SEO still has a bad name, and the story I’m about to tell you is the reason. When link builders are lazy and amoral, our online communities see the results. I’m referencing a recent invasion of my beloved Neurolux Message Board, where an SEO company made a post with the subject ‘buy backlinks.’
A bit of background: Neurolux is my favorite venue for live music in Boise, and it’s also one of my favorite bars. I’ve seen some amazing shows there: Red Fang, Zolar X, The Thermals, Electric Six, Coliseum, Future Islands and Emily Wells, to name a few. I’ve also played a couple of shows there, and let me tell you—there’s nothing like playing music in front of the magical light bulb crown that is Neurolux’s stage backdrop, no matter how small the crowd is. To me, it’s a sacred place.
Neurolux’s website features a message board. These days, more often than not, it’s a staging ground for political rants, so dumb-they’re-clever insults, criminal mug shots and sports discussion. (It’s text-only, but I’d consider the text itself to often be NSFW/NSFL in general, so click through at your own risk.)
Sometimes genuine conversations about local bands, Boise current events and the venue itself happen among all the clutter. It’s not as populated or interesting as it once was, but I still visit 2-3 times a week.
The message board also uses an insanely easy verification system. You can post whatever you want and put a link in the post, even though HTML itself is disabled. This is where our story begins.
Sound the Alarm
On May 1st, my friend and colleague Cody Cahill alerted me to the offending NMB post via AIM. Our conversation went something like this:
Cody Cahill: what the hell? (nmb link inserted here)
Me: holy crap. someone took our joke of an idea and ran with it. did they pay you for the tip, cody cahill?
Cody Cahill: a crappy company like that couldn’t afford my brilliant ideas, dustin, particularly my most brilliant idea ever, NMB link building. i wonder if the NMB is on some list of easy link building target sites or something…
Me: it would surprise me if it was… but on the other hand, it actually wouldn’t
This is what I saw:
Cody and I have often joked about using the NMB to build easy links, but those were just jokes. Neither of us ever suspected that we’d actually see someone try it. In the end, this SEO company got a do-follow link on a website with a Domain Authority of 42. The NMB isn’t known for having highly-involved and proactive moderators, so that link will probably be there for a long time. The more I thought about it, the more I felt kind of… violated?
The Company in Question
I decided to check out the offending SEO company. Their website is neatly designed and vibrant. It appears that English is not their first language, so some of the content is pretty rough around the edges, especially on their blog.
The actual NMB post is actually a much finer composition than anything on their core site or blog, so I almost wonder if they outsourced it. The thing that really gets me, though, is that they claim to be a white hat firm and feature backlink buying as one of their main services. Take a look at Google’s Link Schemes page and tell me what you think about that falling into the ‘white hat’ camp. To me, it doesn’t fit.
I know people buy backlinks, and I know that it sometimes even works pretty well—but it’s not a white hat tactic, so I find myself blinded by this particular bright red flag.
A Terrible Link
If that SEO company’s site is a red flag, the link itself is a full-on klaxon alarm. An SEO company is totally irrelevant to the Neurolux Message Board. It has nothing to do with underground music or cocktail lounges.
There’s no audience for that link. I’d wager a fair amount of money that Cody and I are the only occasional NMB users that think about SEO on a daily basis. We might even be the only ones who know what link building is.
That link has no value to humans. No one is going to click that link. The post quickly got pushed down and no one has replied, which means that no one even cares enough to make a troll post. It’s useless and it’s an eyesore. All it does is make people like Cody and I angry. And, as I said before, it probably won’t get taken down anytime soon.
It is a do-follow link on a site with decent DA, so they probably got some link juice from it. The link’s so glaringly irrelevant, though, that it might be a matter of time before it’s discounted or penalized. Neurolux.com is a vague domain name and the site lacks meta tags (as far as I can tell), so it might never do any damage either. Whatever the case may be, it’s pure link pollution.
That was an easy link to get. The Nuerolux Message Board is a beautiful dinosaur that’s unconcerned with modern verification systems and anti-spam measures. In fact, there are regular posts that offer hacking services and any number of other spammy, irrelevant services. So in that way it’s nothing new, but this one hit home because I work in the SEO industry and this kind of spam makes me cringe.
I wonder if one of their intrepid researchers found the NMB, or if Cody’s right and the NMB is in some kind ‘easy link building target sites’ database. I’ll never know.
The NMB is a niche community. I’ve written about marketing to small niches before, and sometimes it’s just not possible unless you’re already a member of that community. This post is completely bogus as a marketing strategy and the link has no human value. If the NMB had more active moderators, it would have been gone in a second.
Jon Ball (my boss) talked about the idea of using forums/message boards to build links in a past webinar called ‘Link Building – Ask the Experts LIVE!’
Jon said, “A forum is usually a community. The community is very diligent about its forum. And if you’re going to approach forums for link building, I warn you not to do that. I don’t want you to do that because those guys can smell you coming from 50 posts away. And when you, when you put a link on their forum that they obviously see as a spammy link or one for link building, they’re going to nail you. And I don’t blame them, I would too.”
Sadly, no one’s going to nail these people. They got away with it, even if that link won’t hold much (or any) value in the long run.
This breaks my heart for two reasons.
1) They’re invading my personal space with their spam. I use the NMB to argue with people about local bands and look at funny mug shots, so this kind of link pollution is aggravating.
2) This is exactly why link builders have a bad name. The next time the average NMB user hears the terms ‘SEO’ and ‘link building,’ they’ll associate them with a spam post on their favorite message board. Some SEO companies just can’t leave the legacy of spam behind, I guess.
I don’t imagine anyone reading this uses bad link building strategies like this one. I’m writing this to vent a bit and share a specific example of what we, as an industry, need to learn not to do if we want to escape the stigma. We’re better than this. Don’t break my heart.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Cody Cahill and Nicholas Chimonas. And most of all, thanks to Neurolux. If you ever make it there, try the Gin and Squirt.