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What does Link Farm mean in SEO?

Link farms are websites created purely for the purposes of listing links to other websites. They aren't used by real people because their own content is often poorly curated or moderated and many of the websites they link to in their lists are of poor quality. So why do they exist and who uses them?

The importance of backlinks


To understand why link farms exist we need to go back a bit to when the Internet first became available to the public. Google did not exist and search engines were simple affairs. They would look at a page and conclude what it was about based on basic tests such as what words are in the title, what words were in something known as the keyword tag, what words were used most often on the page.

It wasn't long before spammers realized it was pretty easy to fool a search engine into thinking a page was about one thing when to humans it would be obvious it was about something else altogether.

They could make pages which search engines would understand as being about 'pictures of kittens' but if you or I looked at it all we would really see would be advertisements or a gambling service of all sorts of other underhand things.

Enter Google


Google changed search by going beyond what was on each individual website or page. It looked at what backlinks a page had and where they were coming from calculating a Page Rank score for every single page it knew about.

Links from high quality sites counted for more but just about any link counted for something.

Then they made a bit of a gaff. Matt Cutts, head of Google Webspam at the time, suggested a good place to get links were directories. Suddenly every man and his dog were making directories just to provide backlinks to other websites.

The free ones were usually very poorly moderated and managed so a category page claiming to list websites about real estate could easily have adult and gambling sites mixed up in it.

It was not long before computing power was bought to bear. For a few dollars you could submit your website to be listed on tens of thousands of directories all at once. The thing was, no one except Google was using these directories and as every link counted for something getting tens of thousands in one swoop was driving pretty poor quality websites to the top of the search results.

When directories become link farms


Google had to act and they did so by announcing directories which were simply there to provide backlinks would be classed as Link Farms. If you had a link from one of these it would count for nothing ... no link juice. That decision remains today.

But how can Google tell a genuine directory from a link farm. It's actually pretty easy. If the category pages are all mixed up that's a sure fire sign that this is a very poor quality directory and probably a link farm.

If no one creates backlinks to these directories (because no one wants to be seen recommending rubbish) except for the people who needed to do so in order to get an entry (known as Reciprocal linking - I link to you and you link to me) then that was another sign that you were looking at a link farm.

And many of the mega-submission services which offered to get your website into thousands of directories often listed them and so provided a complete list of link farms straight to Google.

How do you know what is a directory and what is a link farm?


From a webmasters point of view there are some easy flags to follow:
  • Is the directory moderated or will they accept anything? Instant acceptance no matter what you submit means its a link farm.
  • If you search the directory name do you see real people around the web mentioning it (e.g. Yellow Pages, FourSquare, etc.)? If real people aren't talking about it, its a link farm.
  • Do the listings actually provide useful and rich information that is more than just a link (e.g. images, descriptions, contact details, locations, etc). If the link is the key feature of the listing its a link farm.
  • Are you being offered listings in hundreds or thousands of directories for a few dollars? Those are link farms.

So link farms are simply websites with page after page of links. They might try to be ordered or categorized in some way but ultimately their role is not to be a useful resource for real people but a place where backlinks can be created for the sole purposes of trying to improve the rankings of other websites.

Get one link, buy ten thousand, they won't change your rankings. In fact if Google catches you doing it you'll lose any rankings you did have.

They are yesteryear SEO. Focus on valid search engine optimization.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

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