Millions of websites today are working on building an artificial link presence that isn't really based on quality content and fair play. Instead, they're gaming the system and creating an artificial link structure designed explicitly to rocket them to the top of the search rankings. However, every time you create an artificial link, you're leaving a trail that search engines may be able to detect. In this guide, we'll take a look at how Google detects when law firms are using an artificial link structure. You can use this information either to make an artificial link that looks natural, or—hopefully—to make a decision not to use artificial links as part of your search engine optimization strategy.
What's the Difference Between Natural and Artificial Links?
Natural links come about because of natural processes. Anyone who links to your website because they know you in person, saw your link on a social media site, or just loved one of your blog entries is creating a natural link.
An artificial link is very different. Artificial links are designed with search engine optimization as their biggest—and often sole—priority. People tend to build these links by using automated link creation programs. These link creation programs make for a very detectable artificial link structure, and Google and other search engine companies monitor the development of artificial link creation software heavily. If you are believed to be engaged in creating artificial links, Google reserves the right to penalize your website by making it appear much later in search rankings.
If you're caught buying links, you can expect to be penalized for this method of artificial link building. If you're caught selling them, though, expect your future to be even bleaker: Google is known to completely de-list websites caught creating artificial link structure for other sites.
Signs of an Artificial Link Structure: Bursts of Activity
One of the easiest ways to make sure that any artificial link creation you do remains undetected by Google is to make links relatively slowly. Unless a website becomes a real viral sensation overnight, complete with traffic patterns that reflect virality, it's very unlikely that it will get one huge burst of links and then have barely any inbound links created for a month.
The only time that kind of pattern occurs is when an artificial link structure is being built. This is a top sign of artificial link creation and remains the most common way that Google identifies websites using black hat techniques for search engine optimization.
Signs of an Artificial Link Structure: Identical Anchor Text
Because exact keyword match anchor text can make a bigger difference to your search rankings, some people make every artificial link they build have the same exact keyword anchor text. But think about it: do websites that are creating links naturally use this kind of linking often? Natural links might have anchor text like “over here” or “this” or “my favorite law firm,” rather than a specific keyword match that you designed for maximum search engine optimization.
Anyone trying to make an artificial link structure while avoiding detection needs to be careful to vary their anchor text substantially from link to link. Yes, this will take longer—but it will also prevent your artificial link building from being noticed by Google.
Signs of an Artificial Link Structure: Links from the Same IP
When artificial link building programs put your links on many different websites, some of these programs can make a huge mistake. If Google detects that too many of your links come from the same IP address, there's only one reasonable explanation: your artificial link building program is hosting your links on many websites that are all hosted on the same servers.
You should run an inbound link checker periodically to look for this sign of an artificial link structure, especially if you are using any kind of automated link building program. If you see many, many links that all come from wildly different URLs but the same IP address, you need to talk to the people building your links about having some of them removed or changed.
Signs of an Artificial Link Structure: Too Many Reciprocal Links
Automated link exchange schemes were one of the biggest ways to create an artificial link presence on the web in the mid '00s. Today, though, if you have too many reciprocal links, Google will assume that you're building them artificially, and can penalize you with its new detection algorithm, Google Penguin.
Instead, you should focus on building one way links for the most part. Having a number of reciprocal links isn't necessarily bad, as long as they're built naturally and don't reflect your entire link presence online. Just try to keep them a fairly small percentage of your overall links, and you should be fine.
Signs of an Artificial Link Structure: Poor Quality Links
If your links all come from blogs with bizarre, garbled entries and no comment moderation, it's very unlikely that Google is going to consider these links helpful to your search rankings. You should try to build links from websites that have a relatively high Google PageRank, indicating that they have attained a level of high popularity and authority with Google users.
Signs of an Artificial Link Structure: Content Spinner Sites
One of the easiest ways for lawyers to build an artificial link presence a few years ago was to use so-called “article spinners” that posted the same article content in many different places all over the web. However, these websites were easy to identify: they accepted any press release or article submission, and explicitly worked to create inbound links on other sites.
If you used one of these websites, an update called Google Panda likely negated the value of all of your link building there. Google identified the top offenders and made their links worthless, so that now it's a very bad idea to waste your time with the same kinds of content spinner websites. Get your content to spread naturally and virally, not artificially with automated programs.