Before I go into why I think you should consider whether or not you want to continue link backing in the future, I want to touch on the ways that it does work.
Active Advertiser = Active Site
There is a belief within the community that a forum that is actively advertising across the stratosphere is an active forum; and that a commitment to advertising is a reflection of the admin's commitment to their community. I debate the validity of that belief - after all how many times have you gone to link back to find that the forum is dead? The belief however is out there, and you might feel that capitalising on that belief outweighs the potential drawbacks to link backing.
Advertising regularly = Users remember you
If you have saturated the market and continue saturating the market with your ads, users and admins are going to remember you. They'll definitely remember you if there is something about your forum that they're curious about, but maybe they don't have the time to commit to another forum at that time. Should their current forum fall under, they may go directly to your site to give it a thorough look over.
It does get you members
Link backing can yield some legitimate non-admin traffic, and some of that traffic can be converted into active members. In this guide, I am not claiming that link backs are completely ineffective. I am however, querying if it is effective enough.
Now to the true purpose of this guide! Most of you are probably already adherents to the link back faith, so let's focus on ways that it doesn't work, and may be harmful to your site.
It may harm your search result ranking
The theory of link backing is this:
A site that links to your site is a vote of confidence (assuming a no follow value is not used), by having numerous votes of confidence, google takes note and increases your search result ranking.
This is why spam bots join a forum and create posts that are full of links. It's not so much about getting users to click through (though sweet if they do), but about using your site to increase their ranking. There are other ways to inflate your ranking using links, not just bots. They're called link schemes.
In June of 2018, Google reported that they "doubled down [their] effort in removing unnatural links via ranking improvements and scalable manual actions." Source (Google) This is where you should consider what a link scheme is, as it falls under the umbrella of "unnatural links".
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results: [...]
- Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
Potentially therefore, the link back exchange we have going on in the roleplay world is simply be ignored when it comes to google building an impression of your site. (In 2016, link backing might have been devaluing your links) Therefore, if you are dropping links in the hopes of building your search engine ranking, rethink this. It's probably not having any effect.
It may have a detrimental effect on your search engine results
To demonstrate this, I googled a bunch of random sites, adding jcink on the end because none of the sites I googled would get me their forum through their name alone. If the site is not on jcink, I switched jcink to roleplay.
First result is to their first link forum and is showing text describing another site.
First result was to the correct site, but it was directly to someone's advertisement. As I said in the image, I was worried that I was forcing that result by putting jcink in there. So I googled [site name] roleplay. The result was a book. The site I was looking for was not on the first page of results.
This time we hit the right site! Some things to note however, they're a secure site and they do not have many advertisements.
Another jackpot! These guys have a unique name however, which strongly helps when searching for them.
Again, searching for this site took me to another person's forum but to that particular person's ad. If I switch the search terms to [site name] roleplay, I get Dungeons and Dragons related sites. If I change it to [site name] forum roleplay, I get Dungeons and Dragons related forum topics.
There were a number of sites that I simply couldn't get to display when searching for them. For many that I did get to display, the link was taking you to another site.
If I google forum roleplay, the only site I get is a reddit thread with an ad for a site that is part of this community. Not a single first page result involved a link back exchange. If you have hundreds of links going to your site, and if link backing was an effective technique, wouldn't it be easier to find you? As it stands, I have to search for the site name to get close to your site, and more often than not I'm going to get someone else's forum, or people advertising on your site.
Let's switch my terms to jcink roleplay. I still don't get actual sites. I get tumblr.
You're advertising to people who already have a 'home'
So, I have yet to find any evidence that link backing improves your search ranking results and more often than not, spoils when you might get a result. So that leaves us with the point of advertising: getting members.
Except by focusing your attention on link backing, you're targeting users that already either have a 'home,' or are managing their own 'home.' Whilst I have noted that it is possible to gain a few users through link backing, you don't get many and that's because the platform you're focusing your energy on is only regularly used by admins looking for more places to drop their links.
Your target audience: people who are looking for a place to roleplay. They're probably not scouring link back forums for that place to roleplay.
Linking is tedious. Captcha is tedious. Finding the right forum to post in is tedious. Loading all of those slow sites is tedious. It's a laborious process that is only soothing in it's repetition. You spend hours farming other people's sites to drop your advertisement and for those hours you spend, you get....a handful of members?
Quite simply, is the amount of time you spend doing this worth the number of people you get?
Link backing is a practice that should be properly interrogated for effectiveness. The practice is a link scheme, and google ignores sites that show evidence of participating in such a thing. It spoils your search results should you get a result, often leading users to different sites or displaying information for another site. It also targets the wrong audience and finally, it's inefficient.
Given all of that, is it worth it?
That's entirely up to you.
- Moz - Link Explorer - you have to register but you can see what the spam ranking of sites linking to you are.
- Google Search Console - gives you some information about your google search ranking.
- Google Analytics - you can see what browsers and devices your users are using, and how people are getting to your site.
- Beginner's Guide to SEO - this guide provides some solutions to the problems I've posed. Spoiler alert: the solutions are not easy. This guide will also expand on some of the things I've touched on, such as the importance of having a secure site. Another spoiler: google actively devalues insecure links.
- Moz - SEO Learning Centre - same site as above, but with a few more topics for you to explore should you be interested.