The Redeeming Qualities of Links with a Bad Reputation



Some links are the redheaded stepchildren of the link building world. They are considered the low-hanging fruit, or even the spoiled fruit, but they’re nowhere near the pick of the bunch. But even though we’d never put apples from the ground into a pie, they are good for making cider.

A few bad apples can spoil the whole cart, but with these links the predominance of bad fruit in these groups has made it easy to dismiss the whole shipment. But we don’t have to.

No one should build an SEO campaign around any of these methodologies, but they aren’t entirely the wasteland we often consider them to be. In spite of being the untouchables of links, in the right perspective, there are some redeeming qualities for even the links nobody loves.


  • Why They Have a Bad Rap: Nofollows don’t pass power. The nofollow tag actually says to search engines, “I don’t vouch for this link.” That means none of the usual benefits of a link pass on to the site being linked to. So because these links won’t help a website with their search engine rankings, they get dismissed as useless.
  • Reason For Redemption: So what if nofollowed links aren’t going to impact your search engine rankings? That doesn’t mean they can’t be helpful.

    The original intent of a link was to send people from one place to another, not spiders. So even when you remove the secondary function you still have the initial intent. If a link is given, and well deserved, it can easily drive traffic to your website, hopefully interested traffic.

    Nofollowed links also offer additional brand exposure. Yes, direct links will do all of these things too, which is why when given a choice we always want our links without the nofollow attribute. But just because a link doesn’t help us rank, doesn’t mean it’s a complete loss.

Blog Comments

  • Why They Have a Bad Rap: If blog commenting was a basketball game, spammers took the ball, the court, and the net, threw them in a trash compactor, and ruined the game for everybody. Most blog comment links don’t pass any power and for good reason: they’re abused and violated more frequently than they’re used constructively. So now blog commenting as link building is a joke, because it’s automated, pointless, and sometimes just reading them makes you want a shower.
  • Reason For Redemption: If you use blog comments to offer genuine feedback on a blog post it’s actually very valuable. How do you introduce yourself to a powerful blogger? Commenting on their work is a great way to break the ice.

    Maybe they won’t notice you the first time you do it, but if you hang out long enough and offer genuine knowledge or interesting insight into the conversation, you’re bound to catch someone’s attention. And often, it won’t be just the person behind the blog. The community of readers who see your input may be intrigued to find out more about you, leading to traffic on your site.

    But the benefits of blog comments can only be gained from commenting in the purest form. If you use a generic, barely English, template comment with a keyword masquerading as a name, you’re wasting your time — and annoying everybody.

Reciprocal Links

  • Why They Have a Bad Rap: Link trades got popular a long time ago, when everybody was swapping links like swingers swapped spouses in the ’70s. It didn’t matter what your site was about because everyone had a dirty links page they were willing to give space to anybody who was willing to link back. The free love age of link exchanges pretty much dirtied the process for everyone.
  • Reason For Redemption: When a reciprocal link is natural, it isn’t a bad thing at all. An organic link exchange usually happens when two sites reference each other in a reasonable context. When site A links to a great article on Site B and site B links to site A to show their visitors where they’ve been referenced on other sites, that pattern is motivated by human behavior and self-interest.

    But the focus here isn’t simply the link, it’s the information the link provides. When you get back to the root of it, those reciprocal links are extremely valuable. They lead to partnerships and collaborations, and they tie like-minded, like-themed, comparably-authoritative sites together. So those kinds of link exchanges may not be the biggest rankings boosters, but they can lead to other great things.


  • Why They Have a Bad Rap: The thing about directories is that most of them are pretty useless. “SEO friendly” directories usually accept most any site, although many of them draw the line at porn. The links you get are often indirect and not cached — or even if they are, pass so little power that they do very little, if anything, to impact rankings.
  • Reason For Redemption: It’s like shopping for clothes on the clearance rack — if you’re willing to wade through the crap that no one would ever want, you might just find something awesome. When you take the time to sift through all the different directories out there, you may discover that there are a few that are worth getting listed in.

    Local directories, niche directories, and small, human reviewed directories that people actually utilize could send traffic. Signing up for a few directories may also be a quick way to help get a new site cached.

    Most directories aren’t worth paying for, but in some cases, it may not be the worst thing. Whether it’s free or paid, always check the listing pages of any directory to make sure the links are direct and the pages are recently cached.

    It also helps to get some ideas about the traffic the directory gets, before deciding if it’s worth the time or money. Directory listings aren’t a sustainable link building method but they’re worth dabbling in and conducting your own research.

Off-Topic & Non-Keyword Anchor Text Links

  • Why They Have a Bad Rap: When a link comes from an off-topic site or has random anchor text it doesn’t help our ranking goals. So these links are looked down on, maybe not as much as some of the others on this list, but they still don’t get much respect.
  • Reason For Redemption: Maybe these links aren’t really helping a site in terms of the SERPs, but they do bring something to the table. First, we need these kinds of links to comprise a natural back link profile. When a site’s backlinks are too on target, too perfect, it could be a cause for suspicion.

    But the best reason for off-topic links is that when you break out of your typically “relevant” market you open yourself up to a completely new group of people. And from a non-search engine related marketing perspective, the more exposure a website can get the better. So off-topic links are really just a foray into a new, untapped demographic.

Link Salvation

These backlink rejects have in most cases earned their bad reputations by being mostly garbage. But that doesn’t make them entirely beyond salvation.

These will never be the best, most powerful kinds of links. These will never be methods that any site should put all of their energy into. But for each one of them there is an exception to the rule.

Granted none of these bad boys are the guys you bring home to mom, but you can party with them from time to time. Because when you look it from the right angle, there’s something worthwhile in each of them.

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