhere. Thanks again, Lisa

Barry Schwartz

11/25/2008 03:57 pm

Also, didn't want to call you at 6:30am when I wrote this. ;-) Thanks!

Arnie K

11/25/2008 04:18 pm

Since we are primarily a link building company, I read this with great interest. I am certain there are some link building companies that Google and others might consider blackhat, but there are still some out there (like ours) that do link building the old fashioned way. We write and create lots of content for our clients. Articles of all types, press releases, videos, etc. We also set-up and participate in social media for our clients. Businesses (and many SEO agencies) outsource their link building & website marketing to us because they don't have the time, expertise or desire to take it on themselves. We then conduct link building just the way our clients would if they were doing it themselves. Does money or other forms of barter exchange hands once in a while -- you bet. That is what makes the business world go 'round. But it isn't for "paid links" like monthly rentals or blog reviews, it is for sponsorships, labor, promotion, etc. In fact, Rand posted a list of methods to obtain links on SEOmoz.org. Most of them required some form of payment, yet seem to be pretty whitehat to me. If promoting your site via these methods is considered "blackhat", then no one should be marketing or promoting their site at all.... according to Google that is :-)

Ryan @ Linkbuildr

12/05/2008 04:45 am

I've been following this for a while and everyone from WBP and SEO Roundtable brought up a lot of good points. There are so many unique and great ways to build links without paying for them, and the folks at WBP simply don't need to pay for links. I'm actually quite impressed with the way Jim brought up the topic and made it public. It allows us to think it out more and bring on discussions like this one here.


08/30/2009 10:22 pm

Makes me wonder if this is simply another scheme to divert Google's attention away from their companies. If it is, it's a smart move. Although, I have not seen any shortage of new link building companies, just a shift in the way they sell good links.

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