4 things huge sites are allowed to do but you’re not …because you’re a small player

Hello and welcome. Long time no read. We have been busy – and even though we have several good case studies for you, we didn’t have time to publish them, until now. So I’ve decided to write a report where we will cover several topics at once.

I am going to talk about shocking things huge sites do in order to gain links pointing to their sites, without being penalized by Google. If you were the owner of the site and did what they are doing, you would probably get deleted from the SERPs.

On the other side, they can do this because….? I don’t know, maybe because they are big and you’re not? I don’t see any other reason. We’re going to start with a more or less benign case and my favorite tech site.

Thing #1:

The TechCrunch/CrunchBase Linkback Widget


We are going to talk about reciprocal link building here, known as the “link to me and I will link to you” syndrome. When I started doing SEO in 2010, one of the first things I learned was that I shouldn’t do reciprocal link building. In the beginning this “was an editorial link the way Google intended – a vote of confidence,” but over the time this was used only to gain links from as many sites as possible, all for the purpose of getting more trust in the eyes of Google.

Now, 100 years later in terms of the SEO world, I was browsing through the link profile of one company and noticed that they have a link on the Japan edition of TechCrunch.

So, I went there to see what the article was about and of course the article was written in Japanese. You know how when you read TC articles there’s that widget at the bottom of each article that contains info about the company just discussed? Well, I never noticed anything unusual there until I saw this widget shown below embedded in the sea of Japanese characters.

Of course, I noticed those English words, especially the “Get Widget” link:

tech crunch widget link


I clicked that link and ended up at Crunchbase.com, which is a sister site of TC, basically a directory of tech companies and people working in the tech industry. I did click that widget link because I remember Matt Cutts said how building links with widgets is a no-no and that we should make widget links no-follow.

Ok, let’s put this aside and let’s pretend that everyone can use do-follow links in widgets and let’s go to the CrunchBase page to see how we can get this widget.

TC widget


When I came to this page I saw just one word- LINKBACKS. Hmm, great, let’s read the explanation. If you take a look (marked with yellow) it says:

“If you embed the widget on a page of interest to our visitors,

we will link back to you!”

Therefore, basically CrunchBase is telling us that they will be so kind as to give us a link (later I found out this link is merely a no-follow trackback link) while we give THREE precious do-follow links to CrunchBase and ONE do-follow link to TechCrunch, which is marked with yellow in the FB widget.

But only IF we link back to them.

I find this IF really interesting. This is something like, if you give us a MacBook Air we will post a link on our site. Couldn’t they just say that they created a widget for their site and if we want we can use it as well?

Isn’t that how it should be? Why say, “Scratch my back first and only then I will scratch yours!”

Thing #2:

Sponsored Posts Selling for Up to $10K Per Post


Ok, let’s move on, this was just a warm up. I decided to cover “Sponsored Posts” (containing do-follow links, this is very important)  in the next segment of this report.

What are sponsored reports, pray tell? Sponsored posts are basically advertorials talking about some shit no one gives a damn about, but the webmaster (site owner) decided to post it there because a sponsor is giving him or her cash or products for this service.

This is pretty much paying to get a link to your site in the article body – which is the same thing as “guest posting” but with money involved. And because money is involved Google doesn’t like to see do-follow links in the articles. This means that someone bought a link there and that’s a big no-no, unless you are a huge niche site like…

…Elephant Journal

What, you’ve never heard of ElephantJournal before? You are living under a rock. This is a huge site in the health/yoga/spirituality niche. They are so huge that they even have links on tech sites like….TechCrunch. And pretty much all the big sites are comfortable linking to Elephant Journal. They are a big thing in their niche and beyond.

On top of that, you must pay to read their articles; it’s a membership site. You can go through just a couple of articles each day if you’re not a member.

Who else does this? Not you, you’re small. Other authority sites do this as well, they ask you to spit out the money if you want to read their precious articles.

sell links on sponsored posts


Why am I saying this? Because I want to prove to you that it isn’t a small site, they are a big operation. So, what have they been up to?

They are selling links on their site.

I mean, they are not hiding it or anything like that. They are pretty much open-minded about it. They seem to be open-minded about everything. They are also open-minded about payment methods. If you don’t like PayPal they accept checks, because they are such a great bunch.

Let’s see what they say:

EJ link


Ok, from this screenshot (taken at ElephantJournal),we have learned a couple of things:

1. They won’t publish a post until you pay them

2. They like to go for dog hikes

If we take a look at this sponsored post on Elephant Journal you will be able to notice that links are do-follow and this is not allowed, according to Google. Now, this is quite a shocker, especially if we know that they have been(openly) selling links for a couple of years already.

They have been awarded for this debauchery, too. Let’s take a look at their rankings over the last 12 months:

elephant journal ranking

They are ranking for approximately 15,000 keywords. That’s why your small site can’t rank for anything, because these link sellers are going up all the time, while Google is pushing you down for no reason.

But let’s see what else they say. Let’s see how you’re being sold.

advertidsing on elephant journal

As you can see they know what they are talking about, they are not stupid, they know you are out there for links. Of course it is about the links and Google. It is not about sharing your story to enlighten the readers.

Let’s see how much they ask for a link on their site. Prices go from $2,500-$10,000 per blog post, depending how long you want to have your blog post featured on the home page. Damn, that’s a lot of kale chips right there!

full hand of money

Am I allowed to do this?

You know what? I like to go for dog hikes as well. I want to sell sponsored posts (with do-follow links) on my site. I want to earn easy money so I can do yoga at least twice weekly! (I hate kale chips though.)

Thing #3:

Big Sites Practicing Black-Hat SEO


Now onto something completely different.

When I wrote that report about Expedia  I remember the first big site that published a story about how Expedia was probably a victim of a negative SEO was…

USA Today!

Now, I am not going to say that this article on USA Today is a piece that proves how people who are cluelessabout SEO shouldn’t write articles about SEO….I am just going to post this:

paddlin for anchor text


and I am going to tell you not to forget to read the case study performed by Bartosz. Anyway, what is USA Today doing these days? Well, they have created a huge blog network, or should I say, site network.

Footer links and interlinked sites are allowed….if you’re big

You know how Matt Cutts is “destroying” PBNs (private blog networks) and we all know that Google doesn’t like interlinked sites? If you’re a huge American company you can do whatever you want. You can even use overly optimized anchor text in the footer to link to other sites in your network.

USA Today is in the ownership of Gannett Company, and they also own Career Builder. You probably know about them. Well, they also own a dozen other sites in the same niche, interlinked with footer links, all passing that powerful link juice to each other, dominating the niche and destroying small players.

If you go to the home page of USA Today you will see a link in the footer pointing to Career Builder, which is ok I guess, it is their company. But if you go to the home page of Career Builder you will see some juicy SEO’d anchors in the footer.

career builder link network

Management Jobs, IT & Engineering Jobs, Entry-Level Jobs, Retail Jobs, Restaurant Jobs, Healthcare Jobs, Teacher Jobs, Oil and Gas Jobs, Mining Jobs, Utility Jobs. So, all these powerful keywords with huge searches are used to link to their other sites. No, sites are not called RestaurantJobs.com but Career Builder knows that people use this term to search for restaurant jobs.

All these links point to external websites, sites that are a part of a powerful network. This is called black hat SEO, this is not allowed by Google, and you will get penalized if you do this.

You don’t trust me? Try to do this: Try to create a dozen different sites and link them all together. Create a site network of your own and go public.

How long do you think you will last? I give you a couple of months.

Another site in their network that I find really interesting is CareerRookie.com. They are using the keyword phrase “Entry-Level Jobs” to link to that site and look, a wonderful surprise, CareerRookie.com is ranked on page one for all these nice keywords that follow, which is just a small portion of their SEO success:

career rookie rankings

Well, of course, when you have site-wide, footer, do-follow, SEO-optimized links from dozens of similar sites I do expect to see you on the first page of Google. That’s not a miracle.

Am I allowed to use this?

May I link to 10+ other SEO sites in my footer using anchor keywords like “SEO services Dallas” or “High-quality SEO” and not get in trouble? I doubt it. Actually, I know I am not allowed to do the same thing.

Thing #4:

The Huge Cell Phone Companies Buying Blog Links Aplenty


Moving on to the old topic: Creating links through guest blogging.

I already explained this when we talked about Expedia and this is still working great if you know how to get links through content placement (guest posting). Especially if you’re a big company – in that case you don’t have to worry that you’re going to be penalized.

I thought Skynet…cough,cough…Google would come out of the closet and admit it already that SEO is for big dogs only.

Hey, we like big dogs, we always will. Small playa is no good for Google!

Heck no, they continued with their double standards game, much love for cash and so on….which is fine with me, don’t get me wrong, they are a private company and this is not communism. In capitalism there must be a constant progress, which means more profit each year. If things stall out in capitalism it will come to its end. No one likes this, especially owners of the stocks of the company that have a $25 to $26 billion market cap.

Which company is that?

We are talking about T-Mobile. I had enough data six months ago to run the story on their black hat SEO tactics but decided not to publish it because I was scared that the SEO community would hate me. Actually, I don’t care much about that jerk circle. I am joking.

So, here is the story…

I totally forgot about T-Mobile until a friend of mine showed me this hilarious article, no actually it was this one, but anyway. WHAT? The spammer got penalized for trying to tweet the links to T-Mobile. Wait, what? That’s injustice – that’s what it is. Never heard of that site before, but I can tell you that it looks like a very helpful site, so what if he decides to sell a link or two? A man’s gotta earn the money to feed the kids, pay bills, cover the mortgage and save for vacation.

T-Mobile is still the first result on page one

for “T-Mobile BlackBerry Phones”

Well, not for a long time, and here is why. MaCu, I know you’re reading this so please bear with me here. OK?

T-Mobile is cheating on you with another man! I don’t know his name; all I know is that he is the proud owner of a black Stetson Royal Flush, he wears black leather pants and he is blogging around using SEO’d anchors.

And another thing I want to point out: TechCrunch released a couple of stories about BlackBerry and T-Mobile going their separate ways, here and here. So all the black hat SEO that was performed by someone working for T-Mobile was a waste of time!

Actually it wasn’t,because they banked hard in the meantime. And, man I am laughing my ass off here. You know why?

Because BlackBerry was doing the same thing as T-Mobile!

They were also building links the same way, using the same people and on pretty much similar or the exact same spots!

What a bunch of lunatics. Talking about footprints here, huh? I understand that there are SEO departments in these huge companies, and I understand that they need to send a report or something like that each month to their managers, but really, do you need to create tons of crappy posts? Don’t you have enough budgets to create something unique, some viral campaign or something?

Nah, it’s easier to send over a list of sites where they bought links – (they paid who knows how much for this, by the way) – and that’s it. They get a salary for spending companies’ money on some shit.

The first example is here:

t mobile black hat

Ok, this is a post on a law blog and this guy is writing about texting while driving when all of a sudden the blogger had such an urge to post that link to “LG cell phones” in the middle, pointing directly to you-know-who.

And if that wasn’t enough, they created tons of other posts. I’m not gonna bother you now with screenshots, but you can check it out here, and here (UPDATE- One year later we deleted a lot of links since these pages are no more):





Some pretty random blogs as you can see. Some are biz related, some baby related, some cover workout, cardio, etc.

Anyway, I can go on and on but you can see that they were optimizing their site to get more traffic for everything from Samsung and BlackBerry phones to used phones. That’s how SEO is done, they can do it you can’t, and they say it’s not allowed. All that talking about how you gotta get links from sites close to your niche, because that is natural in the eyes of Google….that’s all a bunch of baloney.


I always wonder who is working in those SEO departments. So many times we get contacted by some random person from South Asia asking to buy links, claiming they work for some of these companies…I guess that the big brains behind their strategy are so FUCKING LAZY that they just outsource everything so they can go play Flappy Bird or something.

I mean, no one from Asia is going to spend money just like that so they can build links for a huge US company, right? This means that someone hired them, someone really lazy.

In the end, Flappy Bird marketers, you can all have your HubSpot certificates nailed to the walls behind your backs, but you still suck at using your brain. Brainstorming outside of the box is such a hard task for you because you don’t want to go out of that box, you feel safe there.