Avatar Theory #3: The DoFollow Link Builder

Posted in Avatar Theory

In parts one and two we discussed the meaning of “avatar” and outlined a monitor & report approach savvy PR firms undertake: The “Walled Garden Forum Rat.” This post focuses on another common participatory profile: The “DoFollow Link Builder.”

This avatar profile is much more common than one might think. It’s also a fuzzy role, in terms of intent and ethics. Anonymous DoFollow link building avatars line the underbelly of social media link-juice mining, spooging points ostensibly awarded for participation.

Do a gut check. Have you ever sought out threads that pass link juice for comments and participated only to link build? Did you always participate using your own name and email, etc…? Are these really blog communities you care about?

Straight Up Disclaimer
Don’t Kill the messenger! We’re not passing judgment (pro/con) and not specifically revealing aimClear avatar products. There are varying degrees of risk and redemption to decisions surrounding corporate participation in social communities. Do this stuff–you might die and go to hell, or worse yet…make Google mad. On the other hand many SEOs partake in this methodology and think it’s just fine.

No Persona, Leaves “Name” as Mid-tail Keyword Anchor Text
Most blog comment threads, by default, allow commenters to leave a link on the anchor text of their avatar’s name. It’s not even necessary to leave html & anchor text in the actual comment box, which often triggers moderation. It’s so simple.

The only reason this avatar model even has a name of any sort, is for required contact information anchor text in comment threads. For instance, I might leave the name “Snow Plow Marty” and link back to snow-plow.php on the site I’m link building for, as I leave my comment on the WinterWonderland Blog.

A while back, most blogs quit passing Google juice, in threads, to keep SEOs from spamming the hell out them. That’s the same approach Wikipedia uses to discourage SEO-motivated participation. Still, many blogs leave the Google juice on, even .edus and other juicy fruit, to incent “participation. Andy Beard is the father of DoFollow to my mind and makes a great case for leaving things wide open.  His work is well worth the read as he contends that all blogs should be DoFollow.

At the end of the day, some blog owners leave their comment threads open to reward users for participation. Others are either not not sophisticated, use an older CMS or their companies’ built out content on custom platforms run by administrators who are just plain oblivious to the implications.

Footprints in The Cyber Sand
There are well known “foot prints” to help locate DoFollow thread opportunities. The DoFollow Link Builder avatar is a shrewd little beach mouse, sniffing them out and swiping the cheese.

It’s plenty impossible for a blog moderator (or automated spam catchers) to tell the difference between an authentic comment and this little guy’s on-topic and-crafted emulated topical relevance. Watch for Google to devalue DoFollow blog comments (and other social media links that reward participation), as here lies a direct threat to Google’s ranking methods.

Here’s a breakout of The DoFollow Link Builder avatar’s M.O:

  • Drives Traffic & Link Juice: There’s promotional benefit to being one of the first comments on a blog. DoFollow threads also pass link juice. Traffic and Google juice are two primal drivers for social SEOs. It’s an irresistible combo.
  • Uses footprints to Locate Linking Opportunities: Footprints identify content management systems with common idiosyncrasies. DoFollow threads are pretty easy to spot if you know what to look for. We’d love to delve deeper into the “footprint”mentality, as it’s a fascinating intersection at the corners of SEO and SMO. Perhaps we’ll do so in a later post.
  • Couldn’t Care Less About Brand, Past SEO. The DoFollow Link Builder Avatar is only interested in anchor text that counts. Save the pretty pictures for the graphic arts department.
  • Concerned With Topical Relevance of Participation: That’s the main rub. In order to get over with the anchor text/link and make links stick, the avatar needs to create a comment that is actually real, useful and on topic.
  • Low Profile, Makes No Friends, No Emotional Involvement: It’s great to engage in a dialog. It’s better to get 25 PR3 .edu links from different blogs in 4 hours. No time for chit chat.
  • Bears No Resemblance to Blogger Team: It only takes a minimum of creativity to leave a topically relevant comment on anchor text that helps. No tears are shed or friends made. The blogger’s personal interests need not align with target blogs. This is all about links and SEO.
  • Focused on PageRank: PR3 is better than PR4 and PR5 better than both. Toolbar PR is not the only factor that affects link value. However, it certainly does not suck. Links from high PR pages are good.
  • Does Not Sell: This avatar would not cheapen valuable links with gratuitous sales tactics, which might cause a comment to be deleted by the blog owner.
  • No Question of Ownership: When the link builder leaves, he or she does not take the thousands of killer DoFollow links. They remain in place.

avatar-seriesAbout This Series: We began quietly polling our peers starting 10 months ago, to map patterns and common approaches to commercial social media participation.

This series stems from that research. SEOs we’ve spoken with (some names you probably know) are not willing to check a little survey box to a) reveal methodologies b) risk the judgment of peers c) put their name to a tactic. This is all because there is a remarkable lack of consensus when it comes to avatars.

Opinions vary regarding ethics as concern personal/political agendas and marketing tactics. The reality is that social media engagement models range from completely fact-based and transparent representations of real humans expressing their true identities, to malfeasant provocateurs.

Stay tuned– we’ll soon be covering Trolls, Lovely Celebrity Spokesmodels and Press Secretaries, both using pseudonyms and real names.

This post continues our lead up to the What Is Ethical Social Media Marketing SMX East session at 1:45PM, October 2 in New York. Moderated by: Jeffrey K. Rohrs, Vice President, Marketing, ExactTarget-speakers includeLiana Evans, Director of Internet Marketing, Key Relevance, Steve Rubel, Senior Vice President, Director of Insights, Edelman Digital and me. My presentation will expound on this series of blog posts regarding modern avatar theory.

  • Andy Beard

    Here is an interesting fact for you.

    Whilst I haven’t been blogging for the last few months, I have occasionally dealt with my comment moderation.

    In the last batch of 1000+ comments, I believe I approved only 260

    Those 1000+ comments are the ones that Spam Karma thought were ok, so on most blogs they would be approved, as they weren’t automated spam.

    People leaving comments purely for links leave so many footprints. It is fun when you email the CEO of an SEO agency and point out that their monkeys have been gaming links on my blog for their clients.
    I should really charge any SEO caught in the act a consultancy fee of $100

    “Any SEO firm caught linkbuilding for clients in my blog comments is immediately liable to a consultancy fee of $100 – failure to pay within 3 days may incure ORM penalties that are irrevocable” ;)

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Andy, I do that too. Most by-hand comment spammers are SO obvious. I often email them or their supervisors and politely suggest that I’ll publicize their spamming ways. Sometimes I’ll leave the spam comment, edit out the sales pitch and remove the a link(s) or portion of the offending anchor text. Most of the time I just press delete.

    When done well however, the footprints get murky. For instance, you or I could participate in any blog and not be flagged as spam. But the…we would not. :)

    It’s nice to see you in these threads Andy. We hope this writing finds you well.

  • Dave

    ok so ive seem lots of people doing this, but ethically unless there is a section that says, website title, i stick with my name and ive seen an increase in links to my domain with the link text “dave” or “david”. I think in such a small industry spamming your way to the top wont be something that will help you get more clients or assistance from others.

    i have several other domains that i could use, so my avatar would match my domain, but is it really worth spending your time writting and article to then post “cheap viagra” or “best webdesign services in the whole wide world” as your display name…

    i think people reading these blogs who then visit your site will visit your site wanting to contact dave, not “cheap viagra”… apologises to mr & mrs cheap viagra, from utah….

    great thread!

  • Michael D

    I’m commenting because of what Andy wrote and your reply. Ugh, I’ve been going nuts when I see people in my industry constantly hand posting spam comments to my blogs. I wouldn’t mind so much if they actually got involved (ok with keyword username) but the majority of comments are simply of the “great post” nature. And they post 6+ at a time. Almost makes me want to turn commenting off. /rant

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Michael D: Yup, the “great post” stuff gets the delete button straight away over here. Comment spam, both automated and badly-done-by-hand, is the scourge of the blogosphere.

    Nice to see you here Micheal. Will we see you in NYC @ East?

  • Kenny

    interesting read, i came across this site from a google search and still trying to understand this white/black hat seo method they call ‘no follow’

    Judging by the spam blocked on the right hand side, this no follow business could turn into some serious extra site maintenance. If anyone has some additional links on these tactics for both sides, i’d love some additional reading

  • Akvaryum

    People leaving comments purely for links leave so many footprints. It is fun when you email the CEO of an SEO agency and point out that their monkeys have been gaming links on my blog for their clients.

  • Sağlıklı Yaşam

    i have several other domains that i could use, so my avatar would match my domain, but is it really worth spending your time writting and article to then post “cheap viagra” or “best webdesign services in the whole wide world” as your display name…

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Sağlıklı Yaşam: Yes, in this hyperbolic case you’re right. Remember though that the anchor text does not need to be fully literal. For instance, you could use the name “cheap-date” and give your destination URL link juice for 1/2 half of the keyword. Cheap date is probably more socially acceptable than the full keyword.

    On the next comment use the name Niagara-Viagra and talk about being from upstate New York, etc…

  • MN

    Toolbar PR doesnt really matter much now. Most spam links are just building toolbar PR only, if you do a search on google, many times the top sites are PR2 or PR3 and there will be a lot of PR6 results and such below them even.

  • Jessica

    I really enjoyed reading this post… well thought out and written. Thank you!