Should You Avoid Link Farms for SEO?

Spoiler alert: yes, you should.

Link farms sell low-quality backlinks and try to manipulate Google’s algorithm, which explicitly violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This makes them (and any sites involved in the link farming scheme) prone to penalties.

Being involved with link farms can hurt your site’s rankings and organic traffic and, ultimately, your business’s revenue.

The million-dollar question then becomes: How can you identify and avoid link farms?

It can get tricky, but there are several tell-tale signs you can look for.

In this article, we’ll go over:

A link farm is a website (or a group of websites) whose purpose is to sell links to other sites that are looking to increase the number of links in their backlink profile. 

Link farms don’t strive to create high-quality content or share useful information/services with internet users. Instead, they post low-quality content just to create these links.

While some are easy to spot, others hide behind high authority metrics and look like normal sites at first glance.

Take a look at this example:

Even though this is a DR 60 site (which is a relatively high authority score), this site is a link farm. And there are several giveaways that we’ll explore later in this article.

So, are link farming and earning links from link farms things you should avoid?

Link farm owners are often in the business of selling backlinks. They try to manipulate search rankings by selling links that pass link juice — but are considered link spam and go against Google’s guidelines explicitly, making link farming a black hat SEO technique.

Here’s what Google says about selling links specifically:

By violating Google’s guidelines, link farms are constantly exposed to severe penalties. 

Does this also affect a site that has earned a backlink from a link farm? Yes, this rule also clearly covers spam links pointing toward your website.

Though once an effective way to boost a site’s rankings, link farming is now a very risky — and heavily penalized — black hat SEO technique.

Over the years, Google’s algorithm has improved and gotten better at identifying link farm schemes and penalizing them.

Manual inspections can also be carried out by Google’s spam team to penalize sites that break the guidelines.

The risks of a penalty include:

  • Your pages ranking lower or being omitted entirely from Google search results
  • The possibility of the penalty affecting your entire domain
  • Significant drops in organic traffic, which could decrease revenue
  • Difficulty (and time) to recover from the penalty

Most links on link farms are paid for, which is a no-go. But even if you manage to earn a link on a link farm without paying for it, do you really want it?

It’s a link from a low-quality site that’ll probably soon be penalized.

Whatever “authority” or link juice a link farm may have garnered by tricking Google into thinking it’s a legit website can disappear at any time. And your site is still at risk of being affected by the fallout.

If you’re evaluating a website to determine whether you should reach out to them for a link to your site, there are several red flags that you should look out for.

Some of these can be observed upon simple inspection, while others require a more detailed analysis.

Note: Sometimes the evaluation might not be as clear-cut, so you’ll need to spot a combination of red flags to make sure you’re dealing with a link farm. 

Red Flag #1: Low-Quality Content

As I mentioned before in the example, low-quality content can be an indicator of a site being used to farm links.

Here are some obvious signs of low-quality content that you’ll often find on link farms:

  • Uses poor grammar
  • The writing is hard to follow or understand
  • Has little-to-no helpful information
  • Looks like it was written by someone who doesn’t understand the language or topic

For example, read the following excerpt from a link farm’s article:

Do you find anything strange? Did you find it hard to follow, or did you struggle to understand what the article is talking about?

This is a low-quality, incoherent article that provides little-to-no value to a reader. The article is likely AI or spun content (unoriginal paraphrased content), created with pretty much no editorial standards.

AI content and article spinning are very common tactics among link farms because they help link farms create a bunch of low-quality content (where they can include links) that — on the surface — seems legit to both crawlers and visitors.

Red Flag #2: The Site Doesn’t Have a Specific Topic

High-quality sites tend to revolve around a specific topic or set of topics, with most pages being related in some way.

There’s a big exception to this: news sites. 

News outlets have a bit more freedom when it comes to the range of topics they can write and post about. 

Link farm owners know that, which is why a lot of link farms try to mimic legit news sites.

Here’s a screenshot of the navigation menu of the site from our earlier link farm example (please, act surprised):

They seem to write about a few different topics, which is already suspicious. But it gets worse. 

When you click on “More”, this is what you see:

They’ll write about ANYTHING.

An easy way to tell whether a news site is potentially a link farm is to determine whether the site belongs to a real media outlet (magazine, newspaper, new channel, etc.) by doing a quick Google search. 

If the Google search remains inconclusive, other red flags on this list will help you decide whether you should reach out to a site.

Red Flag #3: They Write About Spammy Topics

This goes in line with the previous warning sign.

Finding content about spammy topics like CBD, casinos, and pornography is a huge red flag. These niches are very hard to build quality links to — for example, most high-quality sites tend to prohibit guest posts on these topics.

So, sites in these industries resort to link farms as a way of getting backlinks.

In our example, the footer shows some spammy categories:

Here’s what the articles in the “Gaming” section look like (again, to no surprise):

Red Flag #4: They Don’t Have (Convincing) About Pages

Link farms lack an “About” page or have a very generic one. 

These generic “About” pages tend to include a vague description of the site or its owner (usually a fake persona with a fake name, photo, and contact details).

Here are a few examples:

Red Flag #5: They Sell Links (or Seem To)

Another red flag you should look out for is any sign that the site is selling links.

While some sites are very explicit about it, others disguise it under “Advertorial” or “Write for us” buttons. While not always definitive, you should look out for these, especially if they’re very blatant about it.

Red Flag #6: They Use a Basic Template Design

Although link farms can hide behind an aesthetic website design, some of them don’t even try. There is a set of templates that a lot of link farms use. 

This red flag might be hard to identify at first, but once you’ve seen several of them, you’ll get better at spotting them.

Unlike the previous red flags, which can all be observed while inspecting a website visually, some other red flags can only be identified using tools.

My go-to link farm analysis tool is Ahrefs.

Here’s how to use Ahrefs to check for link farm red flags.

Look Further into the Metrics

Metrics like Domain Rating (DR) and traffic alone don’t really tell the full story when it comes to determining a site’s quality. 

They always need to be analyzed along with other factors.

Many link farms hide behind high DR values.

This can happen for a number of reasons. For example, the site could belong to a link farm scheme and receive a lot of backlinks from other sites. It could also be that the site bought an expired domain that had a high DR.

Here are the metrics for our first example (taken from Ahrefs):

The site has a relatively high DR, and judging by that value alone, it would seem like a good link building opportunity. But as we’ve seen already, it’s a link farm.

Organic traffic can also be a deceiving metric by itself. However, it can provide valuable information about a site’s real quality.

Content or “news” sites, which post a lot of articles, should drive a decent amount of traffic, especially if they also have a high DR. In our link farm example, the organic traffic value is on the lower side, which is suspicious. 

On the other hand, if a site offers real services or products (and blog posts are only a part of their website), lower traffic values are to be expected.

You can use Ahrefs “Top Pages” under “Legacy” to see where the traffic is coming from.

The report will show the top pages ranked by traffic and the total number of crawled pages on the site.

As you can see, the number of pages is quite high for such a low traffic value (almost 1 visit per page on average).

As I mentioned before, link farms can also have large organic traffic numbers (like in the example below), so beware.

Outgoing Links

Linking out to high-quality sites is a normal and healthy SEO practice. However, excessive linking and linking out to poor-quality sites can indicate that a site is a link farm.

Ahrefs allows you to see the domains a site is linking to with its “Linked domains” report.

In the example above, the number of linked domains appears to be quite high.

In order to inspect this number further, let’s see what kinds of domains it’s linking out to. For example, let’s see if any linked domains include the word casino.

This site is linking out to 219 different domains that belong to casino sites. That’s a red flag.

Ranks for Random Keywords

The Top Pages report and the Organic Keywords report on Ahrefs can also be used to see which keywords a site is ranking for.

Ranking for random or spammy keywords is a red flag, especially if the keywords aren’t related to the site’s supposed niche. Once again, “news” sites are a very convenient link farm model because they technically could write about just anything.

Let’s go back to one of our examples. You can see the top pages seem all over the place and rank for weird and random keywords.

For comparison, this is what the Top Pages report looks like for a legitimate Orlando news site. It’s mostly ranking for Florida news.

If you decide to outsource your link building efforts, you should make sure that the agency or freelancer that you hire won’t hurt your SEO by engaging with link farming schemes.

Link farms offer easy and inexpensive links, which is why you should watch out for link building services that offer you a high amount of backlinks for a very low price. These services usually pay for links from link farms.

Here’s what you should consider before hiring link building services if you want to avoid black hat services and Google penalties:

  • What link building techniques do they use? Are they white hat techniques (like the ones we mention in this article)? Do they pay for links?
  • What factors do they look at when determining whether a site is worth reaching out to?
  • Do they have examples of high-quality backlinks they’ve earned for other clients?
  • Do they have examples of how their link building services improved another site’s SEO rankings?
  • Are they setting realistic expectations? Or do they offer very high DR links, tons of backlinks, or very fast results (at a low price)?

When working with a link builder you should also ask for a report of the links that are being built and always judge the quality.

Here’s a checklist to keep on hand when you’re judging the quality of a backlink:

For more help on judging backlinks, check out our guide on building high authority links.

Link farms break Google’s guidelines to try to manipulate its algorithm, so they’re bound to be penalized. 

You don’t want your site anywhere near when that happens.

When building links to your site, look out for the warning signs that I’ve shared with you in this article to avoid reaching out to link farms. It’ll save you a lot of time AND potential headaches. 

If you’re currently looking for a trustworthy link building service that’ll improve your SEO and stay far away from link farms, fill out our contact form. We’ll be happy to give you guidance whether that means working together or not.

Is link farming illegal?

Link farming, like other black hat SEO techniques, is not illegal, but it breaks Google’s guidelines. Engaging in this type of practice is highly likely to result in a Google penalty.

Can I disavow links that come from a link farm?

Yes. If your site has received a manual penalty or you’re certain that a backlink you built is coming from a link farm, you can use Google’s Disavow tool to tell Google to ignore that link. However, this feature can potentially harm your site, so it must be used with caution.

What is the difference between a link farm and a private blog network?

Link farm schemes and private blog networks (PBNs) are very similar. The difference lies in their purpose. PBNs are groups of sites that are built to link out to an external site (that’s not part of the PBN) and transfer SEO juice to it. Link farms, on the other hand, all link out to each other to boost each other’s rankings.

Can a link farm have a high DA?

Yes, link farms may have high DA, DR and/or traffic. Therefore, these metrics shouldn’t be the only thing you take into account when evaluating the quality of a site.


About the author

Aaron Anderson is a 9-year SEO veteran, who has been a full-time link builder for the last 4 years. He cares a lot about delivering quality work to clients, and prides himself on being a trusted voice in an industry that is challenging for clients to navigate.

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