Guest Post Farms, Manipulating DR and Trashy Traffic
Here are some things to look out for when building backlinks we have been seeing a huge increase in guest post farms over the past 12 months. I can understand the appeal you can make a site which can demand $100+ per post with relative ease to people who aren’t paying attention to anything other than metrics - which unfortunately is a lot of people.
Below we’re going to discuss some of the things that my staff have been noticing recently when building backlinks for clients, hopefully it can help you and give you some ideas of how your minimum requirements and goals for backlinks could be hurting you if you don’t pay attention to the bigger picture of why you need backlinks in the first place.
Ultimately, the reason for these issues fall under Goodheart’s Law which states “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”
There’s certainly a balance that needs to be met as we need some quantitative minimums as guidelines for our link building efforts but if you are only looking at a few, narrow metrics you can really miss out on some good link building opportunities. As well as open yourself up to building low quality links just to hit minimums.
What this basically means for us as digital marketers is that we need to be really careful when deciding how we set our link targets. If our goals for link building revolve around DR and traffic minimums then we are open to fall victim to these things mentioned below.
What Is A Guest Post Farm?
Before we get started I think that I should introduce what guest posts farms are, I have seen these for a few years now to be honest. They are sites whose sole purpose is to have paid placements posted on them.
They are just another type of website monetisation which can earn the owners a lot of money. Some of these sites are very active, one of the sites mentioned below posted 6 articles on one day this week which were all clearly paid posts - their starting price of a placement was $150, while it’s likely these are being negotiated to say $75 per post that’s still a lot of money if they can keep up the demand.
If they can do 100 posts per month - only 3 to 4 per day this site could be generating $7,500+ per month. Not bad when you consider that a lot of these sites are run by people who have a portfolio of these sites.
My team often receive responses like this back from site owners who openly show their portfolio, quite often if you look at the outbound links you'll find people who are using all the placements offered by one owner.
They are often preying on the less knowledgeable SEOs who are just blindly following metrics. If you follow the guidelines below you should be able to avoid falling to this trap.
Manipulating Domain Rating (DR)
We all know that there is no perfect metric for the power of a domain and Ahref’s DR metric is no exception. As part of the way they calculate DR they take into consideration the amount of outbound links from a domain, which makes perfect sense but it leaves room for people to abuse it.
If you consider DR in the way people do internal linking it makes it easier to understand this, at least it did for me. If your website has 100 points and each time it links out it passes an equal distribution of these points this means that if you link to 10 pages each page will receive 10 DR points whereas, if you link to 100 pages each page will only receive 1 DR point.
The amount of DR points increases the higher DR a site in a logarithmic manner. So a site with a high DR has a significantly higher amount of DR points to pass out.
So now we have a very very basic idea of how DR is calculated we can talk about what we’ve been seeing over recent months.
The first is very easy to identify at the moment as it seems the method was leaked and therefore a lot of people started using it.
The method that was leaked is using large amounts of Google maps links from different TLDs. The reason they use different TLDs is that Ahrefs takes into account if you have been linked to by the same domain previously, so if it was all from Google maps domain it wouldn’t have the same effect.
This is quite easy to see, all you have to do is go to the domain you are researching referring domains and search google and look at the results.
To put this in perspective this is a small technology news website, it’s clear they are doing this to game the DR metric as they know it’s valuable to people buying guest posts.
If you look at the linked domains (dofollow) you can see that google.cn has only 14,362 linked domains with a DR of 91 compared to google.ch which is the same DR but has 32,690 linked domains.
This means the google.cn domain is going to pass a lot more DR to the site in question. There’s a good chance the .cn domain would pass more than the .it as even though the .it has 93 DR - 2 higher than .cn it has nearly 3x the amount of outbound linked domains.
The reason I say there is a good chance is because Ahref’s DR is logarithmic so 91 to 93 is a big jump.
Although it’s worth noting I am sure that people have found other sites like this, that haven’t been leaked in this way. So there’s probably people doing it a lot more discreetly than this site by using other high DR sites with “low” outbound do follow links. Low is relative, you could say that 14,362 is a lot of outbound dofollow links and yes it is but for the DR of the site it isn’t.
It really wouldn’t be hard to find target sites to do this by looking at the amount of outbound links high DR sites have, lucky for us the reason that Google maps was the target is because the low barrier to entry to get links on these domains. Any other domains with high DR and a low amount of do follow linked domains are typically a lot harder to get a link from and can’t be done at scale like this method.
The second would be much harder to detect as there isn’t a specific keyword to search like the first. A site could create their own network of PBNs with pre-existing DR and then only link to their site from this PBN. This would pass a significant amount of points as they are the only outbound link.
What’s a bit sinister about this is that it would be hard to notice and could easily be disguised within their backlink profile as it wouldn’t really look that unnatural at first glance if done right. If they have 200+ referring domains, noticing a few links like this wouldn’t be an obvious task but it could significantly increase the DR of their site.
As people create these guest post farms I think this will become a bigger problem and therefore we are building the systems to ensure that we don’t fall into their traps. So to avoid this can export the entire domain’s dofollow referring domains. The reason I do dofollow is that dofollow links pass on significantly more link equity so I imagine Ahref’s DR takes this into account.
I would then remove all referring domains under DR5 and sort the sheet by linked domain (dofollow) from lowest to highest then look at any sites which stick out for having a low amount of outbound links.
This could become quite time consuming but I’m not sure how else I would do it - if you have any input on a more efficient method join the conversation below in the comments. I try to get back to every comment.
Another thing we’ve been noticing is that people selling guest posts are now very aware that traffic is a metric that can really drive the price they can sell posts for. So now they will rank for low competition, high volume keywords just to demand higher prices from the people buying these posts.
But this traffic is often very volatile and short lived.
Usually this traffic is based around torrenting or streaming due to the large volume of traffic these terms receive.
You can see in the above example how ranking in high position for just a few of these terms can significantly increase the traffic of a site and if you don’t pay attention to where the traffic is coming from you might think this site is great as it has over half a million traffic and a DR of 57.
This is a fashion and beauty website, I thought by the domain name and look of the site that this would have been a good fit for one of our clients we’re currently working with. It felt like a normal fashion blog with solid stats.
That is until you look at the main sources of traffic. As you can see we have another example where the traffic is all torrent related and it doesn’t fit in with the theme of the site.
This one is a bit different, but again isn’t hard to spot if you know what a natural website's keywords look like. To give you some context this was going to be a potential tech guest post for one of our SAAS clients, until we looked into the site a bit more.
Again it looks like a pretty solid domain from a metrics standpoint, not the best traffic for a domain of this power but not the worst we’ve seen, sometimes these higher DR sites just aren’t good with their article selection if they don’t really understand SEO.
I’m not sure if the search volume for these bit.ly links is due to an issue with Ahref’s data or is they actually do receive this amount of traffic but either way they were easily ranking for these bit.ly related searches as they were the only sites that were optimising specifically for these keywords, including the url structure in their URL / title / H1 etc.
If this only made up a small portion of the traffic or there was a fair amount of actual relevant traffic in this case you could argue it is related to tech as these bit.ly links are related to Kodi and internet TV. But this just wasn’t a good fit for our client at all and at the end of the day there’s millions of better sites out there, why risk it.
How To Avoid Falling For Trashy Traffic
This is really easy to avoid, when you’re looking for sites to build links to see where their traffic is coming from. I usually just look at their top pages and top organic keywords in Ahrefs and if the terms don’t seem natural to the theme of the site then take a more thorough look.
If the above example was a health and wellness website and I saw the torrenting terms I would be a clear sign that they are manipulating the traffic of the site to demand higher prices or there is something else going on - either way the site wouldn’t be desirable to get a post on.
I have occasionally seen a site which is legitimate and happens to rank for a few of these terms which really drive their traffic up, this is a tiny minority of the sites ranking for these terms. Usually if they are trying to do this on purpose when you take a look under the hood you will find more and more issues with the site, it doesn’t happen by accident often.
But when it does it looks like they received a guest post around one of these keywords and it happened to rank due to the authority of their site. This is fine as long as you’re not paying extra for this traffic and you’re aware a certain percentage of the traffic comes from these non-related terms.
Will Getting Links From These Manipulating Traffic and DR Hurt Your Site?
For the most part I don’t think a few links like this are going to destroy your site if you look through your current referring domains and notice some don’t panic and lose too much sleep over it. I’ve seen a fair amount of sites which are ranking well that have backlinks from sites like this.
The question in my head is more how much benefit will it pass - and my current thoughts are that it will be very limited. Ahrefs’ DR isn’t a metric Google uses in anyway, DR doesn’t pay the bills.
I think Google’s PageRank is probably more advanced than Ahrefs’ DR and will discount the value of these multiple google TLD links.
The real disadvantage I see from these links is that these people are clearly doing this to try to increase the price they can charge for guest post placements - I’ve had quite a few of these sites when one of my team responded using their metrics to justify their prices.
So this means that if you review your backlinks and you haven’t taken this due diligence while building your links that you will likely have paid based on the stats alone and they might of taken you for a ride when you should of taken other options which were lower stats but much more relevant to your site and maybe even more powerful in Google’s eyes, just not Ahrefs’.
How Can I Teach My Team To Avoid This?
I think the most important thing I teach my team is to not just go off the visual look of websites, quite often these sites really do look like legit niche magazines, all their homepage articles are very relevant but when you look in Ahrefs you will see the issues mentioned above.
The first thing we do now is check the referring domains for the multiple Google TLD backlinks. If we see that they have more than a few we are already very suspicious and take extra care when looking around the site because I can’t see a legitimate reason to do this unless you are reaching out to a large businesses’ website, this can’t really happen by mistake.
So this rules out a lot of the sites straight away, as soon as we see this we would rather work with another website which doesn’t do this, as we mentioned there are literally thousands of other suitable sites in most cases so why risk it.
The next thing we do is look at the top pages of the site in Ahrefs, does it seem on theme with the site? If it’s a fashion site I would expect to maybe see different clothing variations, different styling keywords, not torrenting keywords.
If it passes the first 2 we will then look at the individual organic keywords and quickly check these over to make sure that nothing seems off. If it passes the two things above generally it’s going to pass this phase, this is more to double check the 2nd step more than anything.
Evaluate Your Processes
When we evaluated our team’s outreach we realised that the way we prospected could heavily influence how many of these links we were running into. For us it’s not the end of the day if we get quite a few of these coming through as we’re doing outreach as a large scale and we know what to look out for to quickly disqualify these types of links.
But if I wanted to avoid these a lot more aggressively you could go back to more old school prospecting methods such as taking the top 20 sites for a selection of niche related keywords. We still do this very often and run into issues less when doing this because it means they’re also going to be ranking for niche keywords which is what we are ideally after as it shows relevance to the topic area and if they happen to rank for some torrenting stuff as well it might be an okay link still.
- Third party metrics aren’t perfect and they don’t claim to be - you still need to use your SEO knowledge to evaluate backlinks.
- When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
- There are a lot of people and websites that are out there that are very aware of the value of these metrics to SEOs and they will manipulate them to increase their fees.
- Avoiding these issues for the most part is very easy; it just takes first being aware and a bit more time carrying out due diligence.
- Guest post farms will adapt to the market, if more people become aware of these methods they will find new methods, it’s very lucrative - this is why it’s important to keep auditing the links that you are building and looking out for changes like these.