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SEO Street Smarts – Don’t Get Lost in a Bad Neighborhood

One of the main points to any search or social media campaign is to get exposure for your brand. I want you to think of your brand like a house that you have for sale. By itself, it’s a beautiful house that could easily be sold for twice its actual value. But when you sell a house, you can’t just take into consideration the house itself when figuring out what you want your asking price to be. You have to consider the neighborhood as well. If your house is in a wonderful neighborhood, you can set a higher asking price than if your house is in a crappy, rundown neighborhood.

The price you want to set on any exposure for your brand is one click through to your website with the hopes that it will turn into a conversion. You can’t expect to get that click if your link is sandwiched in a bad neighborhood. And you can’t expect those links to count towards building your authority and rankings in the search engines either, as Google is slowly working to devalue any links coming from bad neighborhoods.

What Makes a Bad Neighborhood?

Defining elements of a bad neighborhood includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Bad Links – If you see any links to what is known in the SEO world as negative PPC – pills, porn, or casinos – then get out of that neighborhood ASAP.
  • Too Many Links – When it comes to any page on a website, there should be a bigger ratio of content to links. The page shouldn’t be 90% links, 10 % regular content.
  • Spam – Sometimes, even though there are not too many links or bad links, there are still pages that have a disproportionate amount of spam on their pages. It may be to seemingly innocent sites, but chances are if no one is moderating the spam, the bad links are bound to come next.
  • Over Abundance of Ads – Google, ironically a distributor of ads via their own Adsense system, has been cracking down on sites that are more ads than content. Just like a page shouldn’t be 90% links, it shouldn’t be 90% ads either.
  • Poorly Written Content – This one is a little harder to spot, but if you are trying to place content on a site, and you see that the articles are poorly written, then you probably don’t want your content next to it. It’s a sign of sites that may be using “spun” content where someone takes one piece of work and uses software to replace a lot of words to make it seem original.

Now let’s take a look where you might encounter bad neighborhood elements with some examples of what to watch out for.


Blog commenting has been a popular form of link building for a while now. In some cases, however, it is nothing more than link spamming. Here, you will see that the links have no relationship to the post’s content.

blog spam example

This is a good sign that you are looking at an unmoderated neighborhood, and it is not where you want your link to be placed.


Another area for link spammers and other seedy content is within forums. If a forum is not heavily moderated, and you find posts like these, it’s a good idea not to join in on the discussion.

forum spam example

Usually when forums have been hit with this kind of spam, it’s a sign that the community has since moved on.

Resources Pages

If you are ever offered a link exchange (where you link to one site and the other site links to you) – beware. I strongly suggest not taking part in this type of linking, but if you absolutely feel you must, be sure it is with a reputable website that is fully aligned with your industry.

Keep in mind that you will need to check out the type of page they will place your link upon as well, as you wouldn’t want your link to be on a page like this.

resources pages

This page has hundreds (if not thousands) of links on it, and you can even see one of the tell-tale bad neighborhood PPC links right near the bottom of the page.


Similar to resource pages, if you find a directory that is allowing any and all kinds of sites to be listed in it, you will not want your link there. Even if they list the questionable sites under different categories, it is a matter of time before they list some right next to yours.

The simplest way to find out if a directory will list anyone is to do a few queries, such as this one.

bad directories example

This shows that even though they have someone moderating the site, they are allowing just about anyone in.

Article Directories

Before submitting your article to an article directory, you will want to do the same thing you do on regular directories – do a few searches to make sure they aren’t allowing articles on just any topic onto their site.

Also watch out for directories that are covered in ads, like this one.

article directories

This homepage is covered with 7 different blocks of ads plus a block of paid links (and one popup add that I didn’t catch in the screenshot). If they weren’t hit by the Panda update in the first round, they will be in future updates, leaving your article and link on a relatively useless site.

Hacked Sites

This one you shouldn’t come across too often, and it’s hard to know if you are encountering it at all in most cases, but I figured I should mention it. Some innocent seeming websites have a more sinister layer beyond the face of their website. Where? Within their code.

The following is an excerpt of hidden code on a .org site with a Google PageRank of 5, SEOMoz Domain Authority of 49 with 18,000+ backlinks.

hacked links

These are the least offensive four out of over 1,000 links that were added to this page within a DIV layer <div style=”position: absolute; left: -5432px; top: -5432px;”> which means you wouldn’t be able to see the links displayed on the website, but they are on their for search engines to see.

Even though they are not displayed on the site, they are still contributing to a bad neighborhood which goes to show that just because a toolbar gives them high authority rankings doesn’t mean it is a great site to be listed on.

Your Thoughts

The above types of sites and pages are usually the main culprits for being home to bad neighborhoods. What other ones have you found and would like to warn others to avoid? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and forward this article on to ensure that others know what to look out for too!

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, blogger, and social media enthusiast. Her blog Kikolani focuses on blog marketing, including social networking strategies and blogging tips.

  1. Tisha | tMedia May 05, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Kristi – OY! I started blogging about a year ago and my first blog, which I recently decided to shut down, was the victim of a few of the bad neighborhoods you mention here. Link exchanges, Resource pages, Article directories and too many ads all contributed to the demise of my Mom blog. It was hard to avoid getting in with the wrong crowd though, because all the so-called “gurus” I was reading told me those were the best ways to get “tons of traffic!”
    Well…lessons learned.
    Thankfully, I’ve started following the right people (you included :-)), and I think I’m much more on the right track with my new blog. If only I had come across a great article like this a year ago! Ah well…at least I’m “experienced” now ;-)

    • Unfortunately, a year ago I might not have written this as some people would consider these easy targets to get links. Well, of course they are because anyone can get them -that’s the bad part. :)

  2. Juan Manuel Garrido May 05, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Hi, I have a question: Is article submision dead?

    • The trend is that people are moving away from article submissions and towards guest blogging. Of course, with that, you have to have a higher quality of article and be prepared to engage in discussion with the blog owner’s audience – it’s not a write a quick article, drop it and run situation.

      There are still some article sites out there that didn’t get hit by Panda though. Not sure which ones, but I’m guessing that it’s still alright to post there. Other sites like EzineArticles are working to change their rep and get back their rankings, so they will probably get back into the game soon.

    • They aren’t nearly as effective as they use to be a few years back. The quality on those types of sites is also next to terrible for many of the articles too.

  3. I think you make a great point here Kristi…not all links are good links.

    It can be hard when you are just getting started though because most people will take any link they can get, not realizing that it can actually cause more damage than good.

    Thank you for the tips on who/what to avoid!

  4. Thanks for this post – great insight into how to discern between good and bad practice. Nice to go beyond just the ‘importance of link building’ and into the ‘importance of avoiding bad link building’.

  5. You make some excellent points. Sometimes we need to limit the number of ads we place on a site to keep our loyal readers. Too many ads will drive them away.

  6. I don’t think you can completely discourage resource lists as getting onto some of them can take a lot of work and relationship building. You always have to assess the other resources on that list to make a true judgement.

    If they look like they have been hand picked, the list is limited, and they are informative resources relating to your industry, then I would say these are quite valuable.

    What I have found with these is that there is a link exchange, but it is not necessarily a swopping of links.

    You may do an article on someone who is an expert in their field, they see the article, like your site and then add you to their resource list. So although you are both linking back to each other, it has not been part of a drive for reciprocal links, but part of the process of providing quality content for a similar audience.

    • True Kerry. Not all resource pages are bad just like not all directories and blogs are bad. They are just the types of pages you need to watch out to make sure someone isn’t abusing the system.

  7. Kristi, great stuff as always. We use link reciprocation for a few clients and the results have decreased over time. It is very difficult to get links nowadays unless you are offering one of two things: content or cash. Guess which works better?

    • I’ve seen some sites that won’t go for either because they’re so stuck in the concept of reciprocal linking. I can guess between just the two which works though. :)

  8. Excellent advice all around Kristi. Ideal link to content ratio for SEO purposes is said to be one link for every 120 words of content. Obviously, there are exceptions in both directions, but this is a general guideline for a typical article.

    • Thanks Jonathan. I knew there was a specific ratio out there, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Easy to see though, sites that are splattered with all links, little text are a bad idea to be on.

  9. Kristi,
    I like your analogy of the neighborhood, I had never thought of it that way before but it really makes a lot of sense.

    I can’t say that I’ve never made any mistakes but I do follow really closely to all that you’ve shared here.

    One question for you. I have one person who regularly leaves quality comments but her url and commentluv posts are from a poker site. Is that one person/site hurting my SEO? Would you recommend that I stop accepting her links?


    • That one is tough Stacy. I have tended to steer away from accepting links to those sites and just sent a nice email to the comment author that they have a great comment and I would approve it if they changed their linking information.

      I try to put it less in SEO terms and more in this is the type of content I would not want my visitors to click on from my website. I would rather not be the referral point, just like I wouldn’t want to refer my users to an adult site or pharmacy.

    • It’s best to stay away from anything gambling related, unless your site is relevant.

  10. Hi Kristi,

    Interesting Post and i like your analogy between bad neighborhood and seo. Great work, as always.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.


  11. Well, great points were taken here and they’re jewels to keep. Might as well for the bloggers out there, consider today as the starting time for you to re-visit or do some back digging over your blog posts, way before and clean those bad links deposits.

    well written Kristi, as always.

  12. Hi Kristi, a question that popped into my mind while I was reading your post is that when you say avoid ‘Too many links’, what is the optimum amount of outgoing links that one should or could have on each individual site page?

  13. I think we are slowly heading into an era where things are getting cleaned up it will just take a little bit of time. We are already seeing it with the recent Panda update by Google that they are starting to hit spam and poor quality efforts from a new angle. I see a new move from Google with how they sort out links also in the future. Link building is going to take on a whole new definition pretty soon.

    • Very true. It’s going to take up some time, but slowly, Google and other search engines are figuring out how to get rid of the bad results.

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  15. It is obviously a waste of time to get links from so called “bad neighborhoods”, but it is not going to hurt you if you do and there is no need to worry about it.

    If you are linking out from your site to these “bad neighborhood” sites then sure that can hurt you because you are in control of the content and links from your website.

    You are not in control of the links coming into your website.

    • You are right on that. If you’re linking out to these sites, that’s when you’re jeopardizing your own websites presence. However, if a lot of bad neighborhoods are linking to you, that may create a red flag.

  16. Cyrel Nicolas May 26, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Whoa! Thanks for this laudable information. Indeed, we cannot deceive search engines by posting those hack sites and spamming. In order for us to beat search engine in his own is to play accordingly and abide the rules in optimizing.

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