What Are Link Farms? (+ Why Google Hates Them)

Adam Steele
Feb 20, 2023

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Link farms may seem like an appealing option for building a network of inbound links due to their relatively low cost and quick results.

However, Google’s page ranking algorithm heavily weighs links and considers link farms to be a form of cheating. This has led to search engines imposing severe penalties on link farms and those associated with them.

So, while link farms may seem like an easy way to boost your SEO, the potential consequences may not be worth it.

What is a Link Farm?

A link farm is a collection of web pages created with the sole purpose of manipulating search engine rankings.

These are usually set up with links to other websites, and they are designed to increase the number of incoming links to those websites.

Link farms can also be used to artificially inflate search engine rankings for certain websites.

Link farms explained (longer answer):

In simple terms, a link farm is a group of websites that host an intricate web of randomly-built outbound links, whose sole purpose is to point towards other sites in the network for the sake of collectively boosting their SEO rankings.

Related reading: what is a link?

Now make no mistake about them. These are not your regular types of websites that publish organized content pieces, and maybe engage in reciprocal linking from time to time.

Rather, a link farm is typically made up of multiple hyperlinked websites that don’t care much about their content quality. Automated programs and bots create the sites and then fill them up with all sorts of fluff just to provide a baseline for setting up random backlinks.

Their principal goal is to spam the web with just enough backlinks to mislead search engines.

An abstract representation of how link farms are intricately networked. Source: Pixabay

You see, webmasters who maintain link farms understand that Google’s ranking algorithm tends to consider link popularity in its SERPs. And so, by setting up a group of heavily interlinked websites, they hope that the sheer number of backlinks will convince search engines to rank their sites favorably.

A brief history of link farms

In 1999, link farms were first introduced by SEO experts. Inktomi was the most popular web search engine at the time, and its ranking algorithm heavily relied on – among other factors – the volume of backlinks.

The assumption was, the number of links alone indicated the amount of interest and attention that web users had towards a specific site. The most dominant websites were expected to attract a considerably higher number of backlinks than their bland counterparts.

What raised the stakes even further was the fact that Inktomi restricted its search results to just 100 million listings. Websites with the fewest inbound links were the ones facing the axe every month – while a solid link count would not only improve your rankings, but also extend your site’s exposure to the secondary search engines that incidentally pulled some of their results from Inktomi.
Yahoo! was one of those popular secondary search engines and, it wasn’t long before it too became a victim of link farms. Webmasters found a way to use link farms to not only manipulate Inktomi’s rankings, but also spread their influence to this second level.

The rest, as they say, is history. As search engines continued to develop over the years, so did the link farm spamdexing tactics.
Online businesses, in particular, were fond of capitalizing on link farms to make up for their poor backlink numbers. These were the years when they struggled to attract referral links from established platforms.

5 Ways to Detect Link Farms

Here are a few different ways to detect link farms:

1. Evaluate the Overall Quality of a Website

  • The first step in detecting link farms is to evaluate the overall quality of a website.
  • Look for signs of poor quality, such as out-of-date information, broken links, or duplicate content.
  • If the website looks suspicious, then it might be a link farm.

2. Look for “Author” and “About” Information

  • Link farms often have very little information about who created the website or why it exists.
  • A legitimate website should have an “about” page that provides information about the author or company behind it.
  • If there is no information, then it could be a sign that the website is a link farm.

3. Check the Number of Linked Websites

  • Link farms tend to link to hundreds (or even thousands) of other websites.
  • If you see a website linking to an unusually large number of other websites, then it could be a link farm.

4. Check the Anchor Texts

  • Another way to detect link farms is to check the anchor texts of the links on the website.
  • Link farms tend to use generic anchor texts, such as “click here” or “read more”.
  • If you see these types of phrases, then it could be a sign that the website is a link farm.

5. Don’t Let SEO Metrics Trick You

  • Link farms can often appear legitimate because they have high SEO metrics, such as PageRank and Domain Authority.
  • However, these metrics can be artificially inflated by link farms, so don’t be fooled by them. Instead, use the tips above to detect link farms.

Link farms can be damaging to your website’s reputation and ranking, so it’s important to detect them and take steps to protect your website.

By following the tips above, you can stay one step ahead of link farms and ensure that your website is safe from their negative effects.

What Should You Do Instead of Link Farming?

Link farming is risky and should be avoided at all costs. Instead of relying on link farming, here are three things you should do:

1. Vet your link choices carefully

Before you link to another website, make sure you do your research on the website first. Check the website’s content and make sure it’s relevant and high quality.

Never link to a website that could potentially harm your website’s reputation or SEO performance.

2. Know the difference between directories and link farms

Directories are a great way to get high-quality links, but they should not be confused with link farms. Link farms are made up of low-quality links and should be avoided at all costs.

Make sure you know the difference before you start building links.

3. Focus on earning organic links

The best way to get high-quality links is by earning them organically. Create content that is valuable, interesting, and informative so that other websites will want to link to it naturally.

This will help you build long-term relationships with other websites and improve your website’s overall SEO performance.

Link farms and Google

Google too has seen its fair share of the link farm menace.

For the better part of the 2000s, its ranking algorithm had this major loophole that exceedingly supported black hat SEO practices.

The issue was, Google’s ranking criteria were largely based on quantitative data. That means it principally placed emphasis on the volume of keywords and links – hence giving sites with low-quality links and keyword-stuffed content the opportunity to rule the SERPs.

It wasn’t until 2011 and 2012 that the status quo changed quite drastically, to the horror of link farm operators. This was the period when the search engine reinforced its arsenal with the Google Panda and Google Penguin algorithm updates.

At first, Google Panda came to sanitize the rankings by weeding out “low-quality” sites and promoting high-quality sites. Then shortly thereafter followed Google Penguin, which was meant to crack down on black hat link building techniques.

This marked a turned point for link farms, as Google almost immediately began flagging up and penalizing spammy backlinks. So extensive was the impact, in fact, that in just one month, the Penguin update had affected 3% of the search results.

Why Does Google Hate Link Farming?

Google has very strict guidelines regarding link building and doesn’t tolerate link farms. Link farms provide no unique value to the user, and they are made up of low-quality, spammy links that can hurt a website’s overall SEO performance.

Google’s ranking algorithm now prioritizes backlink quality over quantity. According to them, operating link farms is now prohibited because:

  • They produce spam links whose only purpose is to deceive the search engine algorithms.
  • The content pieces on which they host the hyperlinks are very thin and of low quality. Hence, they don’t provide real value to web users.
  • The hyperlinked sites are poorly developed by the bots, without regard for user experience.
  • The websites that are connected through link farms are often dealing with unrelated subjects.
  • A link farm doesn’t have a logical flow path between the linked content pieces.

As such, Google has, over the years, continued to strengthen its stance against link farms with various policy and algorithm updates.

Penguin alone went through 10 documented upgrades by the time it was fully integrated into Google’s core PageRank algorithm in 2016. Before then, it only functioned as an algorithm extension.

And with that, the Google ecosystem is now firmer than ever in its campaign against low-quality backlinks. Instead of punishing just the hyperlink publishers, it’s committed to blacklisting and deindexing even the sites that gain inbound links through link farms.

This is the fate that, at one time, befell one of the biggest retailers in the world, JCPenny.com. Google penalized the site after it discovered that JCPenny had been using low-quality links from link farms to improve its organic performance across the SERPs.

For example – in several instances, JCPenny had been caught red-handed with a plethora of keyword-rich backlinks that were coming from all sorts of unrelated sites.

Case in point – the New York Times observed that the dresses section of JCPenny’s site had inbound links from a host of smaller irrelative sites.

They ranged from dentistry sites to directories for glass shower doors, Adobe Flash, online games, hotel furniture, snoring, travel, dogs, diseases, you name it. The link farm had a cocktail of everything.

Is Link Farming Worth the Risk? (3 things to consider)

Link farming might seem like an easy way to get more links, but it comes with risks.

Here are three things to consider before you decide if link farming is worth the risk:

  1. Quality – Link farms are made up of low-quality links, which can hurt your website’s overall SEO performance. Search engines can detect link farms and penalize them, so it’s best to focus on quality links instead.
  2. Longevity – Link farms are short-term solutions that don’t provide any long-term value. If you use a link farm, your website could be penalized in the long run.
  3. Penalties – Search engines like Google can detect link farms and penalize websites that use them. Penalties can include lower rankings and even removal from search engine indexes altogether.

And now, to summarize everything that we’ve explored, here are brief answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about link farms:

Link farms are established with just one objective – they are intended to underhandedly boost the search engine rankings of their member websites through phony backlinking.

You’ll find, for instance, that a typical link farm is made up of several low-quality websites that are intricately linked to each other by a huge network of randomly-published hyperlinks.

This is in the hope that search engines will take note of the high volume of inbound links and, consequently, overestimate the authority and relevance of the destination sites.

Theoretically, that should ultimately lead to favorable rankings in the search engine result pages.

While link spam farms were, at some point, effective in manipulating SERP rankings, search engines eventually caught up with them and managed to put up a variety of advanced deterrent mechanisms.

The likes of Google, for example, not only declared link farms a black hat SEO technique, but also updated their systems to flag up and penalize sites that use them.

What’s more, gone are the days that search engine algorithms relied on just quantitive backlink analysis. Rankings are now influenced more by the quality of inbound links as opposed to their volume.

So, whichever way you look at it, link farms have become redundant to SEO. If anything, they stand to hurt your rankings or, even worse, get your site blacklisted from the SERP listings.

3. Why do these blog networks exist?

Link farms are established to act as link-building shortcuts. Rather than spend time organically attracting different types of backlinks from third-party domains, black hat SEO practitioners use link farms to quickly set up an extensive network of phony backlinks.

Most of the link farms, in fact, tend to host their links on low-quality sites that are created and maintained by bots.

All it takes is a couple of seconds for the automated programs to piece together a network of sites from templates on CMS platforms like WordPress. Their web pages are then populated with all sorts of content pieces, on which text is randomly hyperlinked to serve as backlinks.

In the end, a webmaster could have a link farm that is composed of hundreds to thousands of networked blogs.

They would then get paid by site owners to almost instantly publish thousands of new backlinks, in a desperate attempt to manipulate search engine rankings.

Google insists that any links that are published to manipulate the PageRank algorithm are in violation of its Webmaster Guidelines. In particular, link farms are considered to be a form of spamdexing, and are completely banned from Google’s search engine results.

At the center of all this is the now famous Penguin algorithm update, which Google developed to crack down on the unnatural backlinks. It consistently crawls through indexed sites to deeply analyze their link sources while, at the same time, flagging up and penalizing those that appear to violate Google’s link-building policies.

Basically, any website that is found to be part of – or benefitting from – a link farm risks getting completely deindexed from the SERPs. That includes even the sites that knowingly or unknowingly gain inbound links from link farms.

One way that you can protect yourself from link farms is to keep an eye out for any unscrupulous SEO agencies that promise to set up hundreds or thousands of backlinks.

They might sound very alluring and all – but don’t be misled. If you closely investigate link builders who elaborately hide behind titles like “private blog networks” or “social networks”, you’ll discover that many of them are just running link farm wastelands.

The blog networks themselves might appear like your regular web page at first, but a quick scan through their content should give you a good idea of what you’re dealing with. Link farms typically publish articles on unrelated subjects, each filled with random hyperlinks.

Take, for instance, the likes of “Evergreen Blog”, “I Can Blog Anything”, and “ActiveSocialNetwork”. Before they were banned from search engines, they masqueraded as blogs, but with poorly written content about all sorts of random subjects.

A post on “Home Remedies For Skin Blotches”, for example, would immediately be followed by one that highlights “Casino Games” or something of the sort.

They’d then link the thin low-quality text to third-party sites that dealt in totally irrelative subjects – such as real estate or fashion.

Although link farming is not a legally prosecutable offense, search engines treat it as a serious violation of their terms of service.

The Google Webmaster Guidelines, for example, prohibits the use of link farms – and any site that is found to be in violation could be blacklisted from its SERPs.

In particular, the company strongly advises against any SEO tactic that involves:

  • Contractually compelling third-party sites to publish backlinks to your websites.
  • Using automated programs or services to set up inbound links to your website.
  • Running a large-scale guest posting campaign with keyword-rich hyperlinks.
  • Excessive reciprocal linking through link exchange programs.
  • Soliciting for backlinks from third-party sites.
  • Buying or selling of links that are intended to manipulate PageRank.

Link farming is not effective for link building or SEO because search engines are no longer restricted to quantitative backlink analysis. Their algorithms are instead, prioritizing, the quality of inbound links when ranking websites.

The use of link farms was only relevant in the 2000s, when the SERP ranking algorithms heavily factored in the volume of inbound links. The more backlinks you had, the more influential and authoritative your site would seem.

With time, however, Google and the likes shifted their focus to making the search results more user-centric. Their algorithms are now paying more attention to the quality and relevance of the links, as they seek to rank the sites based on the amount of value they offer users.


To sum up today’s discussion, here are the key takeaways that you might want to keep in mind:

  • A link farm is a group of websites that are extensively hyperlinked to each other for the sake of manipulating search engine rankings.
  • Gone are the days when link firms were capable of influencing SEO rankings. Search engines have now evolved to prioritize link quality over quantity when ranking websites.
  • Google and other prominent search engines consider link farms to be a form of spam that violates their terms of use. As such, link farms and their beneficiaries are usually blacklisted from the search results.

But, don’t be mistaken. Although link farms and other forms of unnatural links are prohibited on Google, link building is not.

Take reciprocal linking, for example. 73.6% of the domains are already using it, including 43.7% of the top-ranking pages.

So, as you try to safeguard yourself from back hat SEO strategies, be on the lookout for genuine link-building opportunities.

Now, that’s where we come in. You can count on Loganix to not only get you those natural high-quality inbound links, but also audit your existing links and, most importantly, supplement it all with a full-scale SEO campaign.

Hand off the toughest tasks in SEO, PPC, and content without compromising quality

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Written by Adam Steele on February 20, 2023

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.