[Case study] How link farms can destroy your website rankings

This short case study will explain the potentially damaging effect of using link farms in your SEO strategy including:

  • Rankings and traffic drops from one of our own testing sites after an algorithm update; and
  • What a link farm is and how to spot one

Rankings and traffic drops from one of our testing sites

Here’s a Semrush screenshot from one of our testing sites that shows search engine rankings falling off a cliff shortly after Google’s December 2022 link spam update:

Screenshot from Semrush showing rankings drop after Google's December 2022 link spam update

This chart from Google Search Console shows the decline in traffic due to the rankings drop:

Screenshot from Google Search Console showing traffic decline following Google's December 2022 link spam update

Our testing site had a lot of spammy links pointing at it from link farms (sometimes called content farms).

It’s clear these links were artificially helping the testing site rank higher before Google rolled out their algorithm update.

What is a link farm?

A link farm is a website built for the purpose of selling links to other websites.

Often these sites are expired domains that may have been legitimate websites in the past.

These domains are snapped up and filled with content across a range of topics.

Because these sites often have a lot of backlinks pointing at them, the metrics from SEO tools can be inflated. This is especially true if the domain used to belong to a genuine business.

A naïve link builder is hoodwinked into believing these inflated metrics.

In their eyes, the perceived value of the link farm is high, and they might think something like, “the metrics look good, a link from this site will help me rank”.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Google is getting better at detecting link farms with each update of their link spam algorithms.

This makes link farms an unsustainable link building tactic.

How can you spot a link farm?

It would be unfair of me to public out a link farm, but there are some tell-tale signs:

  • The website tries to look like a news site that covers a lot of topics.
  • The content quality is poor – the writing is surface level only, lacks any expert insight, and contains lots of external links that don’t really relate to the article.

Here’s a screenshot of a link farm’s top navigation menu (site identity protected):

Screenshot of a link farm's top navigation menu

These sites often have superficial SEO metrics that make the domain appear more valuable to link builders.

This screenshot below shows Moz’s Page Authority (PA) and Domain Authority (DA) scores for this link farm:

Screenshot showing Moz page and domain authority metrics for a link farm

On the surface, this looks like a great site to get a link from; however, the metrics don’t tell the full story about this website. Click the following link to learn more about Moz’s metrics.

Let’s dig a little deeper and ask ourselves whether this site gets any search traffic.

Here’s a Semrush screenshot from the same link farm we’ve been looking at here in this case study:

Screenshot showing Semrush zero traffic for a link farm

You can see Semrush is reporting 0 visitors from all countries except India and even then, the traffic volume (19 visits) is miniscule.

It’s a worthless site.

We can safely presume this link farm has been slapped by Google’s December 2022 link spam update and it has no more linking power.

This means any sites the link farm pointed to no longer benefit from any linking power it may have had.

Remember our testing site from the start of this case study? It has a link pointing at it from this very link farm, plus many more.

This is why the testing site’s rankings dropped so dramatically.

Google caught up with it.

The link farm guest post elevator pitch

This morning, as I wrote this post, an email came through from someone pitching me links from link farms:

A screenshot from an email pitching guest posts on link farms

It’s easy to understand how someone new to SEO might get taken advantage of in this situation.

The reality is, links from these sites will do nothing for your business.

The unrestricted Google Spreadsheet list of link farms

After publishing this post and promoting it on LinkedIn yesterday, it seemed very coincidental to receive two unsolicited shared Google Spreadsheets this morning.

While both spreadsheets came from different email addresses, the notes are essentially the same.

Here’s a screenshot of one as an example (sender identity protected):

Screenshot of shared Google Spreadsheet linking to a list of link farms

Again, it’s easy to see how someone just starting out might be tempted by this offer. There are hundreds of link farms listed in the actual spreadsheet.

You need to remember that if these lists are shared willingly, imagine how many SEOs are getting links on these sites.

Link farms like these have no editorial control, often link out with exact match anchor text and they are probably already flagged by Google’s AI-driven anti spam algorithm, SpamBrain. Click the following link to learn more about SpamBrain.

In summary

We strongly recommend you stay away from link farms and ask your SEO provider how they build links to your website.

The primary focus should be on building great content that makes it easy for real businesses to want to link to you when you reach out to them or when they discover you, organically.

We’ve recently had some client success with listicle outreach, for example.

Why not get in touch to discuss how we can put together a link building strategy that drives results.

Link farms not included.

Picture of Jamie Press

Jamie Press

Digital Marketing Specialist - SEO 15+ years digital marketing agency experience in Sydney and Perth. Jamie's job is to strategise and execute SEO campaigns for Eurisko's clients. His writing has featured on SmartCompany, Moz.com, Shape.com, Homely.com.au, and Mining.com amongst others.

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