While there are some universal guidelines about search engine spam, each major engine has policies that can occasionally appear out of sync with others.
This past week I was researching Inktomi paid inclusion pages that had been penalized in search results due to their participation in link popularity schemes. These schemes create pages full of links shared between participating websites with no editorial purpose. They exist only to improve a website's ranking in search results.
Strangely, I also found the same pages were getting first page rankings at Google for the same phrases. Was Google, the king of anti-link popularity schemes, getting fooled while Inktomi was catching the scheme? The proof was in the search results. Inktomi was catching the link spamming and penalizing the site, while Google was finding the same site to be highly relevant and ranking it accordingly.
Because search engines rely on link popularity as one of the factors for determining relevance, link-popularity networks can fool the engines into delivering tainted results. Don't think for a minute that Google tolerates spam -- the search engine has taken legal action against SearchKing, a company that sold links to sites looking to improve their ranking within Google's results.
While gaining "instant" link popularity may sound tempting, you must be wary of services and companies promising thousands of links to your website overnight. These networks create pages full of links and descriptions. They sometimes offer participants the ability to choose the category of sites they want to link back to them.
Perform a Google search for "link popularity" and you'll see paid advertising promising some of these instant results. Even if these networks deliver results in Google today and you saw the ad at Google, it doesn't guarantee Google won't get around to penalizing you in the long run.
The same thing goes for Inktomi. Searching at HotBot for "link popularity" delivers sponsored results from Overture right above the Inktomi results that promote services that help build your link popularity. The point is, "buyer beware."
If you're offered a service to identify all the websites linking to you and suggest other sites to contact about linking to you, you're not really spamming the engines. If you're told you need to regularly put up an updated page that's full of links, and that it will create thousands of links to you instantly, you're doing something with the intent of artificially boosting your link popularity. This is link spamming.
The Wall Street Journal recently gave examples of companies who had suffered in their Google rankings for participating in these networks. A Search Day article, Stung by Unethical Search Engine Optimization, provides another example of a company discovering that a linking scheme was getting their site penalized by Inktomi.
Don't be swayed by the appeal of the short term boost from sites advertising "1000's of links instantly." Instant gratification will never replace long-term success. It's not worth getting penalized or kicked out of the engines altogether. That's when you find out the only way back into the search engines is through cost per click advertising.
Build your link popularity naturally. Create appealing content about your market or service that people can't find anywhere else. Think of applications or services you could offer on your website for free that have value to your market.
If there are websites that have links to other sites that will be interested in your content, contact them and see if they will link to you. Every step you take in marketing your website -- avoiding the often fatal "guaranteed quick-fixes" offered by unethical search engine marketers -- is another step towards building a solid online business.
Both Google and Inktomi offer solid guidelines for webmasters, including dos and don'ts for building your link popularity. They're well worth careful study.
Google's Webmaster Tips
Inktomi Content Guidelines
Keith Boswell is the COO of Marketleap, a search engine marketing and advisory firm.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.