Link spam is a term coined by Google to refer to nefarious link schemes. Links – when one site links to another site – are counted like votes by the Google algorithm.
While Google believes that no one should ever use links to manipulate the Google search engine, the reality is that all SEO’s must engage in some type of artificial link-building, that is the (artificial) solicitation of links. So what link spam is has to do with whether link building or link solicitation goes from “white hat” to “black hat” tactics. Like beauty, the eye is often in the beholder. A basic rule of thumb, to Google, is whether a link that Site A offers to Site B adds some type of user value. An example of an OK link then is when the New York Times discusses something like a probate attorney, and might link to a site such as Burdette and Rice of Dallas, Texas, which is a probate law firm. A spammy link would be one that adds no real value and is “artificially there.”
Let’s Dive In.
First, you have to realize that Google pays a lot of attention to links. The more links your site has vs. those of your competitor, the better you’ll rank on Google (all other things being equal). The three components here are a) quantity, b) syntax, and c) quality or link authority. That said, then you (as the Webmaster) can engage in link-building, which is soliciting links from relevant sites to your website. An example of this would be asking a journalist who wrote an article about your boss (say, for example, a probate attorney) to link from his newspaper article to your website. Or, if your boss works at the University of Dallas, part-time, teaching probate law, then get your boss to make sure to include a link from his University profile to his profile on your website. These are all legitimate and useful types of links, as they pass Google’s test of “useful to the user.” Essentially, if a link answers the question of “click here to learn more” in a legitimate way, then it’s OK, and link-building to it, would not be considered link spam. An example of link spam, in contrast, would be if you were to go to blog after blog after blog and in the comments section insert a comment on Texas probate law and have a link to your law firm. The links are not relevant, and not helpful to “real” users, and hence would qualify as link spam. Another example would be if you paid for links, or even hired a network of bloggers to blog (in a fake way) about your law firm, and link back to you. Link spam is thus a function of a) whether the links are useful to the user, b) whether they are placed there artificially to manipulate search engines, and c) the quantity. One or two is no big deal, but if you have many thousands of links your website can fall victim to the Penguin Update, which is a Google penalty against link schemes.