Link Farming: What It Is and How It Affects SEO

Link farming was once a go-to tactic for manipulating search engine rankings. But as search engines have grown smarter, the effectiveness of link farms has diminished.

Link farms are not a suggested or ethical activity. They are employed to try to game the system and get an unfair advantage in search engine results.

Link farms are low-quality websites that operate non-legitimately to provide links to another website. A link farm owner sells black hat links against search engine guidelines by modifying existing posts or by posting false guest posts.

Link farming allows the site owners to make money quickly, but this is short-lived. The link farm website owners try to sell as many links and posts from other sites as they can to their websites, knowing the site will eventually crash. Link farms sometimes resemble a regular website, and here we’ll show you how to spot them and understand the problems they present.

In this article:

  1. Understanding Link Farms
  2. The Evolution of Link Farms
    • The Early Days
    • The Shift to Google
    • The Decline
  3. Google’s Stance on Link Farms
  4. Effective Ways to Identify a Link Farm
    • Link Farms vs. Private Blog Networks
  5. Consequences of Using Link Farms
  6. How to Protect Against Link Farming?
  7. How Do I Get Organic Site Links?
  8. The Future of Link Farms
  9. Key Takeaways
  10. Frequently Asked Questions
  11. Conclusion
  12. Related Reads

Understanding Link Farms

A link farm is a network of websites created solely to boost search engine rankings through hyperlinks between the sites. The purpose is to artificially inflate a site’s importance in the eyes of search engines. 

Website A links to website B, and website B links back to website A. This is how link farms work.

The motive behind link schemes such as link farms is that search engines will give a website greater weight and credibility if other websites connect, resulting in higher placement in search results. By linking sites together in a cyclical fashion, webmasters aim to boost website rankings. More incoming links were believed to signal higher-quality content.

In the early days of SEO, link farms were an easy way to manipulate search results. But as algorithms advanced, this tactic became increasingly penalized. This black hat SEO method breaks search engine rules, may penalize you, and make your search engine ranks drop.

The Evolution of Link Farms

The Early Days

Market share of search engines when link farms emerged.

Link farms first emerged in the late 90s with Inktomi and AltaVista. These early search engines relied heavily on link counts, making link farms an effective tactic.

The Shift to Google 

Google’s PageRank algorithm was a game changer. Rather than just counting links, it evaluated their quality. Link farms could still work, but additional effort was required.

Reciprocal linking was used to try and fool PageRank. Webmasters exchanged links between sites rather than creating dense networks.

The Decline 

As Google continued improving its algorithms, link farms became increasingly ineffective and risky:

  • Google Panda (2011) – Targeted low-quality content farms with thin or duplicated content. 
  • Google Penguin (2012) – Penalized over-optimization and manipulative linking schemes.
  • Google SpamBrain (2018) – In 2018, Google introduced the SpamBrain system to detect and prevent spammy links. This link spam update aims to identify unnatural linking patterns that affect the quality of search results. 
  • SpamBrain 2021 Update – This AI-based spam prevention system continued to adapt to link farming tactics. It has penalized 6 times more websites than in 2020.
  • SpamBrain 2022 Update – Earlier this year, Google updated their spam prevention system to make it more effective. Since its rollout on January 12, 2023, unnatural linking patterns won’t have a positive effect on a website’s ranking. 
A graph of link building tactics over time from 2000 to 2020.

By the mid-2000s, link farms were on the decline as penalties grew more severe. It’s vital to check the backlink profile of your website to avoid link farms. You can check all incident reports from Google Search Dashboard to see which core update affected your website’s ranking.

Google’s Stance on Link Farms

Google is strongly opposed to link farms and considers them a violation of its guidelines. Its algorithms are designed to detect and filter out unnatural linking patterns. 

Most common link penalty triggers.

There are two primary penalties for link farms:

  • De-indexing – Removing pages or entire sites from Google’s index.
  • Ranking demotion – Lowering a site’s position in search results.

According to Google:

“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.”

Google wants search results to reflect genuine popularity and relevance. Link farms undermine this aim. Google has also created sophisticated algorithms to find link farms and other types of link manipulation, which can lead to fines or even the removal of legitimate websites from the search engine results pages.

Effective Ways to Identify a Link Farm

Imagine you are looking for cake-related websites to link to. And you come across a website that sells cake with numerous outbound links. You might see this as a green flag in building links.

However, upon close inspection, you found out that the outbound links have the same exact anchor text and the website’s ranking is low. You also saw that their website design is unsatisfactory, and the content is of poor quality.

Even if the number of outbound links is enticing, you should avoid linking to this website. It is most likely a link farm for cake-related products. 

You can spot link farms by simple means:

  • Check the links and their anchor texts – If the anchor texts are repetitive and commonly used, the website is most likely a link farm.
  • Visit the website and assess its quality – Link farms have poor content, a lot of advertising, and no apparent goal. If you notice these patterns, leave their website.
  • Check for an unusual number of linking websites – Link farms have a lot of backlinks. If the numbers are off the roof, the website might be a link farm.
  • Look for irrelevant or unrelated information – Relevance between the website’s content and its backlinks is important in identifying a link farm. If the backlink’s content is unrelated to the website’s content, avoid linking to it.
  • Link analysis tools are great for identifying link farms – Tools like Ahrefs and MajesticSEO allow you to look at the backlink profile and assist in identifying link farms.

Link Farms vs. Private Blog Networks

Private blog networks (PBNs) are sometimes considered an evolution of traditional link farms.

Link FarmsPrivate Blog Networks (PBNs)
Densely interlinked network of sitesNetwork of authority niche sites that link out
Thin, duplicate, low-quality contentOriginal high-quality content
Easy for Google to identifyMuch harder for Google to prove manipulation
Comparison between link farms and private blog networks (PBNs).

However, PBNs still pose many of the same risks if done improperly. Google can still identify patterns of unnatural linking. 

The days of easy shortcuts to rankings are over. There are no substitutes for high-value content and genuine links.

Consequences of Using Link Farms

Link farms

If you have link farms in your backlink profile, you might face penalties or even get banned from search engine results. Paid link farms might be an easy way to get hundreds of backlinks, but it can lead to your website shutting down.

Engaging in link farming can incur lasting damage:

  • Complete removal from rankings – Having your whole site de-indexed. 
  • Significant traffic and revenue losses – Upwards of a 90% drop in organic traffic is possible.
  • Months of recovery – Waiting for link penalties to be lifted post-cleanup.
  • Permanent site damage – In some cases, sites never fully recover their lost rankings.

The risks posed by link farming simply aren’t worth the potential rewards. Google’s algorithms have become extremely sophisticated at identifying and penalizing manipulative practices.

The types of Google penalties incurred are manual actions, algorithmic devaluations, and algorithmic demotions.

These link penalties will have a great impact on organic traffic.

Impact of Google penalties to organic traffic.

Producing high-quality content is the natural way to obtain high-quality backlinks to your website. There are serious risks involved in engaging in link farming, thus we discourage you from using them. Search engines see link farms as a direct violation of their guidelines and an attempt to cheat their algorithm.

How to Protect Against Link Farming?

Try these proven and tested ways to protect your website against link farming:

  • Use nofollow tags: If you come across a doubtful source, you can use the nofollow tag when linking to it. This signals Google that you do not trust the website.
  • Avoid paid links as much as possible: Paid links can be problematic since search engines can view them as link farms.
  • Prioritize quality over quantity: Always go for high-quality links even if you only get one link per month. One high-quality link outweighs a hundred irrelevant link farms.
  • Monitor your backlinks frequently: You can spot link farms by monitoring the backlinks that you receive. 
  • Report suspected link farms: If you encounter a link farm, report the link so search engines can take appropriate action.

How Do I Get Organic Site Links?

  1. Request fellow websites and blogs in your niche to share your content with their audiences if they find it useful.
  2. Provide relevant and intriguing topics that benefit your audience.
  3. Engage in online forums and communities that are pertinent to your niche and share your content there.
  4. To raise the visibility of your website, promote it on social media and other platforms.
  5. Utilize internal linking to make it easier for search engines to comprehend the layout of your website and the connections between the pages.
  6. A link to your website should be included in your author profile when you guest post on other websites.

The Future of Link Farms

There is a significant drop in the number of penalized websites from 2015 to 2021.

As algorithms continue advancing, link farms have become an antiquated and ineffective tactic. Google has prioritized cleaning up search results, leaving little opportunity for manipulation.

It’s unlikely there will ever be a resurgence of traditional link farm networks. However, the core mindset of gaming rankings still exists. As long as shortcuts are sought, new gray hat tactics will emerge. But they too will eventually be stamped out.

Key Takeaways

  • Link farms were once an easy SEO tactic but are now heavily penalized.
  • Google is strongly opposed to any form of artificial link manipulation.
  • Getting caught in a link farm can devastate a site’s rankings and traffic.  
  • Private blog networks are not a foolproof replacement for traditional link farms.
  • Attempting to trick search results is a losing battle as algorithms grow more advanced.

The risks of link farming far outweigh the potential rewards. Those seeking long-term success must embrace ethical SEO practices and high-quality content. No shortcuts can circumvent this reality.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is link farming illegal?

Although link farming is regarded as a black hat SEO technique that goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, the practice is not illegal. Penalties and a drop in search engine ranks are two possible outcomes of backlinks from link farms.

What if someone link farms to my site?

You should take steps to disavow links to your website if you find out they were obtained from a link farm. This entails telling Google which links to ignore when determining your search engine rankings by submitting a disavow file via Google Search Console.

What is meant by link farming?

Link farms are websites that are created solely to provide links from another site. The links farms are often linked websites not aimed at spreading information and not just educating consumers.

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

A link farm is a densely interlinked network of sites used solely to manipulate rankings. A private blog network (PBN) is a collection of authority niche sites that link out to clients. However, Google may still consider a poorly executed PBN to be a form of link manipulation.

How do search engines identify and penalize link farms?

Algorithms analyze linking patterns to identify unnatural, artificial links that don’t reflect genuine popularity. If a linkage scheme is identified, pages may be deindexed or demoted in rankings through manual or algorithmic penalties.

What are some ethical alternatives to link farms for improving SEO?

Focus on producing high-quality content that earns genuine links. Do outreach to get mentions from reputable sites in your industry. Prioritize user experience and satisfaction over tricks meant to temporarily boost rankings. There are no shortcuts to sustainable organic growth.


The primary purpose of link farms is to increase the number of links pointing to a specific website in order to influence search engine rankings. The main objective of these websites, which frequently feature low-quality content, is to link to other websites to increase link popularity and their search engine ranks artificially. Other Search engines like Google and Bing will punish link farms since they are considered spam and will lead to penalizing your website.

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