How to recognize a paid link from a natural link

I wrote earlier about link building, how to find and train link builders. I think now it is time to write about trying to recognize paid links from natural links.

When you are doing link building, you should avoid getting links from websites that are obviously selling links (no, I don’t mean Google’s sponsored links or similar). That is bad SEO and against Google’s rules. You shouldn’t pay for links, but you can send content to the website or just ask the webmaster to place a link to his website. Links should look natural and fit into the content.

Sometimes it can be difficult to draw a line between paid link and natural link. There are anyway some general patterns that you can recognize.

1. Links are hidden among the text

You don’t really see any outgoing links from the normal page view, but if you take the text only -version, you will notice all the links hidden in the footer or somewhere else in the text.

2. Lots of outgoing links from the site, especially to commercial sites

A website has lots of outgoing links without any reference to this other websites. As an example could be a page explaining about cardiovascular training and then linking with an anchor text “weight loss” to a website that is promoting weight loss pills.

3. Outgoing links in an unnatural way from each blog post

A blog has outgoing links from every blog post without the blogger to refer to these other sites he is linking to. Quite common is to have 2-3 links from each blog post to the same website, using keywords as anchor texts.

4. Unrelated links

A website has unrelated links in the content. With unrelated link I mean a link that is not related to the content of the page. An example could be a website about health and suddenly there is a link to casino site.

I know it is very hard to get links from websites without any incentives, I have bumped into the problem several times at my work. You just need to be creative and try to come up with ideas how to get links without needing to pay for those.

Link building – how to find and train link builders

Link building is very basis of SEO, but it is time consuming, it requires hard work and patience. It is always an advantage if you can hire someone to do link building for yourself rather than do it yourself. But, to find and educate one can be tricky and there is always a risk that your site gets banned from Google if link building is done by suspicious way (black hat SEO).

Petter Attia published an article last week about How to Train a Link Builder. In the article he assumed that the person to be trained didn’t know anything about SEO. I have trained several link builders in my previous job and I can relate to the article he wrote. Some differences in the order how to start and proceed with the training there are though.

1. Finding an appropriate person to do link building.

This can be difficult because often the candidates don’t really know what the work is about. It is important to make it clear already in the first interviews that there will be no misunderstandings and then huge disappointments when the work starts. Being unmotivated is one of the worst things and it will definitely kill all the creativity.

Maybe the most important qualities that the potential candidate has is being street smart, creative and ambitious. They don’t need to know anything about SEO, but they should be familiar with surfing in Internet and interested in it.

You can find more ideas from Justin Briggs’s article What Makes an Effective Link Builder.

2. Educating the link builder with the basics in SEO

Comprehensive training in link building is the key. Even though a link builder don’t need to know much about SEO, it is still good to teach him the basics of SEO and how search engines work, what is the difference between anchor text and keyword, etc.

4. What kind of sites to contact

This is critical and apparently so hard for some link builders to know. What kind of sites are ok to contact? They cannot be too spammy, they can’t be selling links or have suspicious incoming/outgoing links, and the content of the site shouldn’t be copied, especially of there is no reference to the original content. There is always a risk that your site gets banned from Google if you do suspicious link building.

What is a good website then? This is about analyzing the websites where you need to use some SEO tools (e.g. SEO toolbar, Quirk search status, etc.) and know some important parameters: age, overall link profile, Google cache date, how many indexed pages the website has, how is the content quality…. The list is quite long but the link builder have to know the list and keep in mind the important parameters.

There are not clear answers to all questions about the parameters, so common sense and ability to be street smart are important.

3. What is a good link and link placement

Where in the website to place the link? Preferably not in the footer, header or marginal, too close to other outgoing links, etc), what keywords to use and to what landing page to link, etc. The links built should be registered and marked down somewhere, and you should (or some of the SEOs) check the links built and give feedback on those. These kind of quality controls are important in the learning perspective and to be able to increase the quality of the links.

4. Emailing and negotiating

How to start sending out emails and make sure that they won’t go to spam filters? What words should be avoided in the email, and what is a good subject. How to structure the email.

What if the link builder don’t get any replies? Have to send reminders. How many, how often?

The link builder gets a negative reply. What to answer, or should he answer? What about answering to a positive email, how to get forward in negotiations?

Michael King wrote a great article about sending emails, Throw Away Your Form Letters (or Five Principles to Better Outreach Link Building. It is worth reading.


This article was just to show how it is to actually educate link builders what things are worth to take into consideration. Of course it always depends on your site and what kind of industry you are working with, how careful you need to be.

What is important it’s to follow up and monitor the link built and what effects it has on your rankings. Quality controls, constant feedback and encouraging the link builders to ask lots of questions is vital.