Can Link Building Hurt Your Search Engine Rankings?

Link Building Hurt Ranking

Link building has evolved to become one of the most popular strategies in the field of search engine optimization (SEO). The idea is simple: build high-quality links from a variety of different offsite publishers. These links will boost your website’s domain authority (DA), ultimately giving it the potential to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), netting you more visibility and more traffic. Read on to know whether Link Building Hurt Your Search Engine Rankings.

But there’s another side to this equation. According to Link.Build, “Quality, white-hat link building is difficult, particularly for smaller brands or newer sites. And, it’s getting harder.” Why is that? Because if done improperly, link building can actually hurt your search engine rankings.

“Bad” Link Building and Google Penalties

In the early days of SEO, Google wasn’t particularly selective about the links it considered for authority and ranking calculation purposes. Black hat SEO practitioners could spam links all across the web with reckless abandon, benefitting from the process.

It wasn’t long before Google put some safeguards in place to protect against link spam. And in 2012, Google released the Penguin update, which introduced an even more robust set of tools to fight against link spam and black hat practices.

Google’s goal throughout this process has been to improve the quality of the average user’s web experience. Users don’t like encountering irrelevant, low quality, and non-valuable links as they peruse the web, so Google is disincentivizing people from building them.

If you’re caught building a link that doesn’t meet Google’s quality guidelines, or if your link seems “unnatural” in any way, you might experience a hit to your bottom-line SEO results. A single “bad” link could compromise the integrity of your entire link building campaign.

Additionally, if you practice bad link building habits on a routine basis, or if you demonstrate an egregious example of violating Google’s quality guidelines, you could suffer a manual Google penalty. These penalties tend to be extremely punitive, sometimes delisting your site from the web entirely. However, they tend to be rare – reserved for only the most extreme cases – and they can often be overturned when you take corrective action.

Is Link Building Dangerous?


After reading the previous section, you may walk away with the impression that link building is somehow dangerous. That if you build links as part of your SEO strategy, you’re just asking for a penalty. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. While bad links and problematic link building practices can hurt you, Google relies heavily on links to calculate search engine rankings – and it’s not only possible, but approachable to build the high-quality, user-relevant links it prioritizes in its algorithms.

In short, while bad link building can be dangerous, “good” link building is perfectly acceptable – and a practical requirement if you want any chance of competing in the SEO world.

The Safest Way to Build Links

If you’re scared of the possibility of a penalty, or if you just want to keep things simple, the safest and most straightforward way to build links is by earning them naturally. The idea is to develop the best possible content on your website, including blog posts, whitepapers, and eBooks, then distribute that content via social media and other online channels. If other writers find your work valuable, they’ll naturally link to it in their own work – no manual building required.

But while safe, this strategy is unreliable. You’re completely dependent on others to do the work of building links, so even if your content is virtually perfect, there’s a chance it won’t attract links on its own.

Developing a “Good” Link Building Strategy

If you want more substantive results, you’ll need to develop a “good” link building strategy that reliably gets you the links your website needs to thrive while avoiding penalties. The main goal of this strategy is to build “natural” links.

Most people in the modern SEO world do this by writing and publishing high-quality guest posts on external websites. Doing this is a perfectly natural action, and it’s beneficial for all parties: the writer gets a chance at online visibility, the publisher gets free content, and the readers get a chance to read and learn something new. If you choose topically relevant publishers, invest in high-quality writing, and publish your links in a natural, non-intrusive way, this strategy can do wonders for your domain authority.

That said, quality link building is still a tough strategy to get into – and it requires a lot of attention to detail. If you’re not careful, you might build a bad link that hurts your domain authority, or your growth might stagnate if you don’t find a way to reach out to new publishers. You’ll need to remain patient and adaptable if you want to succeed in this area. 

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